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Unity in the Body of Christ

By David A. DePra

     God desires unity among His people – throughout the Body of Christ.  But if we are honest, He has generally gotten very little of it.  Despite the fact that there have been pockets of unity here and there throughout history, or even today in the world among God’s saints, there really isn’t much real unity in the Body of Christ. 

      There is a reason why there has never been much unity.  At the foundation, TRUE unity is only possible in the Person, Jesus Christ.  But what does that mean?  It means that if I am a partaker of Christ – in communion with Him – and you are a partaker of Christ – in communion with Him – then we are partakers of each other – in communion with each other.  That is the basis of unity.  Of course, it still has to be LIVED OUT.  But if the Person of, and the life of, Jesus Christ, is not the foundation of our unity then whatever unity is there is merely a façade.  And in the end, it will prove to be destructive.

      Now, if you examine this core of true unity you will see that the unity of the Body is fully dependent upon the communion that each individual has personally with Jesus Christ.  This is the opposite of what many Christians believe and what many churches and groups practice.  Many groups believe that unity is achieved from the, “top down,” that is, unity is imposed through law, or legislated from the top down through a statement of faith.  Even worse, unity is often not in the Person of Jesus Christ, but in doctrines and facts about Him.  The individual’s communion with Christ thus becomes, not the basis of unity, but an issue that isn’t even considered at all.

      We need to be clear on this matter:  It does not matter how much you, “submit,” to authority, nor, “sign off,” on a statement of faith, or intellectually agree with doctrines – it does not matter how much you hop aboard the “band wagon” of your local church or a ministry – it does not matter how much verbal assent you give, or how much physical service you contribute – your unity with other members of the Body of Christ is directly dependent upon your personal and individual communion with Christ Himself.

     Can we now see why there is so little true unity today?  If my communion with other believers – and I speak not so much of the fact of unity as I do about the living out of it -- is dependent upon my personal communion with Christ Himself – then this demands that I come to realize and experience the reality of Christ within me.  I need not be greatly mature in Christ.  But if Christ is the basis of communion with others, then I have to know Him, and I have to at least be in some fellowship with Him.  In short, Christ needs to be REVEALED IN ME.  Then there will be a basis of fellowship with others in whom Christ is revealed.  But today, “Christ in us,” is rarely talked about.  Having Christ revealed in us, is either ignored completely, or misdefined.  And if that happens, then Christ is replaced as the basis for unity by something instead of Christ.

      Look around at the Body of Christ, indeed, look at the history of the church.  Granted, Christ is talked about.  Most of the time, Christ is the central subject.  But is that spiritual unity in Christ – that everyone assents to Jesus as the central figure in our theology or in our faith?  You can find Christian people pulling together to make a, “movement,” successful.  You can find communion among Christians in experiences, in pet doctrines, in various ministries.  But communion is not found in these things.  Again – unity among believers is based upon, “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” and the on-going purpose of God to form Christ in us – that He may BE our life and that we may know Him.  That is INWARD.  It is spiritual.  And it must happen on the personal and individual level if there is to be any unity in the Body as a whole.

 The Purpose of Ministry

       The direct purpose of ministry is NOT unity.  No.  Unity is supposed to be a RESULT.  The direct purpose of ministry is edification in Christ -- personally and individually.  And if this is happening in the individuals in the Body, then the RESULT will be the Body as a whole operating in unity.

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:  (Eph. 4:13)

Christ in you, the hope of glory, whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.  (Col. 1:27-28)

     The fact is, if individuals in the Body are being built up in Christ, then the Body as a whole is being built up in Christ, and in turn, is able to continue to build up the individuals, etc.  This is the process of growth.  It is silly to imagine that an individual could grow in Christ by simply being physically present in a Body of believers – because at some point, even if that Body is spiritually healthy, that person must individually come to know Christ in an inward way for themselves.  You cannot know Christ by proxy.  You cannot, “absorb,” Christ through some spiritual process of osmosis.  You have to personally have Christ revealed IN YOU, and come into a personal realization of Him.  The ministry of the Body is supposed to be unto this end. 

 The Vine and the Branches

      The picture that Jesus gave of Himself as the Vine and we as the branches illustrates this Truth.  Jesus said, “I am the Vine, and you are the branches…..abide in ME.”  He did NOT say that we were to abide in EACH OTHER – no -- He said that communion among branches is the result of first abiding in Him.  It is secondary.  EACH branch must first abide in the Vine for themselves – the life of each branch is found only in the Vine.  Nothing else is possible without this foundational communion between the branch and the Vine; between ourselves and Jesus Christ.

      Jesus also said, “If a branch is not abiding in the Vine it will die.”  He did not say, “If a branch is not abiding in the other branches, it will die.”  This is not to minimize the value of fellowship among believers.  But imagine if the branches were all abiding in each other, but not in the Vine.  They would all die. 

