THE UNIQUE UNITY OF THE CHURCH

Because they share a common God-given calling and a common God-given identity members of the church exist in a unique relationship of unity with each other.

We are not speaking here of geographical unity, nor of organizational unity.  Nor are we speaking of unity in respect to the visible church. The visible church contains a mixture of believers and unbelievers and cannot be equated with the true church which comprises only those whom God has called and made his own through faith in Jesus Christ.

Concerning the intrinsic unity of all people whose faith in Christ is biblical faith the Bible teaches that, irrespective of any obvious differences and distinctions:

      • They are all regenerated and indwelt by the one Spirit [Ephesians 4:4]
      • They share a common hope and a common faith [Ephesians 4:4,5]
      • They share a common Lord [Ephesians 4:5]
      • They share a common fellowship with the Father and the Son [1Peter 1:3]
      • They are individually and corporately the dwelling place of God [John 14:20 ,23; 1Corinthians 3:16 ; 6: 19 ; Ephesians 2:21 ,22]
      • They have all been baptized into Christ by the Spirit [1Corinthians 12:13 ; Galatians 3:27 ; Ephesians 4:5]
      • They share a common foundation of truth [1Corinthians 3:11 ; Ephesians 2:20 ]
      • They share a common salvation [Philippians 2:1-2] based on their common identification with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ [Romans 6:1-14; Galatians 2: 19-20; Ephesians 1:18-2:6; Colossians 3:1-3]
      • Their relationship with Christ has made all previous inter-personal distinctions and divisions irrelevant [Romans 3:22-30; Galatians 3:26-29; Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 3:10-11]
      • Together they comprise the one body of Christ [Romans 12:5; 1Corinthians 10:17 ; 12:12 ,13,27; Ephesians 1:23 ; 3:6; 4:4,12,16; 5:23 ,30].

In this unique intrinsic unity of the church there is both comfort and challenge:

There is comfort in the presence of the common criticism against the church concerning the obvious lack of unity in the visible church. The visible church is always going to be divided. There is always going to be a tension and a struggle between belief and unbelief, both in theology and practice. This is so not only because of the presence of unbelievers in the visible church, but also because believers are themselves on a journey , in an on-going process, of identifying and putting aside error and putting on truth in matters of both belief and practice. But this observable division does not and cannot deny or undermine the intrinsic and essential unity of those who comprise the true church. This deep unity exists as a result of the saving action of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. It is embedded in the faithfulness of God.

There are also challenges:

Firstly, that in response to the criticism of the unbelieving world, or to the urgings of unbelievers in the visible church, the church must not jettison its true unity, detailed in the scriptures above, for the sake of an observable organizational unity. To pursue observable unity would of necessity jettison the very truth that produces and sustains the church. The historic denominational divisions in the church result from the refusal of true believers to embrace error for the sake of unity. The relativism of our contemporary post-modern culture makes the challenge to preserve the truth at the expense of observable unity possibly a greater challenge than it has ever been before.

Secondly, that the real unity that exists between true believers must be increasingly be visible to the world. This unity will express itself, as Jesus said it would, in a deep love for each other - a love that transcends all organizational divisions, all racial divisions, all social divisions; a love in which all traces of personal superiority and pride have been washed away by the grace of God; a love in which grace and forgiveness reign. Such unity, expressed in the presence of observable divisions, proclaims the truth of Christ to the watching world [John 17:23]. 

Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2009