What Christian would deny the importance of church unity? “Church unity” probably conceived of as, “every believer under the authority of his or her local church united with others within the local congregation of believers united for a common purpose.” If you’re reading this, you probably agree your church needs to be united. Contesting unity seems sinful and immature. In fact, it seems plain silly. What organization (even non-christian) says, disunity helps fulfill the goal? What sports team pursue disunity between offense and defense? “Sorry, you’re the post. We guards will never try and work with you! Good luck with the other big man down at the goal! We’ll be playing our own game.”
Church unity is essential. But what does it mean to be united? Does it mean the entire church looks like each other in giftedness and strengths? God describes the church as a body. He has gifted each church with individuals. Every individual has a gift for the purpose of building the church. Some are hands, feet, ears, or toes. Not everyone has the same gift. Understanding how the Lord equips the church seems to disqualify a definition of unity requiring everyone to be the same. So unity is not 1,000 Clone Troopers waiting for the command and turning on the Jedi at the appropriate time! (and there is much rejoicing– yeah-yeah).
The need for unity should never be downplayed either. Consider all the problems in Corinth: contention, sexual immorality, lawsuits among believers, drunkenness during communion, weaker brothers, head coverings, and abuse of gifts. What does Paul address first? He instantly confronts the Corinthians for uniting against each other under different teachers, “I am of Paul . . . Cephas . . . Apollos . . . (and you can hear the super spiritual claiming) ‘I am of Jesus'”. Their contention and disunity are immediately addressed! Unity among the church is EXTREMELY important!
So what does it mean to be united? Paul tells the Philippians they are to “stand firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel . . .” (1:27). Unity is important because the Philippian churches’ testimony is important. When Paul wrote to them the Scripture we study he was not sure he would get out of prison. He was always encouraged by their love and concern for him and he updates them on the progress of the Gospel. Paul desires to see them and encourage them, but unsure of the future, he tells them, “Whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm . . . striving side by side. . .” (1:27). So whether Paul is able to ever see them again or not, he wants their testimony to include a united church focused and standing together.
In other words, the churches testimony is important! Why? Because the church is a body telling the world it submits too and worships the Living Savior Jesus Christ! It stands as a pillar in the community declaring the most important message ever told: “Christ reconciles sinners to Himself!” God, in His kindness and mercy, looked at His enemies. He had similar options given to George Bush (Bomb them), and He sent His most prized possession to die in place of them so that the penalty of death can be removed and those who believe in Him can be forgiven! This message the church reflects to a world who needs a message it doesn’t even acknowledge or know it needs! So the church (not the building but the people) reflects the Gospel message!
The importance of the church to the community is the most serious and necessary! Jonathan Edwards and other colonial pastors ministered in an environment where the church and state (government) worked hand in hand. We recognize a biblical distinction and understand a separation is good. But, let us never forget (like those before us) our importance to the community. Separation of church and state never reduces the need our local community has for a Gospel centered church!
Communities (the people in those communities) need a Gospel centered church! They need a community who focuses on the Gospel! But imagine what happens to the community (and the glory of God) when the church is disjointed and bickering among itself over style of music (or insert your other pet-peeve here). No longer do you have a community spending its energy and resources to proclaim, now believers have lined up on two sides of a field replicating Civil War battle fields. Each side fires at the other side blindly picking off fellow believers until one side has dwindled so much the other side declares victory!
So how do we avoid and combat our internal self-exalting desires to see our preferences followed by others in the church? How do we set aside trivial issues like you homeschool and we public school for unity? Simple. We make the Gospel central! (Phil 1:27). Paul tells the Philippians, “I will hear that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the Gospel”(1:27). We stand firm — meaning we habitually stand united with similar thought and attitude that we have one goal! Our goal is to strive together for the Gospel! We make the Gospel central to our churches’ purpose! Why do we as a church exist? To advance the message of reconciliation and equip you, the believer, to minister in the church and to the unbeliever who needs the message you represent and carry!
So what does it mean to be united? It means we make a big deal about the Gospel message. We strive together for the Gospel. We work together and labor together to advance the Gospel whether it be inch by inch; yard by yard; and/or year by year! We set aside our preferences, follow our leadership, and go to advance the Gospel! We only raise issues when the Gospel is at stake! (Btw, the gospel is not at stake because Bobby-Sue listens to Christian rap or the worship director now uses the Bongos or electric guitar in the service!)
To be united means we have similar thoughts, attitudes, and actions about our mission of striving together for the Gospel and no one will break us of the main goal! We understand opponents (both worldly and religious) will fight us. We know people will hate our message and stand against us because they don’t like another person reigning on the throne. But we never stop advancing the Gospel. Our unity is in how we view the importance of our mission! We as a church stand united in attitude and mind striving together for the Gospel!