Christian Unity – What it is and What it’s Not

This post is part of a chain blog series initiated by Alan Knox on the topic of “real relational unity”. The first post in the chain is by Alan and can be found here (Chain Blog: Real Relational Unity)

Christian unity is a common topic in many circles, and rightfully so. However, in reality, Christian unity among God’s people is largely lacking. Paul would be rolling in his grave at the amount of things that divide Christians. I wonder how Jesus feels about all of the division among His people? It is little wonder that the we, the body of Christ, are struggling to display Christ to the world. The body is so divided that it can hardly function. Body pieces are lying all over the place (apologies for the graphic imagery). The simple reason for this division is that we have divided ourselves based on our own ideas and preferences.

Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 1 Cor. 12:15-21

When we divide ourselves over things, then truly the eye has said to the hand I do not need you. So what is the basis of our unity? What will allow the body of Christ to be joined together to form a beautiful expression of Christ?

What is Christian Unity?

The best way to understand the type of unity God desires among His people and the basis of that unity is to look at the words of Christ.

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, 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 loved them, even as You have loved Me. John 17:20-23

In John 17, we see that Jesus had a deep desire that His followers would be unified in the same way that He and the Father were unified. This deep desire of the Lord is radical and could never be accomplished through our own human effort. Jesus said, “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity”. The only basis of our Christian unity is Christ and Him alone. We are unified because we are one in Christ. We are in Him and He is in us. When we make Christ and Him alone the ground of our unity and oneness, and forsake all other divisions, then we will see the body joined together to express Christ to the world.

What Christian Unity is Not

With the above explanation, it is easy to figure out what Christian unity shouldn’t look like. Basically, any unity based on something other than Christ is a unity that can cause division among God’s people. Below are common examples (not exhaustive) of things that cause disunity in the body of Christ, even though outwardly they may appear innocent.

Christian unity is not based on;

  • agreement on a view of the end-times and biblical prophecy.
  • being part of the same denominational service.
  • having the same theology or doctrine as another person.
  • having the same view on gifts and healing.
  • where or when you meet.
  • conforming to various church practices.
  • whether or not you homeschool your kids.
  • whether you attend a traditional church service or not.
  • social class and culture.
  • whether you drink (good) coffee or not (For Alan’s benefit).

Simply put, when we base our unity around these ‘things’, we unknowingly divide ourselves from other Christian’s who believe or practices differently. However, when we base our unity on Christ and Him alone, we simply see our brothers and sisters as fellow children in God’s family (regardless of ‘things’). We see our brothers and sisters as fellow members of Christ and His glorious body. This means that we can still be unified in the face of disagreement over ‘things’ because our Christian unity is not based on ‘things’, but rather a person, Christ.

Since I started living with this view, I have had beautiful fellowship with many brothers and sisters, most of whom I never saw eye-to-eye with on many issues (many of the stated ‘things’ in my list above). I have met new people from vastly different cultures and walks of life, who I have been able to instantly connect with on a spiritual level. Our fellowship was around Christ and Him alone. Even though we were vastly different, we had beautiful fellowship. What a sight to behold! It’s amazing that Christ can unite people from such different walks of life. Unity in the midst of diversity. Praise the Lord! I’ll end off my post here.

The Chain so far:

  1. Chain Blog: Real Relational Unity by Alan Knox
  2. The Treasure of Unity ‘in’ Our Relationships by Jim Putney
  3. So The World May Know – Observations on the Road to Unity by Christopher Dryden
  4. Christian Unity – What it is and What it’s Not by Nathan Odell
  5. Steps to Relational Unity by Randi Jo
  6. Learn to Live or Live to Learn by Greg Gamble
  7. The Limits on Unity by Arthur Sido
  8. Joints of Supply by David Bolton
  9. Some Examples of Real Relational Unity by Alan Knox
  10. An Example of Relational Unity by Greg Gamble
  11. Relational Unity Begins at Home by Kathleen Ward
  12. Do Not Seek Christian Unity by Jeremy Myers

———–

If you would like to be part of the chain blog then you simply need to follow these rules:

1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.

2) Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain.” Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog (both on this post and the other link posts in the chain).