      Do we realize that unity – let us continue in this picture of the Vine and the branches – do we realize that unity among branches is possible even if ALL of those branches are not abiding in the Vine?  Sure.  You can have groups of professing Christians in full agreement and in full communion with each other – but their agreement is in some error; their communion is not in Christ, but in something instead of Christ.  They will have unity.  But it will NOT be unity in Christ.  It will be unity is something instead of Christ.

      What is the core problem here?  Not unity.  They have unity.  Cults have unity.  Boy, do they have unity.  But their unity is not in Christ.  It is unity, yes, in a list of false teaching.  But really, their unity is in their blindness and unbelief – regardless of the false teaching that emerges.  And you do not need to be in an official cult to have such false unity.  You could have a group of Christian people all of whom are under the same deception and the same spirit of unbelief – they could actually be celebrating their unity – but none of it is in Christ.

      How many realize that unity among any group of people can achieve much?  How about Nazi Germany?  They had great unity – they achieved much evil.  Thus, as far as proving it is good, or the Truth, or that God is in it, UNITY MEANS NOTHING.  In fact, it is the will of God to utterly and completely destroy all unity that is not in His Son, Jesus Christ.

      Jesus Christ said:

 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.  And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.  (Matt. 10:34-36)

      Jesus Christ is clearly stating that there is only ONE UNITY that is of God – it is unity IN THE SON.  Not just unity in doctrines or facts about Jesus.  That is good.  But true unity is more.  It is a unity that is the result of individuals who share in common the Person of Jesus Christ.  If Jesus Christ is in me, He is to BE MY LIFE.  If Jesus Christ is in you, He is to BE YOUR LIFE.  Then we are EACH partakers of Christ.  But that makes us partakers of each other; that means we are in communion with each other.  This is communion IN CHRIST.

      Every other unity is outside of God’s will, and ultimately destructive.  Jesus said, “I am come”…..to bring division to all of these other kinds of unity; “I am come,” to destroy unity in all else by MYSELF.  Notice the words, “I am come.”  If Jesus COMES to dwell in a person, or if the Truth and life of Jesus is introduced into a group, that is a great thing.  But one of the first things Jesus Christ does when, “He comes,” is to break apart all that is not of Himself.  He will break apart all unity that is not in Himself so that, once this is broken, there can come to pass a true unity in Himself.

      Jesus does not come to affirm the status quo.  He IS the Truth.  He IS the Light.  And Truth and Light will at first result in JUDGMENT of all that is not of Christ.  Do we want revival?  This will be the first step.  But it is good.  It is redemptive.  And it is the ONLY possibility if we want to walk with, and have unity, in Jesus Christ.

      So again, we see this Truth:  The ministry of the Body of Christ is to edify each other in Christ.  God wants to use ministry as a vehicle by which individuals can personally come to know and realize Jesus Christ for themselves.  But if individuals are growing in Christ, then the Body as a whole is growing in Christ, and can, in turn, help the individuals grow. 

      The foundation of Christianity is, “Christ in YOU.”   Christ dwells in His Body – not in some unidentifiable, nebulous way, but Christ dwells in His Body by dwelling in the members of His Body, individually and personally.  This is the basis of unity:  We are all one IN JESUS CHRIST – the “all” becomes “the one” only because the “we” – the individuals -- are first IN CHRIST personally.  The Body of Christ is mature only to the degree that, “each person is mature in Christ.”

 The Essential of Life and Truth

     There have always been people and movements that have sought to IMPOSE unity in the church through law.  This has taken many forms.  Some churches have demanded that you must belong to their church, or group, to truly receive God’s highest – or to even be saved.  Cults and cult groups do this – they impose unity through either fear of punishment from God, or through the promise of some reward.  There have also been various movements that have tried to impose unity.  The shepherding movement of the 1970’s was a horrible example of imposed unity.  Many accountability groups have mimicked this error.  There is the doctrine of, “submission to authority,” as the means to remain right with God an in His blessing.  I could go on.  But all of these errors are nothing more than the result of a blindness to Jesus Christ, at best, or the product of people lusting for power and prominence over others.

      You cannot impose unity in the Body of Christ.  That is because real unity in Christ is NOT the product of law.  It is the product of Life and Truth.  Get individuals established and built up in the Person of Jesus Christ and unity will emerge without the need for law.

      Not once in the NT will you ever read that we are supposed to CREATE unity.  Rather, we are told to KEEP the unity.  This is done, not through law, but by continuing to keep Jesus Christ as the life of all.

With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. there is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.  (Eph. 4:3)

     This is not to say that there are not times when leadership will have to take action – to stop heresy or sin from polluting the life of the Body.  But again, this is not a matter of imposing unity through law.  It is a matter of keeping the unity that is of Life and Truth, by stopping those things which would hurt the Life of Christ in others.

