Today’s post was written by Salim Kwatsima. Kwatsima serves as a Pastoral Assistant at Redeemer Bible Church in Karen, Nairobi, and a member, attending and gathering with the Redeemer Bible Church community. He is also a student of Biblical Studies in Theology and Pastoral Ministry at Bridgeworld College, Karen and also pursuing a Biblical Counselling course at Biblical Counselling Center. He is passionate about loving, serving, and discipling God’s people to become more like Christ. Salim also enjoys reading, conversations, and outdoor activities.
The unity of the church refers to the oneness of the people of God, in all their various distinctive expressions. And by the Gospel, bound to God and to one another.
A biblical theology of unity reveals a richer and deeper understanding of unity than mere uniformity, and also holds out the goal of visible unity towards which Christians should aspire. The unity of the church is to be a reflection of the unity of the one God, upon which the church is built. The model of church unity presented in Scripture is a unity-in-diversity that protects it from an over-reliance on human hierarchies on one hand, but also, from too great of an emphasis upon human autonomy on the other hand.
The church across the ages and across the globe is bound together by the same gospel as interpreted and proclaimed by the apostles. This apostolic foundation entails that Scripture is the fundamental constitution of the church. As the Republic of Kenya is divided by counties, yet united by a common constitution, so the church exists in many diverse times and places while being united by a common constitution, the gospel, which unites Christ and the church, and saints together with each other.
What Makes Unity Christian?
Christian unity in the New Testament gets its goodness from a combination of its source, its perspective, its affections, and its focus.
Paul tells us to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). I take this to mean that the Holy Spirit is the great giver of unity. “In one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).
Paul says that pastors and teachers are to equip the saints “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). In other words, the unity we pursue is unity in the truth.
Paul adds up the words for common-mindedness in Philippians 2:2, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (see also Philippians 4:2). Everything is to “accord with Christ.” “May God . . . grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus” (Romans 15:5).
To be sure, unifying love in the body of Christ includes a commitment to do good for the family of God whether you feel like it or not (Galatians 6:10). But, as difficult as it is for diverse people, the experience of Christian unity is more than that. It includes affectionate love, not just sacrifice for those you don’t like. We are to have affection for those who are our family in Christ. “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Romans 12:10). “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart” (1 Peter 1:22). “All of you, have . . . sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).
The New Testament emphasis underscores the biblical call to pursue love and spiritual unity in the church. Spirit-rooted, Christ-manifesting, truth-cherishing, humbly-loving unity is designed by God to have at least two aims: a witness to the world, and an acknowledgement of the glory of God. The apostle John makes the first of these clearest. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this, all people will know that you are my disciples if you have a love for one another” (John 13:34–35).
The ultimate aim of such Christian unity is the glory of God. Hence Paul prays, “May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:5–7).
Saved To Be One; United To Make Much of God
It almost goes without saying that unity among brothers and sisters does not mean having the same tastes and preferences on a hundred issues. For example, when Paul says in Philippians 2:2 that we should be “of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind,” he is not referring to favourite music, favourite food, favourite sports, favourite clothes, favourite authors, and favourite charity.
The “mind,” “love,” and “accord” that are supposed to be the same are described in verses 3–8. They are the mindset of counting others more significant than yourself, looking out for the interests of others, and reflecting the mind of Christ in his self-emptying servanthood. “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who . . . emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant . . . ” (Philippians 2:5–7).
Many of the commands in the New Testament direct Christians to live up to their position and demonstrate their unity in Christ. Christians are not commanded to become one in Christ—that is already an objective reality. Christians are told to make their subjective experience match the objective fact. Paul pleads with the Philippians for this kind of unity: “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:1–4). If Christians, who are members of the same team, see themselves in competition with each other, then they are not playing as teammates. They are not living in light of the unity that exists.
Believers are to cultivate affection across differences for those who are truly your brothers and sisters in Christ. Where the Spirit of God is, there must be love, and if I have once known and recognized any man to be my brother in Christ Jesus, the love of Christ constrained me no more to think of him as a stranger or foreigner, but a fellow citizen with the saints.
Believers should strive to know and spread true views of Christ and his ways. Seek to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13). “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Share, by every means you can, what you see of Christ. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom” (Colossians 3:16).
Consider 1 John 1:5-10:
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all.”
“(Therefore) if we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth.” That’s the negative implication from the foundational fact that God is light.
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” That’s the positive implication from the foundational fact in verse 5 that God is light.
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth.”
Who is the “one another”? Verse 6 would suggest that it is God and the believer.
Therefore, as one body, we are called to have fellowship with Him (Be one with God), and “we” refers to saints. (Community of believers)
Christian unity comes with Christian maturity, and it is always something that we strive to attain. Paul instructs us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). Helping us toward that unity are the gifts of the Spirit. God has given each Christian different gifts, and their exercise in the edification of the church leads to growth and unity. One purpose of the gifts is that “we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 1:13). To promote Christian unity, God presents the church in 1 Corinthians 12:12–27 as a living body. The body has many members, each with specialized work to do, but all the parts are united in the Head of the Body, which is Christ (Ephesians 4:15).
The goal of unity in the community of believers is that the church anticipates the heavenly kingdom. It is the sign of joy, the already-but-not-yet presence of God’s kingdom, the taste of the promised feast of heaven. Thus, as believers, we can hope ultimately on the one who made us one with Himself. And individuals can come to see how daily work, economic growth, character formation, education, technological innovation, and cultural institutions that point us upward and outward can all be worshipful participation in God’s divine plan to bring life to the world and glory to God.
From Scripture, Psalm 133 says,
Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
running down upon the beard,
upon the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion.Psalm 133
The point of that psalm is the preciousness and sweetness of harmony and oneness and like-mindedness in the fellowship of God. And I know from experience that the sweetest and deepest moments of fellowship in my life are the hours of relishing some great vision together with people who have the same convictions about God and about the world. And the deeper the agreement, the deeper the joy and the power of those moments.
The Mystery of the Gospel is that God Himself through His Son Jesus Christ has pulled Jews and Gentiles together into Christ and they are saved so that through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God might be made known. In simple terms, God is using the church to display His wisdom and beauty.
We are called by God to one walk: a united walk. God has made us one with Himself and one with each other. God has blessed us with beautiful and diverse gifts for a single whole: to glorify Him through our spiritual maturity. What God is saying through Paul (in Eph.) is, to be united, since we have the privilege of joining Him and being one with Him, and joining and being with each other.
Therefore, Christ is not divided; he is one. Believers possess all things in him, and thus, Church life should be filled with unity among God’s people.