I think this is a good time to post a few thoughts on the theological and biblical basis for unity.
In the Bible, everything starts with God—not just chronologically (Ge 1.1), but essentially, ontologically; he is the grounding, as well as the beginning, of all things (Ro 11.36).
One of the most basic biblical teachings about God is that he is One (Dt 6.4). That implies a couple of ideas: first, that he is not divided; he is one in essence and thus is internally consistent. A second implication is that he is unique; there is no one like him and thus there are no other gods competing for his position (Dt 4.35, 39; Isa 44.6; Jn 17.3).
Now, those of us whose Bibles include the New Testament recognize that God exists in three persons, called the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I don’t intend to go into a defense or explication of the Trinity here, but just to note that the existence of three persons in the Godhead in no way compromises the essential unity of God. Jesus himself, who is God (Jn 1.1), calls the Father “the only true God” while distinguishing him from himself (Jn 17.3) even as he notes that “I and my Father are one” (Jn 10.30).
God is united in plan, purpose, and work as well as in essence. As just one example, all three members of the Godhead unite in the work of founding and preserving the church, the expression of the people of God from the New Testament period through today:
- Founding (Ac 2.33, 38)
- Baptismal formula (Mt. 28.19-20)
- Salvation (2Co 1.21-22; 1P 1.1-2)
- Sonship (Ga 4.6)
- Inclusion of Gentiles (Ro 15.16)
- Gifts (1Co 12.4-6)
- Perseverance (Jude 20-21)
- Benediction (2Co 13.14)
The fact that God acts in unity with himself means that our actions as well should be driven by his Oneness. As early as when Israel was constituted as a nation, God based his people’s behavior and interaction on his own unity. The Ten Commandments, which were the core of Israel’s “Constitution,” are presented twice in the Scripture, in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy (“second Law”) 6. In both places, God begins by reminding his people that He is One (Ex 20.2-3; Dt 6.4-5).
He sees his Oneness as the basis for all we do.
In our age, as I’ve noted, we as God’s people don’t find our identity primarily in national terms the way Israel did; the church consists of people “from every nation, tribe, people, and tongue” (Re 7.9; cf Mt 28.19). What is it that unites us?
Two things. Or one, depending on how you define them. Or him.
The Scripture says repeatedly that we are one “in Christ” (Jn 15.5-6; Ep 1.3-6; 10; 22-23), who in turn is “in the Father” (Jn 10.28-30; 1Co 3.23). Our unity as God’s people, then, depends entirely on God’s unity (Ep 4.4-6; Jn 17.21-23).
The Scripture also notes that we are one “in [the] truth” (2Th 2.13; 1Ti 4.6; 2P 1.12; 2J 4; 3J 1-4)—and it’s worth noting that Christ called himself “the truth” (Jn 14.6).
When division comes to the body—something that is deeply unnatural, though not unforeseen—it is generated by falsehood:
- False teaching (2J 9-11; Re 2.14-16)
- False living (Mt 18.15-17; 1Co 5.1ff; 2Th 3.6, 14-15)
In those cases the church is called to isolate those introducing falsehood, thereby protecting the unity and purity of the Body of Christ (1Co 5.1ff).
Being one is part of the essence of who we are as God’s people. Though falsehood can drive us apart, it should be dealt with biblically so that unity—in the truth—can be restored. And that unity, in spite of physical and cultural divisions that ordinarily drive people apart, is designed to demonstrate to others, both earthly and heavenly, that there’s something supernaturally unique in the power that keeps us together (Ep 3.1-10).
That’s a lot to chew on.
These days we ought to be chewing more thoughtfully.