3) When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

About the author

Nathan Odell Nathan Odell is the author of Joined to Him. You can connect with him on

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Comments

  1. Nathan,

    Thank you for taking part in the chain blog! I love that you brought 1 Corinthians 12 into this discussion. Not only is that passage about unity, but it shows that we actually NEED one another – just as the hand and the foot need each other and just the ear and the eye need each other. So, unity is not just about us being together, but about us needing one another to grow in Christ.

    -Alan

    • Thanks for the comment Alan. And thanks you for creating such an open platform for dialogue between members in the body of Christ. It is a real encouragement to see what other brothers (not as many sisters unfortunately. I hope this changes. Maybe you should write a blog post encouraging the sisters ;)?) views on unity in the body of Christ. I also love the stories that come out. We really do need one another!

  2. Thanks Nate. Valuable stuff. My son (in his mid-30’s) and I always enjoy Alan’s balanced way of teaching and inter-action.

    Two books on the subject that have helped me are:

    Francis Schaeffer’s ‘The Church at the End of the Twentieth Century,’ expounding and applying Jn. 13 and 17. Obviously dated (!) but pure gold.

    Hot of the press, South African Michael Cassidy’s ‘The Church Jesus Prayed For,’ an exposition and application of Jn. 17. Published by Monarch Books. A life-time of experience in Africa and around the world packed into this one.

    Church unity is so important for a credible gospel, isn’t it. Although into organic house churches, I still attend and benefit from two inter-denominational Fraternals in our city. It helps me keep in touch with the larger body of Christ and contribute to her unity in the Metro in a small way.

    Regards!

    • Thanks Erroll. Your comments always seem to be very encouraging and insightful – I really appreciate them. I only came across Alan at the beginning of this year, and I agree. His blogs are very balanced, but at the same time he isn’t afraid to speak the truth in love. I really appreciate his blog and have benefitted greatly from it. His balanced views have helped balance my often unbalanced views haha.

      Thanks for the book recommendations. I have only ever read one of Francis Schaeffer’s books, which was about 5 years ago. It was “Escape from Reason”, which was a more philosophical take on Christianity. I will look into picking up a copy of the one you recommend. I’ll also look into getting a copy of Michael’s book. I’ve never heard of him, but I like to hear perspectives from my fellow countrymen 🙂

      Thanks again Erroll!

  3. Nathan, I am glad you mentioned the passage in John 17. I was recently enjoying it so much – the Triune God is ONE, and whatever the three in the Godhead do is in complete oneness.

    And this oneness is what God desires that His believers on earth should have. In other words, God wants to enlarge His divine oneness and include us in Him, as He said, “That they may be in us, even as I am in You and You are in Me”. We need to be IN GOD so that we may be one, and God in us is the source of oneness!

    Satan’s schemes and subtlety needs to be exposed by many believers who are joined to God as one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17) and together are ONE in the Body and with the Body of Christ, so that the world may believe that the Father has sent the Son!

    • Thanks for the comment Stefan. I agree wholeheartedly with you in your analysis of John 17. In fact I saw this better when I fellowshipped with brothers and sisters who were part of the WL group, which I see you are heavily affiliated with. The only thing I didn’t agree on was the locality being the practical ground of oneness. I strongly believe Christ alone is the spiritual and practical ground of oneness. Anything else will cause division as expressed in my post. Obviously, this disagreement does not mean I cannot fellowship with these brothers and sisters… I fellowship based on our love and enjoyment for Christ.

      • Brother, as the Bible says, we should put aside anything that we know may divide us, and until the Lord guides us into all the reality to understand all things, let’s seek the things that lead to peace. We are called into one Body in one Spirit to enjoy the Lord and be built up together in His unique Body.

        Our ground of oneness is really the Triune God Himself. There’s no other ground. Even “the ground of locality” should be applied in Spirit and with much love. May we all refuse to be divided based on doctrines and may we seek the building up of the Body of Christ, which is for the preparation of His Bride for Him to return soon!

        Happy to fellowship, brother!

