Today, church sermons, books, commentaries, and lectures are inundated with the call for unity, and are all pushing for the idea that we must have unity at all costs and do “whatever it takes” to accomplish that goal. Over the years, we’ve heard this “unity” cry from various Christian leaders, such as Rick Warren and Beth Moore (two of the most influential leaders in today’s Christianity), and we are being told by “unity evangelists” that unity is what will bring revival and even save the world. But a study of God’s Word shows that such a concept does not fall within the parameters of biblical Christianity. Nor does it reap the fruit which every born-again believer should be hoping for—the building up of Christ’s body of saints for the work of the ministry (i.e., the furtherance of the Gospel).
We can find a perfect example of biblical unity vs. wrongly devised unity in Ephesians 4. The chapter starts off talking about unity; and to our dismay, this verse is often used out of context to support the views of the unity teachers.
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (vv. 1-3)
But when read in the context of the rest of the chapter, we can see that Paul is not talking about a unity at all costs with all groups and all people. It is specifically talking about those who are born from above (i.e., Christ’s church). Harry Ironside gives some insight on that score in his lecture on Ephesians 4:
People talk about heartless divisions that tear apart the body of Christ, but these divisions do not tear apart the body of Christ. The body of Christ is not composed of all the different sects and denominations. If you were to gather all the different denominations and sects together and unite them all in one big church, that would not be the body of Christ. That would contain a great many people who are in the body of Christ, but it would also include a great many who are not. On the other hand, after you had gathered all these denominations together, there would still be a great many outside them who would be members of the body of Christ. The church, which is His body, and the church, which some call the visible body of Christ, are not the same thing. The body of Christ consists only of those who are regenerated and born again by the Holy Spirit and joined to Christ in glory by the Spirit’s baptism. All the divisions in Christendom cannot split that body. . . . The apostle would have us recognize this unity that God Himself established, and so he said, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Again to the Ephesians, after the apostle Paul describes the “one body” (v. 4) and “one faith” (v. 5), he comes back to the subject of unity:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith. . . . (vv. 11-13)
This hoped-for result, “the unity of the faith,” is coupled in verse 13 with our also having “the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
But here is where many of today’s Christian leaders are misleading their followers. They say we need to have unity, in a broad sense, so that the world will be healed and the Kingdom of God can be established. But in Ephesians 4:14, it gives a very different reason for “unity of the faith”:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
This discussion on unity in the faith in Ephesians 4 is not about being unified for the sake of unity and to heal the world, but it is about the body of Christ not falling into deception and grabbing hold of all kinds of false doctrines.
Misguided leaders of today’s Christian church have bullied and silenced many discerning Christians by convincing them that to challenge these emergent unity leaders and their false teachings is to destroy unity and in their estimation, destroy any chance for there to be revival or for the world to be helped.
Francis Chan is a perfect example of this when he said that God would destroy (even kill) those who challenge Christian leaders and that God wants unity so bad that “it’s an abomination [to God] when there’s some stirring up among the brothers.”
Beth Moore, who has set the stage for this unity without borders, warns her followers to look out for “scoffers” who will thwart plans for a major worldwide revival. She believes these scoffers will stand in the way of a unified church’s revival (one that will include the Catholic Church).
Rick Warren has for years, through his global P.E.A.C.E. Plan, taught that there needs to be a “crossing [of] all barriers, religious, political and other, so that the world’s people will be unified to fight the giants of poverty, corruption, ignorance and sickness.” He says trevival will not come without unity (his definition of unity).
But in the midst of this focus on unity, what Christian leaders fail to do is warn about the reality of spiritual deception and how we have an adversary who is lying in wait to deceive us. They don’t talk about testing the spirits. They don’t warn about New Age teachings and practices that have entered the church. They don’t identify the works of the one of whom the Bible so often warns us and calls “an angel of light” and his ministers “ministers of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). They so often twist and manipulate Scripture to fit it into their own molds. And, thus, they allow multitudes of church goers to be “tossed to and fro” with “every wind of doctrine.”
Romans 16:17 is another verse that associates unity with true biblical doctrine:
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. (emphasis added)
This verse is often erroneously used to condemn those who “name names” and call out false teachings, saying that it is they who are causing divisions, when in actuality, the ones bringing in the false teachings are the ones causing division and a break in the unity of the faith.
In closing, remember the exhortation of Ephesians 4:15 that tells us to always be “speaking the truth in love.” In a loving manner, yes, but always speaking the truth, that we “may grow up into [Christ] in all things.”
Appendix: “Tossed To and Fro . . .”
By Harry Ironside
I never knew until I became the father of children how much is involved in the words that occur in a well-known hymn, “No infant’s changing pleasure / Is like my wandering mind.” How children’s minds jump from one thing to another! How hard it is for them to concentrate! And many of God’s children are just the same. Often when one is trying to explain a truth to believers, he is embarrassed by the questions that are asked showing that his students have not been concentrating and therefore have not grasped the truth. As a result people are never truly established in the faith. It is in order to save us from this thing that God has set in His church those who are responsible to instruct and build up His saints, that they should not be like little children tossed back and forth, like leaves carried about by the wind or, using the figure the apostle had in mind, like little sailboats on the water, blown from their course and tossed by every changing wind.
Christians who are grounded in the truth of God are a blessing. But so many people always seem to be running after some new teaching, never seeming to have any discrimination. Let me give you an absurd case. Years ago as I sat in my office in Oakland, there came in through the bookroom a man. He was tall and gaunt, had long flowing hair coming down over his shoulders, and a long unkempt beard. He came up to where I sat writing. I did not want to be interrupted, for I felt that he was going to waste my time with some useless religious argument. He said, “I gather, sir, from the books I have seen in the window that you are a truth-seeker, and I thought I would come in and have a chat with you.”
“You are mistaken,” I said; “I am not a truth-seeker at all.”
“Oh, you aren’t? May I ask why you are not?”
“Why, because, sir, I have found Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and therefore my seeking is at an end. Once I was a truth-seeker, but now I am a truth-finder, for I know Christ.”
“Well, but are there not many things that you still need to know?”
“Oh, yes; there are a great many things that I need to know, but I have found the great Teacher, and I am not going around seeking truth any longer. He instructs me through His Word.”
“Well, as for me, I am always seeking; I go anywhere and everywhere that I think I can learn more.”
“Yes,” I said, “I was reading of you in my Bible the other day.”
“What did it say about me?”
“It said, ‘Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth’“ (2 Timothy 3:7).
“Why, that has no reference to me,” he said.
“Pardon me, but you said that you are always seeking and if a man is always seeking, he is never finding. But, you see, those of us who know Christ have found the Truth.”
Then he began to tell me some of his weird gospel.
What a lot of folks there are like him in some degree, just running from one thing to another and never getting anywhere. The apostle said, “Hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13), and you get sound words in the Book of God and nowhere else.
In our text we read, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive” (Ephesians 4:14). This verse speaks of men who have selfish purposes to serve, and want to make disciples in order to profit from them. When men come to you with strange and new ideas, ask for a “Thus saith the Lord.” Ask them to give chapter and verse in the Bible for the strange doctrines they bring you. If Christians would only do this, they would not be running after these modern religious fads. God’s own Word has stood the test of nineteen hundred years, and you can depend on it. You can live on it; and as you feed on the precious truth revealed in its pages, you will grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
(photo from bigstockphoto.com; used with permission)