The Fight for Unity in the Church

Christians, let’s fight for unity in the church.

For many people, watching UNC win the NCAA basketball tournament was a huge thrill. One of the major reasons the Tar Heels achieved their high victory was certainly their ability to hang together as a team. They were unified in their goal to win and in their willingness to play as one unit. Their unified vision and effort overcame every opponent they faced in the tournament.

I long for this kind of unity in Christ’s churches. Concerning the early church (just before the Day of Pentecost), we read these words:

Acts 1:13-14 And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.

The words “with one accord” do not refer to a Honda. Rather, that phrase means they had one mind. They were living out what their Master Jesus had prayed for a few weeks before:

John 17:11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Jesus knew that church unity would be difficult. So he prayed for his followers, that they would come together as one. Unfortunately, churches often fail to achieve unity. Often our sentiments about each other sound something like this:

“A Methodist minister wired his bishop to ask if it would be all right for him to conduct the funeral of a Baptist. The bishop wired back, ‘Bury all the Baptists you can.’”

Within every true Christian congregation, every one must set his or her heart on maintaining unity with the other believers who gather in that place. Here are a few important and enlightening facts about unification within the church:

Unification happens when we gather together.

The apostles were gathered together, along with other believers. Acts 1:15 informs us that about 120 believers were all together in the upper room—apparently, crammed in like sardines! But it was so important that they come together.

Many of the great hymns of the faith speak of this coming together:

The Church of God is one:
As brethren here we meet;
For us salvation’s work is done,
In Christ we stand complete.

And

Brethren, we have met to worship
And adore the Lord our God;
Will you pray with all your power,
While we try to preach the Word?

The book of Hebrews provides these instructions:

Hebrews 10:24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

We are not to neglect meeting together, because unity requires us to gather face-to-face.

It makes me sad when I hear about people skipping a church service “to keep the nursery.” I’m talking about people who don’t have to be there (because there are plenty of helpers already there), but they choose to stay instead of going into the service. This desire to avoid the Body tends toward disunity.

If UNC had had players that refused to gather and listen to the coach, but instead decided to go to the concession stand or something else, they would not be the champs right now. True unity depends on coming together.

Unification happens when relational obstacles are ignored.

Notice that in the upper room there were all sorts of people. They did not allow their differences to separate them. Gender, race, socio-economic status, and other demographic dividers were not obstacles to unity.

Churches must constantly overlook what may divide us and constantly focus on that which unifies us.

Unification happens when we have the same goal.

Jesus gave the early church a major task. He commanded them to “make disciples” and “be his witness…to the ends of the earth” (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8). Because the early Christians all had these common goals, they came together as a unit and served as a team. So should we. We have been given the exact same goals.

If a church has ten different goals, they will not be a unified church. Every member should ask, “What am I trying to accomplish as a Christian? Why do I think having a church is important? What are we trying to accomplish together?” When the people of a congregation all come to the same answers to these questions, they will be unified.

Unification happens when we all believe in the resurrected and ascended Jesus.

The early church was unified in their beliefs about Jesus. They had seen him alive again after he had been crucified and buried. They had seen the nail-prints in his hands and feet. They had watched as he ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9). They believed in Jesus, and they believed certain truths about Jesus. These were among the beliefs they held in common and that bound them together as a team.

A church operates in unity when it believes the same truths about Jesus. This means our doctrine is critical. We must know what we believe to be true about God, Christ, the Bible, salvation, and other major doctrines—we are bound together by this common faith.

Of course, this implies that the people within a church are studying their Bibles and seeking to understand its teachings. Amazingly, one of the clearest ways you can help promote unity is by reading Scripture every day. When church members ignore the Bible, they ignore the faith that connects the flock together as a unit.

Unification happens when we pray together.

The early followers of Jesus were unified because they were devoted to prayer (Acts 1:14). What were they praying about? Probably everything they could think of! I’m sure they brought their fears and anxieties to the Lord and cast them at his feet. They confessed their sins. They prayed for their family, friends, and neighbors. And no doubt, they spent ample time just praising God and thanking him for his amazing grace.

Prayer unifies people because God is One. When we pray together, we are gathered together around his throne. I encourage every church member to find someone at your church to pray with. Find a group, Sunday School class, Wed night prayer meeting, or just another Christian, and pray, pray, pray. This will unify believers in the way Christ desired for us.

So if all the items in this list are ways we can be unified, then the converse is also true. Disunity happens when we (1) fail to meet together, (2) hold our differences in contempt, (3) have different goals for our church, (4) allow doctrine to be ignored or confusing, and (5) fail to pray.

What will you do today and in the upcoming week to promote unity in your church? How can you contribute to the Oneness of the Body of Christ? Christians, let’s fight for unity!