A line in the sand: We cannot compromise on the unity of the church
In a post a few days ago I noted Richard Hays’s suggestion that the two most important norms for the church in the mind of the Apostle Paul were the example of Jesus and the unity and welfare of the church. Hays notes that when Paul calls Christians to live out the implications of the gospel in Romans 12 he calls them, collectively, to offer their bodies as a living sacrifice – referring to a sacrifice in the singular.
The call upon Christians is not simply individually to serve the Lord, but to make sure that they serve Christ together. There can be no obedience that is divisive, no faithfulness to Christ in the context of separation and division between Christians. Unity is a norm just as important as is obedience to the truth or to the other particular commandments of Scripture. Where Christians refuse to reconcile with one another they demonstrate that they do not believe the gospel. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar” (1 John 4:20).
The church’s witness to the gospel therefore requires first and foremost – before anything else short of the proclamation of the gospel itself – the practice of those virtues that testify to our love for and unity with one another. We should be willing to give up any personal practice or opinion that undermines this unity, short of fidelity to the gospel itself, refraining from judging one another in those areas in which God has given us freedom. Instead, we should devote ourselves to “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:12-13).
If Christians put on love above all else it will bind them together in perfect harmony (Col 3:14). And in this way the peace of Christ will rule in our hearts, testifying that we are one body (Col 3:15).
This is not optional. Unity is not an ideal that we aspire to once we have perfected our obedience to God. The unity of the church is part of that obedience. It is part of our salvation. It should be front and center in our collective mind as we seek to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus.