Skip to content

The Necessity and Possibility of Unity (Pt 2)

This is part 2 of a multi-part series on “Restoring Our Unity Heritage.” If you missed a part or would like to read the entire essay ahead of time, I have posted the file at the bottom of the page.

The Solution

“The glory which You have given Me I also have given to them, so that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and You loved them, just as You loved Me.”
John 17:22–23

The Spirit’s Unity

At times it seems a bit hopeless. When one can drive down a stretch of highway and see several congregations of the Churches of Christ and know that none of them will have anything to do with each other, one wonders if unity among all believers, not just the Churches of Christ, is even possible. But I sincerely believe that it is, and I believe that the tools to accomplish that have been handed down to us by men such as Alexander Campbell, Walter Scott, Thomas Campbell, and Barton W. Stone. Furthermore, I believe that the principles which they set forth as the basis of unity are sound, biblical principles that any Christian can reasonably agree to regardless of their background.

Naturally, there will be those who will continue to hang on to their traditions, regardless of how unnecessarily divisive they may be. And while I regret that such will be the case, I am still optimistic that the Lord’s prayer in John 17 was not in vain, and that unity is possible.

Of course, for unity to be achieved (or should I say allowed?), there are some things that need to be worked out, specifically, what is the basis of fellowship? And to answer this question, we must also discover the difference between a matter of faith and opinion. This is a task, as we shall see in this article, that Alexander Campbell labored over for thirty years before reaching a reasonable and biblical conclusion.[1] Prayerfully, and with a little help from Alex, we will only take a few paragraphs, not thirty years. But first, let’s explore what the Bible says about unity.

In the quotation from John 17 at the beginning of this section, Jesus said that the basis for unity is the glory which is given to those who are His disciples. In other words, unity is less about what we do and more about relinquishing the things that divide us and allow the unity that already exists to be seen among us. Jesus also says something that should be troubling to anyone who is even remotely aware of the many divisions that plague the church: unity among the disciples is a major way the world can come to know Jesus. As long as we remain divided, we are severely harming our ability to reach those who do not know Jesus. Thomas Campbell explained,

Have we not seen congregations broken to pieces, neighborhoods of professing Christians first thrown into confusion by party contentions, and, in the end, entirely deprived of Gospel ordinances; while, in the mean time, large settlements and tracts of country remain to this day entirely destitute of a Gospel ministry, many of them in little better than a state of heathenism, the Churches being either so weakened with divisions that they cannot send them ministers, or the people so divided among themselves that they will not receive them.[2] (Emphasis mine—bold and underline)

Thus, we see just how important Christian unity is. In a world plagued with violence, greed, immorality, and all other manners of evil, the church should no longer contribute to those continued evils by remaining divided. While we may not be taking part in those evils ourselves, remaining divided as we are takes away our most powerful witness: unity through mutual love.

Again, how can we come to unity? It’s not that we aren’t united at the deepest levels; the problem is that we do not consent to the Spirit within us who longs for us to lay aside the weight that so easily divides us. By this I mean, if we will not be divided in Heaven, why should we remain divided on Earth? Returning to Thomas Campbell, he exclaimed,

O! that ministers and people would but consider that there are no divisions in the grave, nor in that world which lies beyond it! there our divisions must come to an end! we must all unite there! Would to God we could find in our hearts to put an end to our short-lived divisions here; that so we might leave a blessing behind us; even a happy and united Church.[3] (Emphasis mine—bold and underline)

This unity which exists in the world beyond the grave, as Thomas Campbell put it, doesn’t come from unity in doctrine, theology, or methodology. The unity in the world beyond the grave comes from the simple fact that we have all been baptized into the same body by the same Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:13). The unity which exists between every believer belongs to the Spirit, for Paul wrote, “…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, being diligent to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2–3, emphasis mine—bold).

Since it is the Spirit that unites all believers in one body, it is not our superficial definitions of unity and fellowship which unite us, it is the Spirit. Any unlawful division, then, is in direct rebellion to the Spirit Himself. To speak of a divided church, really, is a contradiction. The basis of the theology of the church held by the Disciples of Christ is “that the church by its very nature is one, and that it is a contradiction to speak of a divided church.”[4] This idea comes ultimately from the Bible (“is Christ divided?”), but it is a reference to Campbell’s paper from which we have quoted several times thus far:

That the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one; consisting of all those in every place that profess their faith in Christ and obedience to him in all things according to the Scriptures, and that manifest the same by their tempers and conduct, and of none else; as none else can be truly and properly called Christians.[5]

As referenced above, this is a sound, biblical principle. There is only one body, and that one body is the church which belongs to Christ (Ephesians 4:4; cf. Ephesians 1:22-23). While the church may be visibly divided, it never can be divided at its core.

[1] Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement (2005), p.15. Campbell suggested to get all the various groups together, including “the Greek and Roman sects” and determine the rule of union. Whatever was universally admitted among all the parties in areas of faith, piety, and morality would be the basis of union while all other disagreements would be rejected as schismatical and human. (Millennial Harbinger (1839), p.212.)

[2] Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address (Kershner, 1972), p.28.

[3] Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address (Kershner, 1972), p.40.

[4] Leroy Garrett, The Stone-Campbell Movement (2005), p.109.

[5] Thomas Campbell, Declaration and Address (Kershner, 1972), p.44.

Read the Full Essay Now

While I will continue to post the entire essay piece by piece, you can go ahead and read the entire thing below. Feel free to print it, share it, download it, or whatever. You can find a mobile version of this essay on the LNIV store for free.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.