The Church and Unity

The Doctrine of the Church - Lesson # 13

Joel Stephen Williams


    I. The ideal of unity

       A. Jn. 13:34; 17:20-23; Rom. 12:16; 15:5; 1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:3; 2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 4:3-4; Phil. 2:2

       B. In what way is unity implied and an essential part of some of the metaphors used for the church?

            1.  Husband and wife or bride - 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:22-23

            2.  Temple - Eph. 2:21

            3.  Sheep, flock, and shepherd - Jn. 10:16

            4.  Body of Christ - Eph. 4:4

            5.  New Israel or one nation/people - 1 Pet. 2:9

  II. What are some things which are the opposite or in opposition to unity?

       A. "Division is clearly branded a sin in Galatians 5:19-21. Of the fifteen items listed `works of the flesh,' eight have to do with those things that create disharmony or describe division among people: enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy. People are following the flesh and not the Spirit if they allow nationality, color, social status, cultural mores, economic and political differences to keep them apart" (Everett Ferguson, The Church of Christ, 400-01).

       B. Sometimes division is necessary if sin is willful and serious on the part of one or if false teaching is a threat to the salvation of some if it is promulgated. Discuss, though, how one can distinguish between a necessary division and one which is not necessary but which is based on living according to the flesh as Paul outlined in Galatians 5:19-21.

       C. "Unity may helpfully be contrasted with two concepts that stand on either side of it: uniformity and union. Uniformity means everything or everyone [is] alike....There is a certain core of beliefs and practices in which there is a uniformity, although even these may often have variations in expression at different times and places; but to expect a large degree of uniformity is to deny individuality and uniqueness of personality.

               "On the other side, many hope only for a loose sense of union in which people or groups come together in their diversity for limited objectives and a limited degree of unity....

               "Unity may share some aspects of union (a coming together for a common purpose) and uniformity (certain things held or observed `identically'), but its essential quality is elsewhere. Unity requires solidarity and loyalty. Even where there are differences, there is a commitment to remain together....

               "There is room within unity for a diversity that seeks to maintain unity; there is no place for a diversity born of party spirit" (Ibid., 407).

       D. Study Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 in relation to unity. In what ways is the solution to many differences a two-way street? How should the stronger brother or sister give consideration in matters of conscience to a weaker brother or sister (Rom. 14:15-16, 20-21)? How should a weaker brother or sister not try to use conscience as a way to enforce private opinions on the majority (Rom. 14:1)? Where do you draw the line when differences arise? When a weaker brother or sister accuses the stronger brother or sister of sinning, of doing something "unscriptural," when the matter is not a matter of right or wrong, how does this complicate the situation (Rom. 14:3-4, 10, 13, 22; Col. 2:16-17)? How does this move the issue from one of a difference of opinion to a more serious matter which is not as easily resolved? On the other hand, is it possible for the "stronger" brother or sister to use this method of solving matters as a way to disguise sin? In what way is compromise and forbearance out of love on both sides helpful (Rom. 14:19)?

III. Discuss the theological base for our unity - Eph. 4:4-6

       A. One body

       B. One Spirit

       C. One hope

       D. One Lord

       E. One faith

       F. One baptism

       G. One God and Father

IV. How do we express and show our unity?

       A. Sharing the Lord's supper - 1 Cor. 10:16-17

       B. Assembling together and worshipping together - Rom. 15:6-7

       C. Holding a common faith - 1 Cor. 1:10

       D. Participating together in good works

       E. In what ways should our language express our unity?

  V. Conclusion

       A. Can you think of different degrees or levels of unity? For example, we have a spiritual unity in our minds with brothers and sisters elsewhere around the world whom we have never seen, but we have a face-to-face unity with those we see on a regular basis. Or again, we may be united in love with some Christians on most points of doctrine and practice, but a belief or a practice by one group might not be acceptable to another group, so we can not always work or worship together (e.g. methods of funding support of orphans or missionaries or the use of instrumental music). In this latter situation, while complete unity may not be possible all of the time, in what ways can we practice unity at other times?

       B. Name a hymn which expresses the ideal of unity.

       C. Memory verse - Eph. 4:3