But of course! Why wouldn’t it be? What a stupid question! Well, unity has a number of meanings, so we better get more specific. Since I posted the question, I guess it is up to me to pick the dictionary meaning to be used. In my dictionary it is meaning number five: complete accord among persons regarding attitudes, opinions, intentions, etc.
Does the Bible have anything to say in answer to my question? Let’s look:
- Old Testament – Psalm 133:1, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren (God’s people) to dwell together in unity (Hebrew, altogether, alike)!”
- New Testament: John 17:23 (NAS), “I (Jesus) in them (Jesus’ disciples) and You (the Father) in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me.”
Ephesians 4:3, “Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;” Ephesians 4:13, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Colossians 3:14 (NIV), “And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”
So, it is plain that for the Old Testament brethren (Israelites believing in the coming Messiah) and for New Testament Christians (members of the true Church, who believe in the Messiah, Christ, who did come) that unity is desirable and all of God’s people are to strive for unity among themselves.So far we have found out a few things:
- Unity is desirable, at least among believers;
- Jesus prayed to the Father that believers would be perfected in unity, so that the world would know that the Father had sent Him;
- That if believers conduct themselves towards each other with lowliness, gentleness, patience and love that the desired unity would be found.
But, it is equally plain to all Christians that the world-wide Church is not in unity, with hundreds of different denominations competing with each other and insisting that their views are the only Scriptural ones.
Hum – it is beginning to look like this subject is not as simple as it sounds. Let’s go back to God’s original intentions as recorded in the Book of Genesis, starting at chapter one, verse one, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” By the twenty-fifth verse of chapter one, after five creative days and a portion of the sixth, God had created the universe and all its inhabitants except man, and had pronounced it good!
What happened next is explained in the passage from chapter one, verse twenty-six through chapter two, verse one: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’ And God said (to the man and woman), ‘See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food;’ and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth, and all the host of them, were finished.”
In Genesis chapters two and three we get more details about God’s intent for the first humans:
- Genesis 2:7, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being..”
- Genesis 2:18 (NIV), “The LORD God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
- Genesis 1:21-25, “And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof, and the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, ‘This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’ Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.”
- Genesis 2:8, 16, 17, “The LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’”
- Genesis 3:8a, 9, “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day – – -then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’” From this we see that visits from God marked Adam and Eve’s existence in the Garden of Eden.
- Thus we see God’s intention for man was to be in perfect unity – Adam and Eve as “one flesh” in unity with each other, both of them in unity with God and with their environment.
- Having been instructed to be fruitful and multiply and to fill the earth, they could expect that as children were born, the growing family of man would also be in unity, as long as they obeyed God’s instructions.
The Bible doesn’t say how long Adam and Eve lived in perfect unity with God in the Garden of Eden, but in Genesis chapter three it spells out the catastrophe that destroyed that unity when both Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God’s severe discipline began:
- Their unity with God was broken.
- Their unity with each other was broken, Adam blaming Eve for his disobedience, Eve blaming Satan, in the guise of a serpent, for her disobedience.
- They were removed from a perfect environment and into a world that would be hostile in comparison.
- Their natures, which were inclined towards God, became inclined towards sin (see previous blog, “Hard to Kill,” for more about this.
- Their first-born son, Cain, exhibited that nature which was inclined towards sin, when he killed his younger brother, Abel, of whom he was jealous. So, this sinful nature was now part of mankind’s genetic makeup, inherited by each new child – moan!
- As a few centuries went by and the population of the earth exploded, a situation developed described in Genesis 6:5-8, “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. So the LORD said, ‘I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.’ But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.” Up until this time Genesis mentions only four men that had been commended by God: Abel, Seth, Enoch and Noah.
- So God cleansed the earth of its wicked inhabitants through the great world-wide flood, and began a new world population through Noah and his family, consisting of Noah, his wife, his three sons, Ham, Shem and Japheth, and their wives.
When the waters of the flood had subsided, and God had told Noah to come out of the Ark, Noah built an altar and offered sacrifices of every clean animal and bird in thanks to God for their deliverance. Then, per Gen. 9:1, ‘God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth (more about this later).’”
It would seem like once again there was unity among God’s people, which consisted of the eight members of Noah’s family to start with, and grew as children were born to his three sons. In the course of starting anew after the flood, God had :
- Made a covenant with Noah, “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease (Genesis 8:22).”
- Provided a sign that this was so, “It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh (Genesis 9:14, 15).”
- Added to their previously vegetarian diet, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you—but you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood (Genesis 9:3a, 4).”
- Established capital punishment, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed; for in the image of God He made man (Genesis 9:6).”
The unity among God’s people seemed to last until Noah’s grandson, Canaan (Ham’s son), was old enough that responsible behavior was expected of him. “And Noah began to be a farmer, and he planted a vineyard. Then he drank of the wine and was drunk, and became uncovered in his tent. And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. But Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and went backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. So Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done to him. Then he said: ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants he shall be to his brethren.’ And he said: ‘Blessed be the LORD, the God of Shem, and may Canaan (Ham’s last son) be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and may he dwell in the tents of Shem; and may Canaan be his servant.’”
