Friday, April 24, 2015

U is for Unholy Unity

I get nervous and skeptical, and sometimes even cynical whenever I hear a pastor preach on unity.  It’s not that unity in the Church is wrong; in fact it is a necessary and biblical admonition.

The problem I have is that we hear more and more demands for unity from church leaders who have adopted modern marketing techniques to attract and include the unregenerate masses in our fellowships. When members see major transitions in their churches and begin to question some of their methods and practices the pastors will often use the sacred desk as a bully pulpit to shame them into submission to leadership with a sermon on unity.

One of my former churches had struggled with internal disagreements among its divided leadership regarding the church's direction and practices. The people were confused by the disunity and began to question their methods. That’s when one of them decided to preach a topical sermon on God’s Desire for Unity.

In it, he attempted to scold the people into silence with general platitudes like, "We should be like-minded, we should have the same love, we should be in one accord, we should have one mind," and "God desires unity."

In a subsequent sermon, designed to promote the agenda of the majority, another pastor followed up with statements like this, “…unity is the glue of a healthy church (he co-opted that phrase from Rick Warren’s church growth plan book).” And he said, "(When we are)…in one accord, God can move a church forward,” and “Disunity will weaken and destroy a church.” And, in a statement obviously meant to quiet the objectors, he warned them, “Disunity divides and gives Satan room to destroy a church.”

His solution to the disunity problem was to encourage them “to be ‘like-minded’ which meant, according to him, “to think the same way.” “To be of ‘one mind,’” he said, “means to be united in purpose.” He asked, “Could we have an effective team if everyone was going in their own direction?”

Of course you might argue that Jesus prayed for our unity. But that was not intended that we should be hammered into silent submission over questionable methods and practices.  Any unity around programs, styles, opinions, marketing plans, or church growth schemes is a false unity. 

I once asked the pastor, “Does anyone care about doctrine anymore?" His inability to look me in the eyes and give me a direct answer confirmed the answer I already knew. People are more concerned about what the church can do for them than they are about the truth. And so, he conceded, increasing the church’s attendance is accomplished through clever marketing and interesting programs.

Frankly, I think when church leaders are united on biblical orthodoxy, they will be united on biblical orthopraxy (practice follows doctrine) and, on those, true believers can agree.

On that subject, Charles H. Spurgeon offered this warning: 

“To remain divided is sinful! Did not our Lord pray that they may be one, even as we are one? (John 17:22). 

"A chorus of ecumenical voices keep harping the unity tune. What they are saying is, ‘Christians of all doctrinal shades and beliefs must come together in one visible organization, regardless… Unite, unite!’ 

"Such teaching is false, reckless and dangerous. Truth alone must determine our alignments. Truth comes before unity. Unity without truth is hazardous. Our Lord’s Prayer in John 17 must be read in its full context. Look at verse 17: ‘Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth.’ Only those sanctified through the Word can be one in Christ. To teach otherwise is to betray the Gospel.”


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