the weblog of Alan Knox

Is unity important?

Posted by on Feb 5, 2007 in community, discipline, unity | 35 comments

A few days ago, I posted a blog called “Unity in Christ…” For hundreds of years – perhaps over a thousand years – the church was (more or less) united through hierarchy and doctrine. During the reformation, something incredible happened. Though believers sought to return to Scripture, they also began dividing. Today, the institutional church looks like a jigsaw puzzle with very few matching pieces. Why?

According to Scripture, there are various reasons that believers should separate from one another. (When I say “separate”, I mean refusing to fellowship, teach, and gather together.) However, in each of those instances, one group of believers is separate from an individual believer. This separation only happens after attempts to reconcile have failed. Also, there are only a few reasons given for dividing. More importantly, though, it seems that in Scripture, when a group of believers separates from someone, they begin to treat that person as if he or she is an unbeliever. We never see an example of believers separating from one another, while continuing to treat each other as believers.

What are some reasons for separating from someone who calls himself or herself a believer? I’ve found these reasons:

  • Unrepentant Sin (Matt 18:15-20; 1 Cor 5:1-5)
  • Disorderliness (2 Thess 3:6)
  • Refusal to Work (2 Thess 3:7-10)
  • False Teaching (contrary to the Gospel) (2 Thess 3:14-15; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 John 10-11)

In the last case, this always seems to be false teaching related to the gospel. In other words, believers should separate from someone who is teaching salvation through someone or something other than Jesus Christ. This kind of “false teaching” does not mean that someone teaches a different brand of eschatology from someone else. Teaching ideas contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ was considered “false teaching” – not teaching differently.

Scripture gives us one more reason for separating from another person who calls himself or herself a believer: divisiveness. Consider these passages of Scripture:

I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. (Romans 16:17-18 ESV)

As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:10-11 ESV)

In both of these passages, believers are urged to separate from someone who is attempting to divide the church. And, thinking about the other passages on discipline (i.e. Matt 18:15-20), this means that believers are to treat a divisive person as an unbeliever. This only works if there is true community/fellowship between believers. Only then will discipline affect the person being divisive. If the church has little community or fellowship, then the divisive person will not care if he or she is being disciplined. He will not care if other people are separating themselves from him, because he will not be missing anything.

When I put these thoughts together, something occurs to me. Unity is necessary if discipline is going to be a deterrent from divisiveness (or any other unrepentant sin). Think about that for a moment. In order for discipline to be effective, there must be unity. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that we rarely see discipline today: discipline doesn’t work because there is no unity to begin with. Of course, this is just one reason that the church should live in unity. There are many, many more reasons.

May we begin to live in unity with brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we disagree with them.


35 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  2. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  3. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  4. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  5. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  6. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  7. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  8. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  9. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  10. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  11. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  12. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  13. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  14. 2-5-2007

    Hi Alan,
    Appreciated your comments today on Geoff Baggett’s blog re: giving. I posted just after you did, and feel pretty much as you do.
    I also posted some thoughts on unity on my own blog today at http://where-we-live.blogspot.com/
    Sometimes we are so careful to distance ourselves from other doctrines regarding baptism or eschatology that we miss the blessing of enjoying the unity we do have in Christ.
    Kat

  15. 2-5-2007

    Kat,

    Welcome to my blog, and thank you for your comment. I will check out your post on unity. As you said, unity in Christ is certainly a blessing. I am trying to live in that blessing more and more.

    -Alan

  16. 2-5-2007

    So, as we have differences on important matters, maybe not salvific issues, but issues of how the gospel is lived out, what do we do? The obvious answer is you pray, talk, and teach until y’all come to the realization of the truth and agree. But what if that is not happening? Do we agree to disagree? (What if it is over a matter of what one thinks is disobediences to Scripture, can we agree to disagree?) Do we discuss at infinitum? Do we compromise for the sake of unity?
    To be honest, this often looks hopeless … thank God for the hope we have in Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

  17. 2-5-2007

    Maël,

    I knew someone would ask the difficult questions – leave it to you to be that person. Scripture does give reasons for separating from people, but only by treating them as unbelievers. I think approaching Scripture humbly – as opposed to assuming that I am correct and the other person is wrong, so I must prove that they are wrong – would help us in this area. Along with that, both parties must be dependent on the Holy Spirit to guide their words, thoughts, and actions. Thanks again!