From this hard to understand occurrence we follow other descendants of Ham (than Canaan). In Genesis 10:6 we learn that Cush was the first son of Ham. Then, “Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth. He was a mighty hunter before the LORD; therefore it is said, ‘Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the LORD.’ And the beginning of his (Nimrod’s) kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar. From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (Genesis 10:8-12).” Note, Nimrod’s kingdom was Babel —-in the land of Shinar.
Apparently Nimrod’s kingdom dominated the post-flood population as evidenced by Genesis 11:1-4, “Now the whole earth had one language and one speech. And it came to pass, as they journeyed from the east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar, and they dwelt there. Then they said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They had brick for stone, and they had asphalt for mortar. And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.’” Their stated purpose was in direct rebellion to God’s command to Noah to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.
God’s reaction was swift as recorded in Genesis 11:5, 6, “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men (not God’s people) had built. And the LORD said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.’”
While the sons of men were in unity, they proposed and executed a plan to keep them in the plains of Shinar in defiance of God’s command to fill the earth. God’s observation was that now nothing they purposed to do would be withheld from them. Thus, to partially answer the question posed in the title to this piece, Unity amongst those who are not God’s people is a bad thing! This will be more evident later.
God’s solution was to destroy the unity that could bring success to rebellion against himself. “Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth (Genesis 11:7-9).” A terrible rebellion – a terrible judgment!
Let us try to find some instances of unity among God’s people being good:
- When Moses died, all Israel united under the leadership of Joshua, God’s choice as Moses’ successor. Thus unified, God miraculously enabled them to conquer the land he had promised them and which they partially occupy today. This unity was good, but lasted only a generation or so.
- Seven years after Israel’s first King, Saul, was killed in battle, all Israel united under the kingship of David, a man after God’s own heart. During David’s reign Israel quickly became the strongest nation on earth, and remained so until the end of his son Solomon’s reign (a total of 60 years or so). Then disunity greatly diminished Israel’s power.
- Malachi wrote the last book of the Old Testament circa 432 BC, after which there was no communication from God until the events chronicled in the New Testament began circa 5 BC with the birth of Christ. During this period Israel was torn between the Seleucid (Syrian) rule and the Ptolemy (Egyptian) rule. In 168 BC, Antiochuis IV (Epiphanes), the vile leader of the Seleucid empire, captured Jerusalem and defiled the Temple by setting up an altar to Zeus in the most holy place. This so enraged the Israelites that they united under the leadership of Mattathias Maccabeus (and later his son Judas) in revolt, and by 166 BC were victorious, and in 165 BC had rededicated the temple. The benefit of this unity lasted for 102 years until the Roman General, Pompey, captured the Holy Land in 63 BC.
- Beginning on the day of Pentecost, 29 AD, the Church walked in sufficient unity to “turn their world upside down” (Acts 17:6). This lasted for 351 years. The Church lost its power after the Emperor, Constantine, “got saved” and started supporting Christianity instead of persecuting it. By 380 AD Christianity was the state church of the Roman Empire and was hopelessly polluted thereby, which situation remained until the Protestant Reformation.
- In the 1380’s John Wycliffe translated the Bible into English (risking death at the hands of the Vatican) and with helpers began making hand-written copies. One of Wycliffe’s supporters, John Hus, was burned at the stake in 1415, prophesying with his last words, “In 100 years God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” This was fulfilled in 1517 AD, when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church to begin the Protestant Reformation under the banner, “Justification by Faith Alone!” Multiplied millions were truly saved and, united under that banner and blessed by God, successfully broke free from the bondage and heresies of the Church of Rome, though often at the cost of severe persecution and/or death.
- William Carey, a Baptist pastor from England, was an instrument God used to get the Protestant Church interested in the Great Commission. His 1793 arrival in Calcutta, India, as a missionary, is reckoned to be the beginning of the Modern Missionary Movement. There has been enough unity among Christians regarding missions that this movement is still in progress, with a considerable shift from foreign to indigenous missionaries. Gospel for Asia and Wycliffe BibleTranslators are leaders in this shift.
- Pentecostal/Charismatic Movements: The Pentecostal Movement got a jump start with the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles which began in 1906. Its doctrinal distinctive involved a dramatic encounter with God termed “the baptism with the Holy Spirit.” The evidence for having received this experience was speaking in tongues. There was enough unity in this movement to transform the lives of millions of Christians and churches, some of which remains to this day. The Charismatic Movement was a resurgence of the Pentecostal Movement, this time amongst the old-time mainline Protestant denominations, and even in some Catholic churches. An American pastor of a Lutheran church who was involved in this movement, Harald Bredesen, is said to have coined the term “Charismatic” in 1962 to make the distinction. He ministered in the Chapel several times in those days. He and his family were great assets to the movement. During the early years of unity the Charismatic Movement continued the transformation of the world-wide Church begun by the Pentecostal Movement. The combined effect of the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements are staggering.
Well, we have discussed whether or not unity is a good thing. Does it seem like the conclusion is that unity in the Church is a good thing and unity in the secular world is a bad thing?
