A few months ago, a friend gave me a copy of The Glorious Body of Christ by R.B. Kuiper (who died in 1966). I have not had the chance to read it yet, but I was able to skim it a few nights ago. I was pleasantly surprised by what Kuiper said about unity:
It can hardly be denied that ideally the church of Christ should be one in outward appearance as well as inner reality. In that respect it ought to resemble the apostolic church, which certainly was intended in the main as a pattern for the church of succeeding ages… In the measure in which the visible church fails to manifest that attribute [unity], outward appearance belies inner reality.
For that reason the notion, which has long been prevalent in orthodox circles, that denominationalism is perfectly proper insofar as it is occasioned by God-appointed natural factors, must be rejected. The fact that Christians speak different languages is a poor excuse for their dwelling apart in different denominations. As it is, there are denominations in which several languages are employed. It is difficult to see why a dozen or more could not be used in one communion. Again, if geographical distance ever was a valid reason for denominationalism, it can hardly be so regarded in this age of fast travel and almost instantaneous communication. It is not nearly as far from New York to Shanghai today as it was from Jerusalem to Rome in the days of the apostle Paul. And as for differences in racial traits, Christians do well to remember that in Christ there is neither Greek nor Jew, Barbarian nor Scythian, white man nor colored.
The ideal is clear. However, no less clear is the fact that the basic cause of division within the church of Christ, namely sin, is operating as powerfully today as it was in the past and that beyond all reasonable doubt it will continue to operate as powerfully in time to come…
Shall we then discard the ideal? God forbid! It is of the essence of Christianity to strive for the unattainable.
Kuiper says that sin is the basic cause of division within the church. As I’ve studied this previously (for example, see “Is unity important?“), I’ve found that Scripture only gives us a few reasons to separate from another follower of Christ: 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, not contrary to YOU and your tradition) (2 Thess 3:14-15; 1 Tim 1:20; 2 John 10-11), and divisiveness (Rom 16:17-18; Titus 3:10-11). If we separate ourselves from other brothers and sisters in Christ for any other reasons, then we are guilty of divisiveness, which is sin.
Kuiper says that neither language, nor geographic distance, nor race are reasons for groups of believers to separate from one another. What about the more prevalent reasons today? What about differences in biblical interpretations? You know, those pet “doctrines” that are so important to us, but are interpreted differently by other believers. If these “doctrines” do not teach contrary to the gospel, then they are not reasons to separate from other believers. What about what is commonly called “worship style”? Again, this is not a reason to separate from other believers. What about leadership style? Nowhere in Scripture are we told to separate from other believers because we disagree with someone’s leadership style.
Can we, like Kuiper, admit that separating for these reasons admit to divisiveness, which is sin? I think that once we admit that the divisiveness that we see in the church today is sin, then we are making the first step toward unity. And, if we are honest and admit that we are partly responsible for this division, we are taking another step toward the unity that we have in Christ. And, if we then stop trying to be united by our own means, and rely completely on the grace of God, and live in unity even with those believers who are not just like us, we are again beginning to walk in unity. Can we truly begin to maintain unity as we are instructed? Can we humble ourselves before God, stop trying to prove ourselves right in everything, and accept other believers as Christ accepted us, and trust other believers to accept us (in spite of our problems and errors!)?
We are one in Christ. If we are not living as one, then are we living in Christ?