    -Alan

  18. 2-5-2007

    You know me …

    1) I agree that we should be humble and willing to discuss and not just debate. I would also add that as long as both parties are honestly seeking to understand one another and seeking to better undestand God, then this conversation should go on for as long as it needs to.

    2) I was also trying to make the point that from a human standpoint it can look hopeless, but there is hope … even if I don’t always see it.

  19. 2-5-2007

    Again, Alan, a great post and reminder here. In regards to what Mael and you just said, I once heard someone say “If we part ways over this, it will be you walking away and not me”. That is how I try to live.

    I am humble enough to know that I am not God and that I am not perfect and that I don’t know all things (don’t laugh, Brandon!). Alan, you said, “I think approaching Scripture humbly – as opposed to assuming that I am correct and the other person is wrong, so I must prove that they are wrong – would help us in this area.” I would say that this is one of the many aspects of love that is so unfortunately absent within the body today – humility and all that it truly means.

    Nothing (except what you have listed) is worth dividing over so much that I would forever part ways with another brother or sister. But if the parting does happen, it won’t be because I was the one who walked away.

    Hope that made some sense!

    Blessings :-)

  20. 2-5-2007

    One more thing … thank you for pointing this out:

    False Teaching (contrary to the Gospel) (2 Thess 3:14-15; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 John 10-11)In the last case, this always seems to be false teaching related to the gospel. In other words, believers should separate from someone who is teaching salvation through someone or something other than Jesus Christ. This kind of “false teaching” does not mean that someone teaches a different brand of eschatology from someone else. Teaching ideas contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ was considered “false teaching” – not teaching differently.

    Blessings!

  21. 2-5-2007

    Maël,

    I’m sorry that I didn’t comment on your statment (2). You are abosultely correct. Sometimes unity seems hopeless – even idealistic. However, nothing that God provides for us is hopeless. I agree completely!

    Heather,

    Humility is so difficult for me. I like to be right. I’m learning that there are some things that are more important than being right. There are also some things that are more important than proving someone else is wrong.

    I think the idea that false teaching is anything that doesn’t agree with me, also stems from a lack of humility.

    -Alan

  22. 2-5-2007

    Alan – I was wondering, what does it mean to treat someone as an unbeliever?

  23. 2-5-2007

    Alan,

    I’m pretty sure I agree with everything you say here. And I think you say it quite well.

    What I am trying to sort through regards cooperation in ministry by way of denominations and mission boards, etc. that are set apart from each other on the basis of different understandings of biblical doctrine. Does this “setting apart” constitute division in and of itself? Or is it a healthy and even biblically correct thing to do sometimes to decide to work more closely with others in ministry who share our particular values and perspectives than with other true believers who don’t? I see the example biblically here of Paul and Barnabas deciding to go their own way and choose their own team members with whom each one was better able to work. Did their going their separate ways constitute division? Or was it just a pragmatic decision that ended up in the furtherance of the work?

  24. 2-5-2007

    Leah,

    What does it mean to treat someone like an unbeliever? That’s a great question. I guess, I would say it would be to NOT treat them as a fellow believer. That is, there is a loss of fellowship between the two.

    David,

    I understand the situations that you are addressing on your blog. I think you are discussing very important issues for the SBC.

    I guess, in answer to your question, I would ask a question: If Paul and Barnabas found themselves in the same city at the same time, do you think they would have joined one another in fellowship and ministry? Scripture does not specifically answer this question, but I think the way we answer it would affect how we respond to other believers who may have different understandings of Scripture than we do.

    -Alan

  25. 2-6-2007

    We might not see a record in Scripture of Paul and Barnabas fellowshipping together after their “split”, but we do see Paul desiring John Mark to be with him.