I’m afraid it is not that simple. In my own lifetime I have witnessed a number of occasions when unity within the Church was a bad thing. I will mention two examples that in my opinion have produced catastrophic results.
Example One-Anti-semitic and anti-Israel teachings and actions within the Church. As the Apostles died off and the percentage of the believers who were Jews diminished, Christians began to have a negative attitude towards the Jews, calling them “Christ-killers.” As the canon of Scripture was settled on and Revelation was recognized as the Word of God, it was clear that the thousand-year reign of Christ (millennium) depicted in Rev. 20:1-7 was a fulfillment of the angel Gabriel’s prophecy to Mary in Luke 1:31, 32, “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David (over Israel).” Thus what we call the pre-millennial coming of Christ, a doctrine held by the Church for 300 years. This didn’t set well with the Jew haters in the Church, so by the fourth century the Catholic Bishop Augustine came up with Amillennialism (A=No, hence Nomillennialism).
The following is a pertinent excerpt from an internet article on the Bible.org webpage: “The importance of Augustine to the history of amillennialism is derived from two reasons.
First, there are no acceptable exponents of amillennialism before Augustine, who wrote in the 4th century AD. Prior to Augustine, amillennialism was associated with the heresies produced by the allegorizing and spiritualizing school of theology at Alexandria which not only opposed premillennialism but subverted any literal exegesis of Scripture whatever. Few modern theologians even of liberal schools of thought would care to build upon the theology of such men as Clement of Alexandria, Origen or Dionysius. Augustine is, then, the first theologian of solid influence who adopted amillenniumism. (Editor’s comment – knote that tjhough Akugustine rejected the allegorical interpretation of all Scripture, he used the allegorical interpretation when it came to eschatology iin general and the book of Revelation in particular).
The second reason for the importance of Augustinian amillennialism is that his viewpoint became the prevailing doctrine of the Roman Church, and it was adopted with variations by most of the Protestant Reformers. The writings of Augustine, in fact, occasioned the shelving of premillennialism by most of the organized church.
The horrible consequence of this “unity” of Christians in holding on to amillennialism is the doctrine called “Replacement Theology,” which maintains that when the old nation Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah and had Him crucified that:
- God forever cut off His relationship with the Jews and the nation Israel;
- The Church replaced them as God’s chosen people;
- All the unfulfilled promises of blessing to the Jews or the nation Israel were transferred to the Church;
- The Jews are enemies of God and are labeled Christ-killers;
- The current nation Israel has no right to exist and is trying to usurp the status of God’s chosen people which has been transferred to the Church.
- None of which is true. Romans chapters 9-11 and countless other scriptures make that very plain.
Is it any wonder that anti-semetism and anti-Israel activism is so prevalent and growing? We, as individual Christians, and all churches better be loving the Jews and the current nation Israel. They are still protected by the Abrahamic Covenant, “I (God) will make you (Abraham) a great nation (Israel); I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the fa2:2, 30)
Example Two-The Prosperity Doctrine or Theology. The article on this subject in Wikipedia gives the gist of this doctrine. It is quoted below with minor editing for brevity.
“Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the prosperity gospel, the health and wealth gospel, or the gospel of success) is a religious belief among some Christians, who hold that financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God for them, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. Prosperity theology views the Bible as a contract between God and humans: if humans have faith in God, he will deliver security and prosperity.
The doctrine emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, proposing that it is God’s will for his people to be happy. The atonement (reconciliation with God) is interpreted to include the alleviation of sickness and poverty, which are viewed as curses to be broken by faith. This is believed to be achieved through donations of money, visualization, and positive confession.
It was during the Healing Revivals of the 1950s that prosperity theology first came to prominence in the United States. The prosperity teaching later figured prominently in the Word of Faith movement and 1980s televangelism. In the 1990s and 2000s, it was adopted by influential leaders in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements in the United States and has spread throughout the world.
Prominent leaders in the development of prosperity theology include E. W. Kenyon, Oral Roberts, A. A. Allen, Robert Tilton, T. L. Osborn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Kenneth Copeland, Mike Murdock, Reverend Ike and Kenneth Hagin.”
American Christians, raised in the atmosphere of the “American Dream,” were pre-conditioned to accept this doctrine of greed and covetousness (Col. 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”).
As more and more Christians were persuaded of this false interpretation of Scripture, and became unified in promoting it, as the article said, “It spread throughout the world.” Like a cancer, I might add! It only took a partial, though significant, unity from inside Christianity to cause this disaster!
Right now (March 4, 2017) thousands of professing Christians and their pastors are striving for unity in the religious world:
- Unity between Protestants and Catholics;
- Unity with muslims (Chrislam);
- Unity with all religions, don’t they all lead to the same place?
The trouble with all such unity is that it is accomplished at the cost of truth, a terrible cost indeed when we note John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’”
So, is unity a good thing? Per the discussion above, it depends:
- Among born again Christians, unity that is not at the cost of truth is great, and is God’s intention;
- Among born again Christians, unity at the expense of truth is terrible, and God forbids it;
- Among those who are not God’s people, unity is often catastrophic.