Does the church group that you meet with dwell together in unity? In the organizations that you affiliate with, do they dwell together in unity? Does the Church of God around the world, as God sees it, dwell together in unity? Paul exhorts the Romans, "Be of the same mind toward one another..." and "Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 12:16; 15:5). It is obvious that Paul is stressing true godly unity. Paul, like the Apostle Peter, emphasized this theme in many of his letters.
Many connect truth with godly unity. Paul spoke of those who "...did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved" (2Thes 2:10). Jesus taught his disciples and the Apostles, who further taught us in their epistles, that God's church should be unified. If all the members of God's church believe the truth, it should bring unity among them all. Yet, in the many splinter groups of the church that have formed since the time of the Apostles, there are people who blame "the truth" for causing the church to splinter! One person understands a doctrine one way and another understands that doctrine another way and each claims to have "the truth". But each draws followers to himself and the church splinters.
To be a part of God's church, we must love the truth. Without the love of the truth, there is no salvation. "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me'" (John 14:6). Jesus is the truth. " However, when he [it], the Spirit of truth, has come, he [it] will guide you into all truth.... And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 16:13; 8:32). Truth must be revealed to us before we can understand it.
Is there a conflict between truth and unity? Is there something about the truth which causes a lack of unity? Is there something inherent about the truth which precludes unity? Which is more important: truth or unity? Should we strive for one at the expense of the other? Both are vitally important. How do we balance truth and unity?
How far should one go in search of unity? Some would have us give up the use of our rational minds and the understanding given by the Spirit within us (1Jn 2:27) and simply agree with whatever is the official line of their organization.
One organization, calling itself a church of God, has published an article entitled, "Truth or Unity?" The author covers a lot of the scriptures on truth quoted above and then writes that another verse is just as compelling. He quotes, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1Cor 1:10). The author then concludes: "Any time a seeker of truth introduces a 'new truth' to a friend in the church-unless the truth he has just discovered also agrees with church doctrine"he finds himself in conflict with the plain scriptural command that all in the church must speak the same thing." This man is twisting the writings of Paul-trying to bring Paul's authority in line with what he wants to teach. He is saying that if you understand a truth in the Bible that happens not to agree with the organization you are in, and you share that with a close friend, you are now in conflict with what Paul said about us speaking the same thing.
This author would have you believe that if you discover some truth-right there in the Bible, truth that God may have revealed to you-you must reject that truth for the sake of "unity" because it is not "speaking the same thing," does not agree with "established truth" or the organization's doctrine. The church "leader" continues: "The one who introduces a new truth often conveniently chooses to ignore this troublesome scripture, and in the name of 'truth' and 'love of truth' ventures to speak something that is not 'the same thing' as what all the rest of his brethren speak! As soon as he accepts this new truth, he no longer agrees with his fellows-he no longer satisfies the godly requirement of being 'perfectly joined together in the same mind.' Through his departure from established truth, he has effectively removed himself from God's called out ones who all speak the same thing." If you would believe this man, you cease to be a part of the body of Christ the moment you share that new truth. He even says, "Seeking 'truth' may cost a Christian his eternal life." What kind of heresy is this, that a child of God should avoid seeking the truth? This is especially revealing when you remember that Jesus is the truth! This church leader is advocating that you follow him rather than Jesus!
Truth is truth even if it disagrees with "established truth"!
Still, in some people's minds there is a conflict between truth and unity. So, once again, which is more important-truth or unity? Should we strive for one at the expense of the other? How do we balance truth and unity? What is unity?
Since many others use 1 Corinthians 1:10 as the hallmark scripture for unity, it is in order to re-examine this scripture and its context. Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that t there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you" (1Cor 1:10-11). What was the division that Paul was focusing on? They were not speaking the same thing because of certain contentions. What were these contentions? "Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ'" (1Cor 1:12).
The context clearly shows that the problem was that members of the church at Corinth were starting to follow various men (see 1Cor 1:13-16; 3:4-23). The church at Corinth was split into several factions. One little group held up Apollos as their favorite man. Paul was another group's favorite. Other groups had their own favorites. They started having contentions between them as to who was the best leader and through whom God was primarily working. The church at Corinth, as a whole, was losing unity. They were no longer speaking the same thing regarding who they were following and who was the true leader. That is the context.
Regarding this section of I Corinthians, Halley's Bible Handbook says: "...many small congregations, ...it seems, were developing into rival, competing units, rather than cooperating units, in the general cause of Christ.... And, in addition..., they were rallying as partisans around one leader or another. Thus the church was split into factions, each trying to stamp Christ with its own little trademark, a practice which still prevails in frightful proportions."
