There are number of common reasons used to reject the Gospel by those outside the Christian faith. When asked why they don’t accept Christianity, people will often refer to arguments about God versus science, or God and the existence of evil. They also say they want nothing to do with Christianity because they consider Christians to be hypocrites, judgmental, or narrow-minded, all of which are often true. One of the other reasons they reject faith in Christ is because they see so much division and infighting between Christians, and sadly I must agree; history shows us that they are right.
Christianity is a faith that was birthed in a time of great conflict and persecution and it wasn’t long before many conflicts erupted inside the faith as well. One of the first disputes concerned Greek converts being upset because they believed the Jewish widows were being given preferential treatment over the Greek widows (Acts 6). The Bible is also very candid about the disputes between the Jewish and Greek converts regarding such things as the keeping of the Mosaic Law, circumcision, eating of certain foods, and religious holy days. The Apostle Paul was not exempt from this infighting either. We are told he had to make a special trip to Jerusalem to sort out some of these matters, had his own apostleship questioned, and even had a sharp dispute with Barnabas, one of his most trusted traveling companions.
In light of all of this, it comes as no surprise that a great amount of conflict still persists within the Body of Christ. I’m thankful that the flames that burned many at the stake have been quenched, but the underlying attitudes that fed those fires still persist today. We frequently hear of Christians labeling other Christians as heretics (the reason many were burned at the stake), all because of differences in doctrinal perspectives. Denominationalism and sectarianism abound in the Body of Christ, and the purposes of Christ suffer for it.
A few years ago I met a man at a party, and after striking up a conversation with him I learned that he was very excited about his Christian faith. I asked him, “What are you most passionate about right now in your walk with Christ?” Without skipping a beat, he said, “Unity.” He went on to explain how he was weary of denominational fighting, antagonistic attitudes and actions between Christians, and the division in the Body of Christ. We shared many of the same sentiments and eventually he began attending the Simple Home Church my wife Lori and I host in our home.
It wasn’t long after attending our Home Church that my friend became aware of doctrinal differences between us. Our church is a very diverse group of people coming from a wide variety of different denominational backgrounds, so doctrinal differences are nothing new for us. As a group, we have agreed that with everyone meeting the criteria of salvation in Jesus, we accept one another in spite of any doctrinal differences and we are a group committed to “keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
I met with my new friend a number of times and we respectfully discussed our different perspectives. Eventually he decided to separate from us, and I certainly support his right to do so. However, prior to his departure I reminded him what he had told me when we first met. He had told me that the one thing he was presently most passionate about in his faith journey was “unity.” I asked him to consider that maybe the Lord had brought the two of us together to teach us a lesson on unity, and that maybe it involved how we, as members of the Body of Christ who were divided on doctrine, could obey his command to “keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace,” in spite of our differences. Sadly he replied, “Well, I believe I can have my unity and you can have your unity.” This sounded a lot more like disunity than genuine unity, and I can’t help but think that God had something different in mind for His family.
God desires unity
Unity is one of the most unmistakable themes spoken of throughout the New Testament. God’s goal has always been unity, a complete peace and harmony between Him and His creation. Sadly, long ago Satan, who was then God’s spiritual right-hand and ruling angel, rejected God and rebelled against Him. The discord has reverberated throughout creation and the effects can still be felt to this day. Even Adam, God’s first man, gave heed to the seducing whisper of the great Deceiver and stumbled after him on the path of rebellion.
One of the harsh and brutal realities of this world is the absence of unity. When unity exists there is peace, harmony, and joy. People live with a sense of safety and security knowing that others won’t lie, cheat, steal or take advantage of one another because they are united in purpose and actions. Clearly this is not the condition of the world today. Not only is crime prevalent in every city, there is a state of constant conflict between people. Families are broken, terrorism abounds, persecution is increasing, and there is a general sense of turmoil overall. Other than in isolated places and for brief episodes, peace and tranquility have never existed since the fall of man. Thankfully, throughout the Scriptures, God has given mankind the promise of a time coming when things will be drastically different than they are now.
