“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:” (KJV)
“In this way, all of us will become completely united by what we believe. All of us will become united because we really know God’s Son. So, we will be like a man who has grown up properly and completely. We will be like a man who is as tall as Christ himself. We will be completely as God wants us to be.”(EasyEnglish)
There are many brothers who are so concerned about doctrine and its systematic presentation that they alienate anyone who thinks slightly different from their established teaching. First of all, my mind has been trained by the grace of God to observe order and to be systematic (or orderly) in the presentation of God’s Word. However, just as any good thing can be carried to an extreme, being systematic can put two sincere disciples of Jesus Christ into theological disputes, simply because of how they have come to understand God’s Word.
And unfortunately when one brother assails another with scriptural “blows”, as it were, without first tending the “Daystar that has arisen in their godly hearts”(2 Peter 1:19), they will soon bypass their simple devotions to Christ that makes them godly, and begin a battle of bible knowledge that forces each of them to read God’s Word academically, seeking their own superiority over the other and endlessly misrepresenting their position as a defense for the gospel.
Before we venture into understanding what the Holy Spirit means by the Unity of Faith, let us first of all deal with what it is not.
1. The Unity of Faith is not Compromise with error.
2. The Unity of Faith is not a Lockdown on the Truth.
3. The Unity of Faith is not Participating in the Traditions of Men.
4. The Unity of Faith is not Uniformity of Expression.
#1. The Unity of Faith is not Compromise with error
Errors are in two categories. Deliberate errors and innocent errors. The best way to put this across is this: there are errors, either blatant or demonically woven with truth, that are perpetuated by people who are not planning to go to heaven. That is deliberate. As the scripture says, their mouths must be stopped (Titus 1:10-11). Especially when you have a prophetic appointment to stop it. That means you have a clear anointing and (spiritual) authority to correct it. You identify the falsehood and deal with it by the Truth.
Now, there are people who are genuinely saved but are sincerely in error. This, for want of a better word, is innocent, and we need to approach it differently. The first thing is to establish a fellowship based on our common salvation. Until we fellowship on this basis, we may have no right to bring correction. In fact, fellowship among believers is what opens our hearts to one another, and it establishes the love that must accompany the (cure of) truth we intend to apply to the error.
The Example of Christ and Paul
The account of the LORD’s message to His seven churches in Revelation 2 & 3, is a perfect example here. Out of 7 churches, Smyrna and Philadelphia had no correction at all; only commendations. The remaining five had corrections. Out of these 5, only Laodicea did not have any commendation and that was because there was nothing to commend by the LORD. Sardis got a little bit of commendation after the correction in 3:4. So we see that the LORD mostly commends first before correcting.
If you are familiar with the Epistles of Paul, you will also notice that every church he wrote to was greeted and mostly commended before digging deep to bring instructions and corrections where needed. Of the seven churches (not persons) he wrote to, Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, Philippians, and Thessalonians, only the Galatians didn’t get commended after his usual greetings. But when you get a sense of his correction, just like the LORD’s correction to the church in Laodicea, you will see that it is all out of love.
That is the way of love. To deal with error in the family, love is the way. You don’t use the truth to insult people because they are partakers with you of the grace of life; and it is part of their growth to receive your correction, when it is well measured out, in love (having established fellowship).
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:” Ephesians 4:15
#2. The Unity of Faith is not a Lockdown on the Truth
Fellowship with those whom we are born together into God’s family is a matured response to the diversity that exists among God’s people in different nations and denominations. Now, there may be certain ideas in the system of a group that is not biblical. This is possible only because most of us God’s children choose to be carnal and not spiritual. We retain personal opinions in the faith, that is why we have different denominations with different beliefs. Yet, it is maturity to not make that your focus in relating with them or else you have no right to ask them to reconsider it in the light of God’s Word.
Now, I do not consider a group Christian, if within their belief system are core fundamental errors that undermines the faith. But when the errors are not fundamental, although yet incorrect according to God’s Word, we must allow the fundamentals we agree on to be the basis of our fellowship, trusting the Holy Spirit to open a way for Himself to correct them.
#3. The Unity of Faith is not Participating in the Traditions of Men
Tracing the history of traditions in church history, it is nothing more than personal, societal and sometimes occultic ideas imposed on the church by certian fathers. Some traditions that are good may not be a problem in themselves because they are only a way of doing things that is peculiar to a people. Methods must differ from group to group, the challenge, however, is refusing the temptation to canonize them or to make them sacred.
Our LORD rebuked any such attempt vehemently when He said, “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.  For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.  And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” Mark 7:7-9 KJV
When we make traditions sacred, we have by that same token, dismissed God’s Word. Both cannot be held together with the same level of devotion. When it comes to traditions, they must never be taught as the doctrine necessary for Christian living, because in teaching them, you are making the Word of God of no effect (Mark 7:13).
When we put traditions where it belongs, we will realize that there will be no basis for much of the division we are experiencing today among Christians and Churches. Where does tradition belongs? It belongs to the world. No matter how good some of them may be, they must not become our doctrine; and because they do not originate from Scriptures, they cannot be a basis for unity.
#4. The Unity of Faith is not Uniformity of Expression
Now, this unity is not in how we organize worship (liturgy) or how we organize other services and activities (church government), rather it is in how we love our Saviour and LORD and how we share that love with others of the household of faith. Expressions don’t have to be uniform. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, we see “diversities of gifts”, “differences of administration” and “diversities of operations”. That means, expressions are bound to be diverse and different. Even when people have similar gifts, because it is the Holy Spirit at work, He tends to express it differently, since the scope of operation and the specific administration of the gift will always be different.
This diversity is never a basis for division; it is in fact a call for unity. We are one body not because we speak alike or we literally do the same tasks but because we have been placed into a specific part/portion of the body of Christ. Where we have been placed is different and each of us have a service to perform towards one another. If we do exactly the same thing, we will have no need of one another. We can’t imagine the kind of monotony and dullness that will result. Our differences in gifting, spiritual office and scope of assignment is certainly a basis for unity because each of our assignments is ministered to the other not to ourselves.
Unity of Faith comes by loving the LORD supremely and those whom He has drawn to Himself by that same love (Jeremiah 31:3, Luke 10:27)
If we focus more on the LORD and less on our individual or group peculiarities, we will all the more see the reason to be united in spirit with all those who are heirs with us according to the promise (Galatians 3:29). I know you know something but you will never learn what you don’t know when it is what is wrong with others that you are preoccupied with. We all could use some correction on areas that may be hidden from us but probably apparent to others.
George Whitefield, an 18th century preacher spoke kindly of another preacher, Gilbert Tennent, who was not as known as he was, when he heard him preach. He wrote in his dairy, “Never before heard I such a searching sermon. He went to the bottom indeed, and did not daub with untempered mortar. He convinced me more and more, that we can preach the gospel of Christ no further than we have experienced the power of it in our hearts. I found what a babe and novice I was in the things of God.” Page 166, Life and Times of George Whitefield
Picture credits: flickr, 123rf