The issue of unity within the body of Christ is a key topic that often gets overlooked in churches. If it is addressed, it is usually discussed it terms of that particular local church being united, or all the churches within that one denomination being united. Rarely do I hear talk about all Christians being united. In fact, I hear a lot more about it in the blog world (on blogs such as this, this, this, this, and this) than I do in the local church.
Is unity even important? Our Lord Jesus certainly thought it was. In John 17:20-23, He prayed, "I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me."
I have been wondering about one thing related to this: At what point does unity end? Is there a point, and if so, where is it? It doesn't seem that God would want us to be confused on this, so where do we draw the line?
After pondering this for some time, I've come to the conclusion that we can learn quite a bit from Galatians 1:6-9. This text reads, "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed."
When Paul writes this letter, he quickly jumps into the severe problems facing the Galatian churches. They appear to be departing from the gospel of grace that he taught them in preference for a works-based salvation taught by false teachers.
Where does Paul tell the Galatians to draw the line in this situation? He says the dividing line is the gospel. He is clear in this by repeating himself in verses eight and nine. The gospel itself is the place where they are to take a stand.
We can generalize from the Galatian situation to our current situation today. Where do we break unity? Is it over the sacraments/ordinances? Is it over church polity? Is it over philosophy of ministry? Is it over Reformed vs. Arminian theology? I don't think so.
Paul appears to be setting the dividing line, and therefore the point at which we break unity, at the gospel itself.