Never wavering from His vision for peace and harmony, God has always aggressively pursued His plans and purposes of reunification of all things. One of the most exciting things that we, God’s children, can look forward to, is the final culmination of God’s plan, the end result of all Christ’s work, when there will once again be unity throughout God’s entire creation. This will be a root from which peace and harmony will bud and blossom. God tells us that “when the times have reached their fulfillment…” there will be “unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Eph. 1:8-10, NIV).
God’s plan for unity is revealed
God’s promise to mankind has been that there will be a 1,000 year period of peace on earth when Jesus Christ rules, followed by an even better time period called the Everlasting Kingdom. The final Everlasting Kingdom is a time when God’s family will live with God and Jesus in a new heaven and earth. The Prophets of the Old Testament, such as Daniel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel spoke of the 1,000 year period extensively. Although we don’t know as many details about the final Kingdom, we know that it will be even better than the Millennial Kingdom, a time of justice and peace on earth, no wars or sickness, with the land healed and an abundance of food. This will be a time of great peace, harmony, and unity.
Jesus made unity a clear part of his message
In the Gospels, Jesus indicated that he and his Father were completely united, always being one in purpose and action. He said he only spoke and did what he saw his Father do. We Christians rightly often speak of salvation from our sins through the sacrifice of Christ, but we must remember salvation is not the end goal. Rather salvation is the door that ushers us through to God’s plan: mankind being re-UNITED with God.
22) I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—
23) I in them and you in me— so that they may be brought to complete unity.
Unity in the Epistles
The theme of unity is also prevalent through all the various epistles of the Apostle Paul. There are numerous places where Paul makes it clear that all who accept Christ as their Lord are completely identified with Jesus, being united with him in his death and resurrection, and also “one with him in spirit.”
Romans 6:5; 8
5) For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.
8) Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.
1 Corinthians 6:17
But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
We are all united as one Body
Not only is unity God’s overall purpose for His creation, it is also His desire that His children be united now. Despite the fact that Christianity is very fractured and divided, God provides us many indications that this is not the way it is supposed to be. As a community of believers, the spiritual reality is that we are spiritually united, just like a human body is one yet has many individual parts. In the human body no individual part is more important than another and all the parts are necessary for it to be healthy and functioning properly. So too, in the Body of Christ the reality is that our spiritual bonds are so strong that each individual member is even considered to belong to all the others.
…so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.
God has united us—it is now up to us to act like it
A number of years ago I became aware of many passages in the New Testament that use the phrase “one another.” I made a list of all of them and it quickly became apparent to me that God was giving His children specific directives on how we must act in order to stay unified. The “One Anothers” are community instructions (think “comm-UNITY”), which are impossible to do without having an attitude of unity. Although it is easy to quickly scan the following, instead, slowly read them and think of the impact they could have if everyone in the Body of Christ really lived this way.
- Be devoted one to another (Rom. 12:10)
- Honor one another (Rom. 12:10)
- Live in harmony with one another (Rom. 12:16).
- Stop passing judgment on one another (Rom. 14:13)
- Accept one another (Rom. 15:7)
- Instruct one another (Rom. 15:17)
- Greet one another with a holy kiss (Rom. 16:16)
- Agree with one another (1 Cor. 1:10)
- Have equal concern for each other (1 Cor. 12:25)
- Encourage one another (1 Cor. 16:20)
- Serve one another humbly in love (Gal. 5:13)
- Bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2)
- Be compassionate with one another (Eph. 4:32)
- Forgiving one another (Eph. 4:32)
- Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs (Eph. 5:19)
- Submit to one another (Eph. 5:21)
- Have the same mindset as Jesus towards one another (Phil. 2:5)
- Teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16)
- Love one another (John 13:35; 1 Thess. 4:9)
- Spur one another on to love and good works (Heb. 10:24)
- Don’t forsake meeting with one another (Heb. 10:25)
- Do not slander one another (James 4:11)
- Do not grumble against one another (James 5:9)
- Be sympathetic to one another (1 Pet. 3:8)
- Offer hospitality to one another (1 Pet. 4:9)
- Have humility towards one another (1 Pet. 5:5)
A bloody and bruised Body
Most new Christians accept the message of Christ because it is a promise of love, acceptance, forgiveness, and grace. It only seems reasonable, then, that a person would expect the church to be a place that models that same love and grace; that it would be a conflict-free zone.
