This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.
It is almost impossible for an evangelical today to comprehend what biblical unity is. The practice of factionalism has been going on for so long and is so strongly reinforced by the teaching of the various factions, that it is like asking a fish if he is aware of the water in which he is swimming. When you have known nothing else, how can you be aware of the alternate reality? As is always the case, the alternate reality (the real reality, as some philosophers have said) is contained in the Word of God.
The philosophical problem of the one and the many has been captivating philosophers for thousands of years. How is it possible (or is it even possible?) to conceive of unity amidst diversity? The answer to that question is a resounding, YES! The one and the many is resolved in the doctrine of the Trinity. All of the examples of the one and the many in this world are analogous to the nature of God revealed in the Trinity.
God is Spirit. God is one Substance. God is three Persons. The three Persons are One God. The three Persons of God are equal in power and authority. The three Persons of God have assigned Themselves a protocol of functional subordination in which we are told that the Son proceeds from the Father and the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son. This is unity in the midst of diversity. This is the pattern and picture for the Body of Christ, the Church.
Unity does not deny that differences exist. Paul (I Corinthians 12: 19) says, “And if they were all one member, where would the body be?” The answer to that rhetorical question is, nowhere! We are not all one member. We are different. But we are also one. Our differences are what define, or constitute, our oneness. If we were not different we would not exist at all. It is a myth to believe that oneness consists of uniformity. We exist because we are different but we are not to be separated because we are different. After all, has Christ been divided?
This is not just a bunch of semantic games that I am playing. The fact that the Church does not recognize that its oneness is defined by it’s differentness is what has brought us to this point where we believe that we must be factionalized because we are different! We have come to believe the propaganda that asserts that we are to be “like-minded”, when “like-minded” is defined as agreeing upon the same body of specific doctrines. Then, by definition, anyone who does not agree with our body of specific doctrines (I am not talking about doctrines necessary for salvation here, I am talking about the good, old “denominational distinctives”.) is not “like-minded” with us. What else is there to do with a non-like-minded person but to wish him well and separate?
Philippians 2: 1-2 describes “like-mindedness” properly when it says, “If therefore there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” Biblical unity is not demonstrated by agreeing to the same list of particular doctrines. Biblical unity is the like-mindedness that evidences itself in the fellowship of the Spirit, in affection and compassion, and in being united in spirit and intent on one purpose. The sentence I just wrote also describes, in an analogous fashion, the nature of the unity of God. That sentence is to be the nature of the unity of His people as well.