 One Mediator

 

     One of the best verses in the Bible that describes God’s will for unity is found in I Timothy:

 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.  ( I Tim. 2:5)

     A MEDIATOR is the One through Whom we go to connect to another.  Jesus Christ is the One through Whom we go to connect to God.  But the better way to say it is that Jesus Christ in us is the means through Whom we abide in the Father.  Thus, if we abide in Christ – if we live in Him and out from Him – we are abiding in the Father.  This is COMMUNION.  Be a partaker of Christ and you are a partaker of the Father.

      Now you will note:  There is only ONE Mediator between EACH person and God – Jesus Christ.  What this means is that you are not required, indeed, you cannot and must not, try to abide in God through any other mediator.  You cannot abide in Christ, or in God, through any part of the BODY of Christ.  Mechanically, you are not, “plugged into,” God or Christ because you are, “plugged into,” a church, a leader, or because you are first in the Body of Christ.  No.  That is backwards.  You are, “plugged into,” God through Christ alone – personally and individually.  And then, if you are in Christ, you are, so to speak, “plugged into,” his church.

      Our VERTICAL relationship with God, personally and individually, comes first, and will govern all HORIZONTAL relationships with other Christians.  It is going to do that even if we don’t realize it.  Walk with Christ in spirit and in Truth and this will result in a walk with other Christians in spirit and in Truth.  But try to walk with other Christians in spirit and in Truth first, to keep some law or principle of submission to authority or some principle of unity, and you will ALL end up in error.  You will not be having Jesus Christ in common – not be in communion with Christ – but you will have in common just a bunch of religion.

      How many see how essential it is for us to come into a personal realization of Jesus Christ?  To have Christ revealed WITHIN us?  This not only governs all else, but the ministry of the Body is supposed to be unto that end.  Thus, the lack of knowing Jesus Christ in this way is the reason why there is no real unity in the Body of Christ.  If we do not personally know Him, there can be no basis for unity that is supposed to be IN HIM.

       Jesus Christ is the sole Mediator unto God.  For you and I, it means that we each have personal and individual access to God through Him.  Sure.  He dwells in us.  We don’t have to go through anyone else or through any group.  This is Christianity:  Christ in YOU.  Jesus having come to dwell in YOU.

  But the anointing which ye have received of him abides in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.  (I John 2:27)

       If we come into a personal knowledge of Jesus Christ, it is not going to result in any kind of prideful, superior attitude.  To the contrary, we are going to desire to fellowship with other Christians – and even if God does not make that possible, the desire will be there.  It would seem that today God is not on a campaign to create many local gatherings of Christian people who display great unity.  Rather, many are scattered.  But there is UNITY IN SPIRIT. 

      NT leadership is going to teach us exactly what John is teaching us in the above passage – that the Jesus Christ who dwells in us is our life, our Truth, and our teacher.  The goal of all true ministry that is of God will be to teach this to individuals – and be a vehicle unto that end.  This will serve, not only God’s purpose in individuals, but it will keep the unity of the Body of Christ.

Upon This Rock

          Jesus said, “Upon this Rock I will build My church.”  Upon what Rock?  Upon Himself -- upon the revelation of Himself IN individuals.  Note that.  The church, which is His Body, comprised of MANY members, is built out of the INDIVIDUALS in whom there has been a revelation of Christ.  It would be folly to imagine that Jesus could somehow build a church out of people in whom there is NO revelation of Himself, but somehow, just because they gathered together, could have communion in Christ.

       Notice that last sentence.  Herein we see the desire of Satan -- to populate the church with individuals in whom there is no revelation of Christ.  This will then be an earthly church.  Look around.   What do we have, by and large, today?

      No.  If Christianity is CHRIST IN YOU, then His very life and presence in the individual forms the basis for the unity of the Body.  Unity is in HIM -- it is based in Him as our LIFE.  You might try to fake that through law, or through organization, but in the end, only that which is built of Christ can abide.

      God wants His Body to be a living expression of His Son.  But that is impossible unless there is some measure of living expression of His Son in the individuals that comprise the Body.  Magic is not going to happen simply because a bunch of folks that profess Christ go to church.  No.  We bring Christ, who is in us, to our gatherings, and each contributes the measure of Christ that is within us.  We share HIM.  And everyone benefits -- but only if it is the real Jesus, in spirit and Truth, to God's glory.

       Imposing unity through law can create order.  It can maintain the current power structure.  It can keep certain people in line.  But so can any threat of punishment or promise of reward.  Is THAT what God is after?  No.  God is after Christ.  True Christian unity is the result of individuals who are walking by faith with Christ as their life all sharing that same Christ with each other, for the edification of each other, and unto the glory and expression of God.  And if this cannot happen on face to face basis, then it can happen in spirit.  Each can contribute the measure of Christ from out of the life that is being release in them.

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