Can a church have unity? Is it even possible for individuals who are often so different to worship in accord? Yes, it is. The Bible teaches that a church must have unity to be truly effective in the work; it even gives us guidelines on how to have unity! So why are so many churches disjointed and practically useless? The reason is that, in order to have unity, we must be selfless, and people don’t like that. You’re not that way, are you? I hope not;for if you are, you might as well stop reading- the basis of this entire essay is that you wish to have the proper attitude in your situation. So what does the Bible actually say about unity in the church? Ephesians 4:1-6 states:
“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
So plainly there is a way to keep the unity of the Spirit in the church. However, God speaks of it as an ‘endeavor’. We would not normally say, ‘I am going to endeavor to go to the store’, we would reserve that word for climbing Mt.Everest, or going to the moon. An endeavor is something that is difficult. It is not easy or natural to have unity in the church. Every church member must work at it constantly for it to work. So what are we to work at? Fortunately, God did not just shove the church out there, and say go have unity. He gave us clear guidelines on how to behave ourselves.
First, though, who do these guidelines apply to? Are we to have unity with the world? With the Muslims? With the Republicans? The Scripture clearly defines who we are to have communion with: the church body. We are required to have unity within our church body; we are not required to have unity with anyone else. However, these guidelines may also be used to define what churches, organizations, or individuals that we, as Christians, may fellowship with. We are only to have fellowship with those who are saved (the same body and Spirit), with those who worship the same Jesus (same Lord), with those who have the same core doctrines (same faith), and who practice the ordinance of baptism correctly (same baptism). If the church, organization, or individual in question does not fall in with these guidelines, then we don’t need to have fellowship with them. However, if they do, then we need to maintain these basic rules to maintain unity as God instructs.
1. Lowliness and meekness.
While these two attributes do not have exactly the same meaning, their connotations are the same. We are to be humble, not proud; giving, not demanding. This does not mean that we are to be doormats, letting people do whatever they want; it means restraining your tongue when you don’t get your way. It means to esteem others better than yourself. Christ was a meek man, but he was not a pushover. Meekness means that you don’t always have to be right; you are willing to sacrifice your pride for the greater cause of Christ.
We all know people who are annoying; we try to avoid them. But when you can’t avoid them, what do you do? Do you spout off at them, making them your enemy, or do you practice longsuffering, and endure? Longsuffering is patience, but in a larger sense of the word. You have patience in the waiting room at the doctor’s office for your well-checkup; you have longsuffering when you must go to the doctor’s office every week. Sometimes in the church body we must endure things that we don’t like for the better good of the church body. This doesn’t mean that we can never make a suggestion or comment to better the situation, but until it can be fixed, we must have longsuffering. However, considering how longsuffering God is toward us, I think that we can afford to have a little patience.
To forbear is to stop and think before you do or say something. Whenever we have any sort of relationship, we always manage to hurt the other person’s feelings. This is especially true in the church, because we expect each other to be perfect. None of us are though, and this can cause contention. It need not, however. If every Christian will practice this thought of forbearance, or thinking before they speak, then we will have a whole lot less drama in the church. Honestly, a lot of problems are started by quarrels that should have been stopped before they even started. While sometimes people really are cruel and malicious, most of the time it was just a slip of the tongue or a misspoken word that somehow managed to start WW3. If we will cover one another’s slights in love, we can have unity.
While these three items may seem a lot to work on, they are only the tip of the iceberg. God expects Christians to manifest all the fruit of the Spirit, not just the ones that are easy. If we follow the guidelines set in the Bible about unity, we can expect to have it. It’s that simple.