        • Amen. Agreed brother. That is the main purpose and thrust of this post. As Paul says “We know in part”. None of us have a corner on the truth or a complete revelation. But we do have Christ and the Spirit to guide us into truth. We must endeavor to learn and receive from all brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, regardless of ‘things’ or how spiritual they seem. Thanks for the comment. I appreciate your portion of Christ. Bless you brother.

  4. zambydmcd says:

    “Paul would be rolling in his grave at the amount of things that divide Christians.”

    What a powerful statement and well expanded on in the rest of the article. Good job Nathan, a pleasure to come across your blog as well.

    For Alan’s sake it might have also been useful to point out that Christian unity is certainly not based on whether you’re righteous or you drink coffee. Which is good news. For Alan. And coffee lovers.

    I also say a hearty amen to the fact that we really do NEED each other and shouldn’t let issues get in the way.

    I got the impression as well that you only just got into your flow before you ended off – are you going to continue your thoughts and experiences in future entries?

    • Thanks for the comment Chris. I’m also happy that I found your blog… looks like a great resource. I also read that post Alan put up about a story of him not fellowshipping with someone because they didn’t like the same coffee as him haha. So yes, maybe I will add coffee to my list haha 🙂

      Yes, I started getting into the flow near the end (It’s funny how the first paragraph always seems to be a real labour, and then near the end everything starts to flow). Perhaps I should have kept writing, but I don’t like to go far over 1000 words. I think i’ll write a follow up post in the future explaining more stories how i’ve found unity with other believers.

      • Nathan,

        Bloggers often write more than one post for chain blogs. So, if you write another post that you would like to include in the chain blog, just let us know.

        Pray for Christopher… he doesn’t understand the glory of God’s grace through coffee yet.

        -Alan

      • zambydmcd says:

        That would be brilliant, Nathan. I struggled to keep mine anywhere near 1000 words, and there was actually a structure for it that had to go out of the window such as the heaps I wanted to express.

        I certainly felt there was so much more you wanted to share about your experiences of this unity in action. So I rub my hands in anticipation of the good stuff you have to share, as well as settle down with some non-coffee beverage to enjoy some of the rest of your material.

        God bless you in your good work.

  5. I wrote the next entry in the chain. I love how you broke this down easily with what christian unity is… and what it is not. I tried to further than a bit and go from a different angle. 🙂 Thanks!!

  6. I love your list of what relational unity is NOT. I would add to the list that sitting in rows alongside each other once a week is not a form of relational unity or even “fellowship”. It needs to go a bit deeper than that.

    You write well, Nathan – I need to come back and look through your other articles some time.

    Blessings,

    – Kathleen

  7. Yes, yes, yes! True unity is being able to fellowship with others and be friends with others, even IF we do not see eye-to-eye on various issues and topics.

    Though a real unity-breaker is bad coffee… (loved that point!)

    I recently added my own link to the chain blog: http://www.tillhecomes.org/christian-unity/

Trackbacks

  1. […] “So The World May Know – Observations on the Road to Unity” by Christopher 4. “Christian Unity – What it is and What it’s not” by Nathan 5. Who will write the 5th link post in the […]

  2. […] “Christian Unity – What It Is and What It Is Not” by […]

  3. […] by Jim 3. “So The World May Know – Observations on the Road to Unity” by Christopher 4. “Christian Unity – What it is and What it’s not” by Nathan 5. “Steps to Relational Unity” by Randi 6. “Learn to Live or Live to Learn” by […]

  4. […] “So The World May Know – Observations on the Road to Unity” by Christopher 4. “Christian Unity – What it is and What it’s not” by Nathan 5. “Steps to Relational Unity” by Randi 6. “Learn to Live or […]

  5. […] by Jim 3. “So The World May Know – Observations on the Road to Unity” by Christopher 4. “Christian Unity – What it is and What it’s not” by Nathan 5. “Steps to Relational Unity” by Randi 6. “Learn to Live or Live to Learn” by […]

  6. […] the way I dialogued with people. I realized that it is possible to sacrifice brotherly love, unity, and mutual edification on the altar of truth/doctrine. To me this is a sacrifice not worth making, […]

  7. […] the way I dialogued with people. I realized that it is possible to sacrifice brotherly love, unity, and mutual edification on the altar of truth/doctrine. To me this is a sacrifice not worth making, […]

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