“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe You sent Me.”—–John 17:20-21
Unity is the theme of the day. But the question has to be asked, what brings people together in unity?? For some it may be cheering for a certain sports team. For others it may be to succeed in business or another common goal. But to those that call themselves “Christians”, what really unites us??
In the past, doctrinal distinctions put people in camps ranging from methodists, baptists, pentecostals, reformed, and many others. These denominations, as they are commonly known, brought people together around a common faith about what they believed to be true about God. But as divisive and exclusive as this seemed to be, it was nonetheless clear what people believed and why they believed those things.
In an attempt to break down these denominational barriers, churches began to eliminate some of these doctrinal distinctions to try reach more people. Many believed it was these “non-essentials” that were a hindrance in leading people to Jesus and people joining their churches. In order to be less offensive and try to reach as many people as possible, churches began the process of changing how they did things and some even began changing their church names to be more appealing and inclusive. Many now have taken on the name of being known as a “community church” rather than having their denomination affiliation clearly known in their name. All for the sake of outreach and bringing people and churches together. Sounds good, right??
What I am saying here isn’t an appeal for denominations or that we shouldn’t challenge what our denominations believe and do. I’m not saying that a name of a church has importance in and of itself. I’m also not saying that there aren’t things we should be changing to be in line with Scripture; there is a ton of things to change to be in line with Scripture. What I am saying is that in an attempt to re-claim unity among so-called believers and churches, I believe that much more has been lost than what should have been or is currently being gained. I believe that in order to re-claim this sense of “unity” major compromises have been made; even to the point that the Gospel is being forsaken and that what is believed as “non-essentials” are actually the “essentials” of Biblical Christianity.
Often times I hear this phrase quoted among those seeking unity:
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Rupertus Meldenius
While at the heart this quote sounds good, it has been at best grossly misunderstood and used to justify unbiblical beliefs and practices. It is true that we, as believers, must hold firm to the essential beliefs of Biblical Christianity, but we must also show grace towards people that differ in what may possibly be non-essentials. It is highly unlikely that we will ever agree 100% on everything with anyone. But this must not be an excuse for compromise for the sake of unity.
What I believe has and is taking place today is that the essentials of Biblical Christianity are rapidly being reduced and replaced as non-essentials. It is almost to the point where it is enough to just say that you are part of a “christian faith community”. Who knows what that really means?? Faith in Jesus and the Bible end up being just another means to the same end where Jesus and the Bible are only one of the many “faith traditions” that help better humanity and point to a so-called “god”.
Some may argue that I am being a bit too harsh and extreme. However, as each day passes, this ecumenical (universal embrace of faiths) is increasing rapidly. When Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Age, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and many others are coming together for the “common good”, shouldn’t that alarm us?? If you think that I am wrong, I challenge you to do some research and see how these beliefs and practices have crept into churches and how for the sake of “unity” many are so quick compromise for unbiblical beliefs and practices.
Not to go into much depth now, but notice how it used to be that the mission of the Church was to preach the Gospel and make disciples. Now, the Gospel is being replaced by mere humanitarian efforts while trying to justify this as “outreach” in to our communities. My, how we have turned loving God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind to only seeking to do humanitarian work which is no different than what any non-believers may do!! When it doesn’t make a difference whether you are part of a “faith-based community” or not, again, shouldn’t that cause some red flags??
I have heard it said that what many are seeking is the “lowest common denominator for unity”. While preaching about one’s sinfulness and need for Jesus as their Lord and Savior, many see this as too much for people and would rather focus on the “lighter side” of the Bible. Instead of passionately talking about our need to repent from sin and walk in obedience to God, many are turning toward other sources outside the Bible to build up self-esteem and promote a contemplative spirituality cloaked as a “deeper” part of the “christian life”. While this approach may be appealing to the masses, this greater desire for “unity” and a “deeper” so-called christianity is nothing more than false teaching giving false assurance to perishing sinful people. No call to repent of our sinful way and believe in Jesus according to the Bible alone.
So let’s go back and ask the question about what really unites us as Christians?? True believers in Jesus find real unity through believing and practicing the exact things found in the Bible alone. True believers seek to love the Lord with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves while seeking to go and make disciples. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit act in complete unity, so the Church made up of individual believers should as well. That means that each of us as individual believers have a high accountability to one another and must each strive to understand the Bible as it is written. Instead of lowering the bar, we must raise the bar.
At times we may disagree how to interpret and apply certain things in the Bible, we still must each earnestly contend for the Truth in love and very carefully decide how the things we are contending for affect someone’s faith in Jesus and salvation. What I think we may find is that there may be less non-essentials and more essentials than what is being promoted today. Simply reducing Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity to nothing more than mere stories, some good thoughts on life, and mere humanitarian work may bring unity, but not the unity that Jesus spoke about.
The unity that Jesus spoke about in John 17 was Jesus’ prayer that His followers, as the Church, be one in unity as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One. We must not take that lightly. If we see outward success from churches, ministries, and the like with growth from attendance, buildings, and cash, we must ask if this is from people really coming to true faith in Jesus according to what is written in the Word or if there has been some sort of compromise for the sake of a pseudo form of unity.
We know from the book of Revelation that as the Last Day draws nears that there will be a one world religion. As we grow ever near to that day, it seems that many are being swept away in belief in another gospel which is no Gospel at all. While efforts may begin pure to see as many people added to the Kingdom as possible, we must not compromise Biblical doctrine in order to do so. While doctrine is in itself divisive and calls all people everywhere to repent of our sinful ways and place our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we must continue to earnestly contend for the Truth. Unity is only real unity when we as believers gather together under the banner of the Bible to search out and apply the Truth of Scripture to our lives within the context for which it was written.