Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; (Philippians 1:27)
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! (Psalms 133:1)
2 Timothy 3:1-51. This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.2. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,3. Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,4. Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;5. Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
Unity seems to be discussed much in the church these days. Christian unity is very Biblical. We are united by the Bible in faith and doctrine. However, unity can be taken too far. Today many are yoking up with those who don’t hold to the doctrine of Christ as taught in the Bible, including Mormonism, and Roman Catholicism. Some are even advocating “unity” with Christ-rejecting Judaism and Islam. It is self-evident that unity has it’s limits. The limits of unity are described by the Biblical doctrine of separation. This instructs us who we should limit our contact with, and who to avoid whatsoever. For example, we are told to reject heretics (1 Tim 6:3-5), and professed Christians who live in major sins (1 Corinthians Chapter 5). Does this mean that we are to have no contact with them whatsoever? We are commanded to live sanctified, set apart, holy lives. We are also commanded to reach out to the sinner, to bring them to the saving knowledge of Christ. We are commanded to win souls, but not be partakers of the sins of others. “Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins: keep thyself pure.” (1 Timothy 5:22). How then are unity and separation reconciled? The degree of unity or separation depends on the specific circumstances. This article will seek to explain both unity and separation, and show Biblically where each is needed.
And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. (John 10:16)
Unity is the defined as being one in the faith with other Christians. As we grow closer in our relationship to Jesus Christ, we will naturally grow closer to those doing the same. Unity is the acceptation of all who seek to grow closer to Christ through the inerrant Word of God. Christians in unity are of one mind, one doctrine, and one faith. All who hold to the doctrine of Christ should be received in unity. Together, we eat the Lord’s Supper, also called communion or “common union,” because there is a common union between believers in Jesus Christ. Unity means that insignificant differences are not cause for strife and contention. God has given us different spiritual gifts, but all combined and united serve the kingdom of God. When believers dwell in unity, strivings cease, wrongs are forgiven, petty differences forgotten. Leaders cease trying to build their own religious kingdoms, and join together to advance the kingdom of God. When men stop seeking their own interests, and begin seeking the will of God, they gather in one accord, pray in one accord, and see God move (see Acts 2, 4:24-37). But what are the requirements for Christian unity? Whom do we receive with full fellowship? The main Biblical requirements for Christian unity is adherence to the doctrine of Christ and abstinence from worldliness.
To be in Biblical unity, believers must believe and follow the doctrine of Christ. “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 1:9). This doctrine includes the core beliefs of the faith, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, mankind’s sinful disposition, Christ’s death and resurrections the ONE AND ONLY remedy for man’s sin, repentance, faith, eternity (heaven or hell), and sanctification. (This is in contrast with the unbiblical ecumenicalism of today, which tells us to forget all doctrine for sake of unity.) The Bible gives us the doctrine of Christ. Our unity is not found in “belief” in Christ (for many claim to believe) but is found in the acceptance of the Bible as the final authority. The more one’s life is in accord with the Word, the more they are in fellowship with Christ. Our unity with fellow Christians stems from our unity with Christ. Therefore, we should have unity with those who accept the Bible as the final authority on all matters, and who daily seek to order their steps according to God’s Word. “Order my steps in thy word: and let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” (Psalm 119:133). The Bible is not to be privately interpreted (2 Peter 1:20), but to be interpreted literally (except where the immediate context dictates otherwise), comparing scripture with scripture. (see the “Bible Series,” Preserved Word Ministries). However, some passages lend themselves to differing interpretations, and such minor issues should not be the cause of disunity. The main thing is making one’s life in line with God’s Word.
Unity is also to be held with those who avoid worldliness as taught in the Bible. Young Christians need to be built up in the faith, to strengthen them against returning to their old sinful lifestyles. You can know how much an individual seeks to be holy, without being a fruit inspector. It will be self-evident in their attitudes, what they watch on TV, what music they listen to, and with whom they associate the most. Worldly Christians need to be exhorted to live in a manner pleasing to God. If a Christian falls into sin, and refuses to repent, the body may need to cut him off for a time, that they repent. Therefore, full unity and fellowship is to be held with all Christians holding the doctrine of Christ, and seeking to follow the whole Bible as the final authority over their lives. (As “Christian” means “Christ-like one,” how can one truly be called a Christian if they observe not these things.) Also, we are to maintain this unity without regard for race, national origin, gender, former religion, and former lifestyle.
For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. (Romans 10:12)
For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. (1 Corinthians 12:13)
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)
Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:11)
National or racial differences are not reflected in the body of Christ. There are no Jews, there are no Gentiles, there are no Negroes, there are no Caucasians, there are no French, there are no Chinese in the body, for we are all one, and these differences are eliminated in Christ. Christ has “redeemed us to God by [His] blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;” (Rev 5:9). Also, national wars and disputes do not affect this unity. During World War II, a German Christian was still the brother in Christ of the American and the British, despite the raging war. Christians should also be accepted into full unity without regard to their pre-Christ sins. Their former fornication, homosexuality, greed, arrogance, gambling, selfishness and the like have been separated from them by Christ. If He which is perfect remembers not their sins, then neither should we, which strive for the same holiness and perfection, call their sins to their remembrance. If they are constantly seeking to make Jesus Christ Lord over their entire lives, if they are continuing in reading the Bible, and seeking to obey what they read, there is no reason not to accept them in unity.