The context of 1 Corinthians 1:10 demonstrates that the contentions were based on partisanship. Each group was following its own particular leader, possibly even with disdain for other leaders, which has nothing to do with seeking truth or with truth seekers.
Did Herbert Armstrong bring unity to the church? In a February 1984 sermon, Herbert W. Armstrong proclaimed, TODAY WE NOW HAVE UNITY! This was in reference to the divisions and problems in the Worldwide Church of God in the 70 s. He further stated, We will no longer tolerate division or dissension and if anybody comes with a different point of view and does not speak the same thing, they will be dealt with VERY STRICTLY." Clearly, Herbert Armstrong equated "unity" with speaking the same thing. But, is that true, godly unity?
He also wrote in a Plain Truth editorial: "The one great barrier that separates professing Christians into denominational bundles-that keeps them apart-that promotes rivalry, hatred and causes continued new splits and divisions-is this insane insistence that the other fellow must see 'eye to eye' on every little point of doctrine." Armstrong recognized that the insistence that we all see eye to eye on every little point of doctrine is a primary cause of division. It causes rivalry. He continued, "...As long as DOCTRINE is employed as the basis for church unity, every so called 'church' will continue to suffer strife, division and separation into more divisions." How true that is! Armstrong wrote this editorial in March, 1938. Seeing the changes in administration, attitude and organizational structure in the intervening 50 plus years helps us to understand what went wrong in WCG and why it has gone the way it has today.
The context of the unity scriptures mentioned at the beginning of this article shows that none of them is about everyone being 100 percent in agreement on every little point of doctrine (see also Phil. 1:27; 2:2; 1Pet 3:8).
If we look at the recorded life of Jesus, how much time did he spend on picky points of doctrine? The Pharisees tried to trap him on small points of doctrine, and, more often than not, Christ s general approach was to step back and look at it from a broad point of view? not from a "nit picky" point. Yet, he knew exactly what the truth was-every little point. Paul's instructions to Timothy tell him to avoid the picky stuff and the contentions. Yet, he was encouraged to study and to take heed unto doctrine. The Bible says, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
We must truly seek godly unity. Seek unity and base it on love, not doctrine. Truth is important. Doctrine is important. Apostasy is vital to watch out for, but we do not all have to agree on every little point of doctrine to have godly unity. If one believes in a place of safety and your brother does not, does that qualify as apostasy and a reason to boot him out? What about Passover? You believe in the 14th and your brother believes in the 15th or vice versa. We are all still trying to keep the law, still trying to follow Christ and God to the best of our understanding. If one has a personal understanding that differs from a brother's, can we still not have love one for another and have godly unity? What about church eras, makeup, tithing, prophetic points, the Work? The list is endless. Are any of these issues big enough to throw people out of a fellowship and cause division?
The answer is "no", and, surely, most of God's people will agree. But with the "leaders" of the various organizations-a resounding "yes" is the answer! Because they must have the power to remove those who disagree with them in order to retain their preeminence. These "leaders" are no different than Diotrephes (3Jn 9-10). In fact, these "leaders" revel in their differences with other leaders, call these differences to public attention, and then try to claim that these differences signify that " they"and only they and their organization-are "God's true church".
No unity is possible as long as God's people continue to follow men and their hierarchical organizations which use these often small doctrinal differences to retain their power and authority over God's people.
The confusion lies in a basic misunderstanding of two very similar concepts: political oneness and godly unity. Political oneness, however, is not godly unity. Political oneness is harmoniously following a man and his ideals. Being forced to follow some man or group of men is not godly unity. Political oneness is where that has been achieved. Herbert Armstrong believed he had achieved unparalleled unity in the church in 1984 and that it was only going to get better. Since his death, the rate of splitting has increased with each passing year! Observing the events of the church since then, how much godly unity truly was there? There was political oneness for a time, but, not godly unity.
So, what is the basis of true godly unity among members of God's church- "Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling,..." (1Pet 3:8-9). The whole basis of this is love-to have compassion for one another, be tenderhearted and courteous-be of the same mind. "Fulfill my joy by being like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself" (Phil. 2:2-3).
The basis for unity is love, not doctrine!
Is there a time when personal doctrine can be a cause for division? It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and such sexual immorality as is not even named among the Gentiles that a man has his father s wife! ...In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1Cor 5:1, 4-5). In this example, an individual obviously had a personal doctrine about sexual morality which was wrong and disagreed with scriptures such as Leviticus 18:8, 20:11; Deuteronomy 22:30, 27:20. His personal idea of what was right was obviously a cause to get him thrown out.