    Since John Mark was the object of the disagreement to begin with, I think that sheds a lot of light on how Paul may have handled being in the same town as Barnabas.

    Agree?

  26. 2-6-2007

    Steve,

    I would agree. Speaking of fellowship when in the same town…

    -Alan

  27. 2-6-2007

    Great post, Alan. As always, I enjoy reading your thoughts.

  28. 2-6-2007

    Gordon,

    Thank you. I’ve enjoyed interacting with you and others on your blog as well.

    -Alan

  29. 2-7-2007

    I definitely think Paul and Barnabas would have had fellowship and joined each other for ministry, when and if in the same city. And I think you have a very valid point.

    At the risk of being pedantic, another issue is what to do about 2,000 years of church history. The majority of Christians today are affiliated with some denomination or another. By being radically non-denominational, it seems to me, you are de facto breaking fellowship with a major part of the Body.

  30. 2-7-2007

    David,

    It is my desire to live in unity with all who are brothers and sisters in Christ. I cannot control how others respond to this. I can only respond to what I feel God is telling me to do through Scripture.

    By the way, I have never considered myself to be radically non-denominational.

    -Alan

  31. 2-7-2007

    David Rogers said: …another issue is what to do about 2,000 years of church history. The majority of Christians today are affiliated with some denomination or another. By being radically non-denominational, it seems to me, you are de facto breaking fellowship with a major part of the Body.

    Sometime in the not-so-distant future, I will be a resident in a city where the vast majority of people have chosen to settle into communities that are divided along ethnic lines. The history of this city is such that this has been a reality since its inception. And in my opinion, the city has suffered in innumerable ways due to these divisions.

    Sadly, many of the residents from one community will frown upon (sometimes to the extent of ostracizing) individuals from their own community (ethnic group) who seek to step beyond the historically accepted ethnic boundaries to establish relationships with those in neighboring communities of a different ethnicity.

    While I very much intend to live, support, work within, and maintain relationships among the community in which I settle, I have every intention of establishing new relationships with individuals in the surrounding communities.

    Or should I defer to the historically accepted ethnic boundaries, even though my intention is to create, maintain, and expand relationships among people living in the same city?

    Stan

  32. 2-7-2007

    Stan,

    I think your illustration is a valid parallel to our discussion, and it sheds much light on how the church reacts to differences contrasted against how the world reacts to differences. In many ways, the church is reacting to differences between believers much like the world has reacted to ethnic differences. There are many in the world that are calling for change, such that ethnic differences can be maintained without reacting differently to the person. Perhaps the church is behind in this area?

    -Alan

  33. 2-8-2007

    David raises an interesting point, but I think that Alan’s answer is a good one. We can’t control the way others respond, but we can seek to live in fellowship with others to the extent that they will allow us to.

    I think of Paul’s comment to the effect that we should live at peace with others “as much as it depends on you”. Seems Paul understood there was a limit to the amount of unity that one side of the equation can produce! ;)

  34. 2-8-2007

    It seems to me we are looking at this from a pretty biblically balanced perspective (though one day we’ll see “face to face”). Alan, I did not mean to insinuate you or anyone else here is “radically non-denominational,” just point out that perspective, and try to respond to it biblically and practically from the questions we are discussing here. I personally think denominations can, and many times have, put up barriers between people that are not glorifying to God, and tear down the unity He wants for us. However, although 2,000 years of history have muddied the water quite a bit, I think we can live out God’s desire for unity from within the context of an evangelical denomination. It is more than anything, I believe, a question of attitude. And then, putting that attitude into practice with concrete actions of love and fellowship.

  35. 2-8-2007

    Steve,

    You are right. This is the question that I am still asking: Can I live in unity with someone who does not wish to be united with me?

    David,

    You said: “It is more than anything, I believe, a question of attitude. And then, putting that attitude into practice with concrete actions of love and fellowship.” I agree with you completely, though I would probably add “obedience” to attitude. “Unity” is not demonstrate in what we say about it, but how we practice it.

    -Alan