And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. Ephesians 5:11
There are those with whom we are called to unite, there are also those who we are told to avoid and not keep company with. We are to separate ourselves, generally speaking, from all who with we are not to unite, those tho do not uphold the doctrine of Christ and do not constantly seek to be more like Him. However, of course, it is obvious that we cannot isolate these people. How are we to carry out the Great Commission, if we cannot associate with the lost? How are we to bring back the backslider, if we must separate ourselves from them? Separation, like unity, has it’s limits. However, the Bible spells out some individuals to separate from. Some of these are quite obvious, such as the evil man:
Proverbs 24:1-21. Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.2. For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.
Proverbs 23:6-76. Eat thou not the bread of him that hath an evil eye, neither desire thou his dainty meats:7. For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee.
It is not good to be around those whose hearts are set to do evil, who constantly sin, and who repeatedly try to get you to join them in their sin. These must be reached with much prayer. “My son, fear thou the LORD and the king: and meddle not with them that are given to change:” (Proverbs 24:21). We are also to avoid those who are constantly changing, those who always seek for change, those who want to remove the old landmarks, and who constantly change their minds. This instability is confusion. We are to bring the sinner in while keeping ourselves pure from the sinner’s sin. We should reach out to these people, but be prayed up when we do. We need to contact them, but separate ourselves from their sin. We need to reach them, yet we need to avoid from all appearance of evil. “Abstain from all appearance of evil.” (1 Thess 5:22). We should not be going to bars and brothels to witness to drunks and prostitutes. We are to separate ourselves from this sin. If an unbeliever sees you there, what will he think? That Christians are no different than him? If a weak believer sees you, he will be emboldened to fall back into his old sins. So even if you are not partaking in their sins, being there with them is not expedient for the gospel’s sake. Therefore, we must separate ourselves from worldly, sinful behavior. We are to separate from sin, yet reach out to sinners. We are not to go out of the world, but to go into the world to reach lost sinners:
1 Corinthians 5:9-119. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:10. Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.11. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
However, if a Christian is caught up in these sins, it is a different matter. If one calling themselves a brother in Christ is living in sin, and refuses to repent after being called out, then the body is not to keep company with him, but separate themselves that he may be ashamed. “…have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thess 3:14).
15. Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.16. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.17. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
The Apostle Paul rebuked the Corinthian church for not expelling an individual engaged in grievous sin:
1 Corinthians 5:1-21. It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife.2. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.
These are to be turned over to “…Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Cor 5:5). “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Tim 1:20). This may seem harsh, but the only way for some to see the error of their ways is to let them experience the full temporal consequences of their actions.
Also, we are commanded to separate ourselves from heretics and false teachers. We are to avoid false doctrine and those who bring it.
Be not carried about with divers and strange doctrines. For it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace; not with meats, which have not profited them that have been occupied therein. (Hebrews 13:9
)For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. (Jude 1:4)
However, we are to give them a chance to get their teaching right. We are to give them pure doctrine, and exhort them to “teach no other doctrine.” (1 Tim 1:3). When Apollos came preaching only the baptism of John, he was not rejected, but the gospel was fully explained to him. He went forth preaching the gospel of Christ, and the brethren received him everywhere.
24. And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.25. This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.26. And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.27. And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:28. For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
A heretic is to be given two admonitions before being rejected (Titus 3:10). If a person is truly accepting the Bible as the final authority over their lives, they will consent to Scriptural correction. If they will not consent to wholesome doctrine, separate yourself from them.
1 Timothy 6:3-53. If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;4. He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,5. Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.
We are also to separate ourselves from those who create unbiblical separation. For some seek to create divisions, drawing men to themselves for sake of heresy, or love of money, or love of position. We are to identify and avoid them.
Romans 16:17-1817. Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.18. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
Love of prestige is another cause of unbiblical separation: “I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.” (3 John 1:9). The Nicolaitanes also loved prestige:
Revelation 2:6,156. But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.15. So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which thing I hate.
The Nicolaitanes separated the clergy from the laity, with the clergy lording over the laity. This false doctrine has been carried over into many denominations, but it is directly contrary to the words of Christ, who preached servant leadership (see Mk 10:42-45). People who bring unscriptural separation are to be avoided. A paradox yes, but yet the individuals causing the unbiblical division are not submissive to the whole Word of God. Therefore, we are to separate from worldliness (as defined by the Bible), from sinful Christians, and from those who cause unscriptural division.
The Bible calls for both unity and separation. Unity with fellow believers, but separation from the world and worldly people. Separation is emphasized against false doctrines and worldly practices. If an individual refuses to give up such, we are not to keep company with him as with a brother, but let him be as a heathen. However, we are not to refuse full fellowship to those who have repent of their sin, and are constantly seeking to live by the Word of God. Individuals professing Christ are to be given the benefit of the doubt with regard to both doctrine and morals. Unity and separation are both Bible doctrines. We need to unite with those who accept the Bible as the final authority, and go out to reach the lost, while separating ourselves from their sin.