It was an area of obvious, open immorality that brought shame on the church (1Cor 5:1). Is that equivalent to a disagreement about keeping Passover on the 14th or the 15th? What does the Passover disagreement have to do with immorality? Absolutely nothing! Openly breaking the 10 commandments, obvious lawlessness or demonism would also qualify for causes of division. If someone goes around stealing or killing, that individual should be separated from the body, keeping Matthew 18:15-17 in mind as a guide to dealing with our brothers and sisters in the church. Don't worry about differences in doctrinal points. Study. Be diligent. Be a truth seeker. But leave the wrongful judging (Matt 7:1-5), the strife and the "finger pointing" behind.
We have seen numerous Church of God organizations in which there is a doctrine of exclusivity with the claim that the only way to God is through them or that they are the only ones through whom God is working. Is this Biblical? Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all? (1Cor 12:4-6). The Greek word for "activities" is "energematon" which means " things wrought; effect, operations or workings". In contemporary terms we would say "there are different works, but it is the same God who works all in all." God is not limited to one exclusive organization. There are different works.
When we consider other groups and the work that they do, what goes through our mind? Do we compare their fruit with the fruit of our group? Do we boast of how many members we have? Do we feel superior to those in other groups? "For we dare not class (rank) ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us.... For we are not extending ourselves beyond our sphere..., for it was to you that we came with the gospel of Christ; not boasting of things beyond measure, that is, in other men's labors, but having hope, that as your faith is increased, we shall be greatly enlarged by you in our sphere, to preach the gospel in the regions beyond you, and not to boast in another man's sphere of accomplishment. But 'He who glories, let him glory in the Lord'" (2Cor. 10:12-17). There would be much less boasting and judging and unity would be vastly improved if the various groups would apply the above verses to their mode of operation.
Jesus also said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:11, 14, 16). There are differing works and Christ has sheep "not of this fold" but of other folds. When we get into this "exclusive" frame of mind, unity is impossible!
Look at it from God's point of view. Take a step back and imagine looking at the church body scattered on this planet earth. You have people called out here and there in different countries. You notice that there is one man standing up and yelling, "Hey! Follow me! These other guys are no good." Another guy elsewhere stands up and says, "Hey! Follow me! We're doing the work!" Yet another man in another place stands up and says, "The others aren't following the truth and are heading into the tribulation. You all better follow me!" They all have essentially the same doctrines with only a few differences, but still, "Follow me! I'm the truth. I'm the way. God is here!" What is happening?
The church is being divided, is it not? And who is causing that division? Is it the scattered individual truth seekers or is it the men standing up and drawing lines in God's body, in Christ's ekklesia? Who is dividing the body? And what are we supposed to do with those men? "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" We are told to avoid those men. "For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Rom 16:17,18). We can see that actually happening when we look at it from God's point of view.
Partisanship obviously causes division. It does not cause unity. When unity is based on doctrine, it does not promote godly unity: it promotes political oneness, which is of this world.
The Feast of Tabernacles pictures God's kingdom on earth, when God will reign, not man. People gather in their various feast sites to practice godly unity. More often than not, it is political oneness that is practiced, but yet we do strive for godly unity. When we go visit other brethren of different walks of life and from different organizational backgrounds, it is an excellent opportunity to exercise godly unity based on love- not political oneness based on doctrine. But we really need to study and learn the lesson of the Feast of Tabernacles: When Jesus is reigning, we will truly begin to learn what godly unity is all about.
What will it be like in the millennium? "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tiding of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' Your watchmen shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord brings back Zion" (Isa 52:7-8). Then, and only then, will we, as a human race-without man made organizations"see eye to eye on every little point of doctrine. But that is because God himself will be our God and will write his laws in our hearts and minds. Eventually we will get there, but such agreement on every iota of doctrine and understanding of the scriptures is simply not possible today.
Let us pray for the return of our Christ and his kingdom, but in the mean time, let us put aside this insane insistence that we agree on every little point of doctrine and see eye to eye on all these things. Jesus only gave us one new commandment while he was here on this earth: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34, 35).
Does anyone really believe that the disciples of Christ even knew enough to agree with him on every point? Do we not read of the contentions as to who was going to be first in his kingdom? Did they not ask questions of Jesus in regard to restoring the kingdom of Israel just before he ascended (Acts 1:6)? It is easy and natural to be on the "let's see eye to eye" side of the coin. But that is not right. Focus on true godly unity and not on political oneness.
Jesus loved his disciples and they loved him. They experienced godly unity. We must have love for one another. If we can love each other enough to allow for differences of opinion without it affecting that love, and if we will work harder and love our Lord and Master, Jesus the Christ, and follow him as the only head of his church, then we, too, will experience godly unity!
Norman Brumm III