Regrettably to the contrary, those who have been actively participating in Christianity for any length of time find that the family of God is as broken and dysfunctional as the Hatfields and McCoys. Like most broken families, tension and conflict in our spiritual family is an ever-present reality. The deep divides that exist on the denominational level are not only accepted, many support division, justifying it on the basis of doctrinal or practical differences. It is even sadly reported that there are now over 33,000 separate denominations. 
The denominational divide is bad enough, but then we must add to that the heart-wrenching reality of fighting within the local congregations. Most everyone who is involved in church life learns that infighting, bickering, politicking and outright congregational turf wars are commonplace. Some studies indicate that in the United States there are as many as 19,000 deep divides within the Protestant churches annually, averaging as much as 50 church breakdowns per day.
It is also reported that most Christians can relate personal experiences of deep divides within the churches they’ve attended, many having suffered the emotional trauma of at least one church split. Church leaders are often working hard to help believers grow in their discipleship, but few understand that when it comes to things that affect a person’s longevity in their walk with Lord, nothing compares to the devastating effects of a church-split. The author Gene Edwards writes in his book, Preventing a Church Split;
“Nothing compares to church division in its power to cause Christians to stop following the Lord. Sin, temptation, adultery, divorce, and illness—all pale in the presence of the power of division. It is my studied judgment that more Christians have walked away from the things of God because of church splits than for any other reason.” 
Ministers, pastors, church workers, elders, deacons, and volunteers are bleeding spiritually because of dissension in our churches. Edwards goes on to say:
“…most Christians can only take just so many church splits before bailing out of the church entirely. Some Christians can survive one split. A few can survive two. A handful of steel-coated souls may survive three. That is about the limit of human endurance. That is a hard cold fact. Keep that in mind the day you are about to start, or join, your first church fight.”
Division in the Body should not be taken lightly
Given the teachings of Christ, and most especially his fundamental command that others would know we are his followers by how we love one another, this is indeed a very serious state of affairs. Not only does God explicitly instruct us to “keep” the spiritual unity that exists between us as His children, He also tells us that He hates division, even considering it an abomination.
Proverbs 6:16-19 (NASB)
16) There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
17) Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood,
18) A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil,
19) A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers.
With God’s desire for unity being so clear, why is it that we Christians succumb so easily to the voice of the Accuser of the Brethren? Pride is most definitely the cause. It is like the magnet at the center of the cesspool of strife and contention, sucking us into its whirlpool of waste, broken relationships, and loss of comm-UNITY. Despite its grip of destruction, it must be possible to maintain unity in the face of disagreement, even strong doctrinal variance; otherwise God would never tell us to work so hard to keep it.
Division has been a constant problem for Christianity
Division is not something new for the Body of Christ and even within a few short years of Christ’s departure, it entered the very first congregations. The first incident in the Scriptures occurred in Acts 6 with the Grecian and Jewish widows, and the result was a division in the Body. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul tells of having to even confront Peter, who had been swayed by the legalistic Jews from Jerusalem. It seems they were promoting the Old Covenant doctrine of circumcision and the observance of the Law as a requirement for being saved, and this was creating a chasm between the Gentile and Jewish converts. This same divisive doctrine was entering into the Galatian church and Paul reiterated to them the same words he used to reprove Peter, “you are all sons of God by faith in Christ…” that in the Body of Christ there is no separation: There is no more Greek or Jew, slave or free, male or female because we are all one… (Gal. 3:26-28).
In Corinth people were arguing about whom to follow, some saying Peter, others Apollos, and still others Paul. He appealed to them to agree with one another, reminding them that we all follow Christ, and that we are to be “perfectly united in mind and thought.”
1 Corinthians 1:10
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
In the same letter Paul reminds them again that there is only One Body, there should be no division, and they should have equal concern for each other (1 Cor. 12:24, 25). With such wide division and contention appearing so early in the history of Christendom, it comes as no surprise that it only increased and got worse, much worse, as time went on. Nevertheless, God’s command is still clear that we are to “be perfectly united with one another.” And nowhere do the Scriptures provide any excuse or caveat that says, “Be united, unless you have different doctrines or practices.”
How is it possible to be united in mind and thought when we don’t agree?
From a practical standpoint we understand that it is never possible for everyone to have the exact same opinions or viewpoints. We are all individuals, uniquely different members in the Body. We all have different gifts, callings, temperaments and experiences, which makes us all think and act differently. Expecting people with such differences to be perfectly united seems almost paradoxical.
Nevertheless, there is a fundamental principle that can guide us, which is that if God commands us to do something, then it must be possible. Although unity in the faith should be our ultimate goal, the fact is that Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13:10 that this will not happen until the entire Body of Christ reaches full maturity and that which is perfect [Christ] returns.
12) “…so that the body of Christ may be built up
13) until 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.
The answer lies in the fact that God commands us to “maintain the unity of the spirit,” and the way to do that is through the “bond of peace.” We have a spiritual unity with all the other members of the Body of Christ, and God is basically saying, “Now act like it.” There are instances where I may disagree with someone on a theological point, at times even having little to no respect for their position, but I can always treat them as a fellow member of the Body with love, kindness, and respect. Living this way is agreeing in attitude and conduct towards one another in spite of our differences and opinions.
Consider the following unity command:
5) May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,
6) so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
7) Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.
There are very few people in the Body of Christ with whom I really see completely eye to eye with on every doctrine and belief. But in spite of that, with one mind and one voice I will agree with my brothers and sisters about glorifying the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Genuinely loving others is the key
In all the “one another” verses, there are 18 separate instances where we are commanded to love each other. The answer to unity is not about agreeing doctrinally or in our practices; it is all about loving others. And this is a love of commitment. A love that always seeks the welfare of others.
Oftentimes when I get hurt, upset, or mad at others, it is because of how I feel or what has happened to ME! At the center of the vortex of division you will always find PRIDE—Me, Myself, and I! Whereas, on the other hand, unity is about US and WE, and the glue that holds us together is love. This is the kind of love where I seek how I may best serve the other, putting them first with genuine humility.
In no way am I saying that doctrine and practice are not important. To the contrary, what we believe has a direct affect on how we act, but we can hold to the truth as we understand it in such a way that we are not antagonistic, abrasive, and disagreeable. Divisiveness is never about what we believe, but how we conduct ourselves with our beliefs.
The Apostle Paul told Timothy, his young protégé, “watch your life [practice] and doctrine closely,” but he also told him to “set an example in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” I am reminded by Paul’s words of the poem by Edward Guest.
Sermons We See
I’d rather see a sermon
than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me
than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil
and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing,
but example’s always clear;
And the best of all preachers
are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action
is what everybody needs.
I soon can learn to do it
if you’ll let me see it done;
I can watch your hands in action,
but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver
may be very wise and true,
But I’d rather get my lessons
by observing what you do;
For I might misunderstand you
and the high advice you give,
But there’s no misunderstanding
how you act and how you live.
We all need to teach the truth of the Scriptures as we understand them, but we also need to make sure that we are truly representing the ways of Christ in our words and deeds. Doing this means that we can and must “maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.”
Let us give no room to the spirit of division, that accuser of the brethren that so often hides under the mask of correctness, but rather let us love one another.
2 Corinthians 13:11
Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.
My goal is that you may be “encouraged in heart and united in love, so that you may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that you may know the mystery of God, namely Christ” (Col. 2:2).
 Romans 10:9, 10 (NIV): If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
 For further information and a complete study on this topic, see The Christian’s Hope; The Anchor of the Soul by John W. Schoenheit, published by Spirit & Truth Fellowship International, 2004.
 Page 8, Preventing a Church Split by Gene Edwards, Destiny Ministries, Published by Christian Books, P.O. Box 1389, Scarborough, Maine, 04074
 Page 6, Ibid
 Collected Verse of Edgar Guest, NY: Buccaneer Books, 1976, pg. 599.