I was browsing Twitter a few days ago and came across a tweet retweeting a quote from a source I generally ignore. I make active use of the block and mute functions on social media. What good comes from arguments in 140 characters (or 280)? When someone is hostile or belligerent, I exit them from my online world. Titus 3:10 tells us to do that sort of thing.
The source is irrelevant (and not who you are thinking). The sentiment expressed in this quote is one I’ve encountered frequently among the so-called discernment ministries. While they provide a worthwhile service to a church prone to doctrinal laziness, they sometimes see concepts such as unity, love, and edification as evidence of spiritual and theological compromise. I’m not “calling out” the author but engaging the concept behind the statements he made, which I’ve heard often.
Here are two quotes that began and ended the treatise.
“What is it with evangelicals and this “idol of gentleness, unity, and respect?“
Unity and gentleness are idols. False gods! Lest you think this might be a mistake, he doubles down later and says,
“The idol of unity needs to be repented of.”
We must repent of seeking unity? Unity is an idol? Stunning. Those who prize unity are in sin and must repent.
He may fear that truth will be sacrificed in the pursuit of unity and doctrinal compromise will result. Compromise and error are real problems in the church. Jesus warned us about false Christs, apostles, prophets, and teachers. Paul, Peter, and the other NT writers renewed those warnings and a church that fails to arm itself against theological error swims in shark-infested water in a raw-meat swimming suit. There are warnings to be alert, to expose error, and to contend against it. But nowhere are we called to abandon unity, love, or gentleness in that pursuit. We must balance these two – speak the truth in love. If we abandon truth, we err. If we abandon love, we err.
If your “discernment” ministry denies the high value of unity in the Body of Christ, of love, peace, patience, and gentleness towards other believers, it is NOT biblical discernment you are practicing.
There are many are doctrinal cowards, unwilling to stand for truth and expose error, but many of us also give in to our fleshly impulse toward anger, toward schism, and become agents of division. It is my contention that the weight of NT revelation makes love, unity, and gentleness of the highest value. Jesus died to unite disparate peoples into one Body to worship God eternally. Unity is essential to the purpose of Christ’s death.
I watched a video this morning by a well-known blogger. It was powerful and confrontational, exposing error in the church. But it was done with a tone of gentleness and grace. One can confront powerfully without anger, without bombastic and cruel words. The means matters as well as the ends.
Let us peruse a few Scriptures – this post could be 10,000 words long – that speak of the value of love and unity.
What’s Love Got to Do with It?
1 Corinthians 13
If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. 1 Corinthians 12:1-3
Case closed. Nothing you do without love matters. Love and unity are not IDOLS, they are ESSENTIALS.
Of course, those who argue the “Unity is an idol” side generally make two assertions.
1. Love is telling people the truth. They claim that their habit of brutal confrontation is genuine love because it exposes people to truth and causes them to repent.
But Paul describes love in 1 Corinthians 13 – how it acts. It is patient and kind, not rude, self-seeking, or irritable. Most significantly, love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” It seeks the best in people and does not rush to condemn them as heretics. It builds up and doesn’t tear down, edifies, not destroys. The love Paul describes here is not a brutal, eviscerating love.
2. Love only applies to those in the true “Body,” not to “heretics.“
My favorite novel as a child was Tom Sawyer. In it, Mark Twain describes the Presbyterian pastor’s sermon Tom sat through as “an argument that dealt in limitless fire and brimstone and thinned the predestined elect down to a company so small as to be hardly worth the saving.” Discernment ministries tend to thin the “elect” to a small company as well, an inner circle of the theologically correct. Commands to unity only apply within this circle. Those outside it are heretics, deserving of the Matthew 23 treatment. The need for love and gentleness and patience is abrogated by perceived theological error and becomes idolatrous, not virtuous.
This attitude is confronted in 2 Timothy 2:24-26, dealt with below.
The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5)
Galatians 5 differentiates the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit working in us. The “works of the flesh” are abundantly evident, are they not?
…hatred, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy… Galatians 5:20-21
What is the work of the Spirit within?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Galatians 5:22-23
These are the things that are often seen as weakness and compromise, and here as idolatry! The Spirit draws us away from the outbursts of anger, away from dissensions and factions, from schisms, from strife and jealousy, toward love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and all that squishy, hippy-dippy stuff!
It is time we stop acting in the flesh and calling it the Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12
There is a lot here, but I’d like to point out a simple truth.
For just as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many, are one body—so also is Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all given one Spirit to drink. Indeed, the body is not one part but many. 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
We are diverse – different gifts, different ministries, but Jesus died for ONE Body. Jesus died for UNITY and the Spirit works in us to produce UNITY. It is not idolatry to seek unity, it is obedience. It is difficult because we are fleshly and our hearts resist it, but if we wish to live in line with the purposes of Christ, we seek unity. If one does not seek unity he is working against Christ and his Spirit, not with them.
The first half of Ephesians describes the great work of Christ in redemption, how he died to save us by grace through faith and to build one new man out of the two – Jews and Gentiles. In Ephesians 4:1 he commands the Ephesians to live a life that is worthy of that salvation. No one can be worthy, be in Christ we can live a life that is a worthy reflection of the purposes of Christ in effecting our salvation. The rest of the book is a litany of imperatives describing how we can live “worthy of the calling you have received.”
But what does Paul begin with? What was number 1?
Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to live worthy of the calling you have received, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
Yep, unity. #1. Numero Uno. Peace. Gentleness. Humility. In the power of the Spirit we, are to “make every effort” to maintain unity by “bearing with one another in love.” Paul thought unity was important. The first priority of a worthy walk was not contending for the faith or fighting false doctrine, but struggling against our flesh to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
This was not just Paul’s priority. The night before he died, Jesus poured out his heart to the Father, and he prayed,
I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in me through their word. May they all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. John 17:20-21
The church is meant to reflect the perfect unity of the Godhead. One day, we will!
Of course, he prayed for “those who believe in me” and it opens the door to excluding those we classify as heretics. but that violates the entirety of the prayer. Yes, there are wolves among the sheep, but every sheep whose wool is a slightly different color than mine is not a wolf. We need to stop going nuclear on all doctrinal disagreement and dropping the h-bomb on everyone who doesn’t see things our way. Unity is something for which Jesus died and shouldn’t be lightly sacrificed.
Jesus desired unity in the church and we should too. There are many such teachings in the Epistles.
- Jesus made it pretty clear in John 13:35. “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
- In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul described the tendency to divide as an evidence of spiritual immaturity.
- In 1 Corinthians 6, he said it was better to be wronged, even cheated, than to take another believer to court and create public discord.
- In Philippians 2, Paul begged the church to complete his joy by unity, humility, and honoring (respecting?) one another.
- In Colossians 3:14, Paul says, “above all these” characteristics of godly living, “put on love” because it “binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
- It is interesting that the very definition of a “false teacher” in Titus 3:10 is “one who stirs up division.”
Qualifications of a Pastor: 2 Timothy 2:24-26
When a church is seeking a pastor they generally say that he must meet the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. This passage, 2 Timothy 2:24-26, is unfortunately ignored, but these qualities are as binding on leaders in the church as the others.
The Lord’s servant must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient, 25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth. 26 Then they may come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Paul is instructing Timothy about how to deal with the false teachers that were plaguing the church at Ephesus. These are character qualities essential to a leader in the church. A man who does not exhibit these is disqualified from ministry – as unfit for pastoral ministry as an adulterer or drunkard!
- He must not quarrel. He must not be bogged down in petty, angry debate that produces no fruit. This might have been a prophecy, Paul foreseeing the advent of social media!
- He must be gentle with everyone. Even false teachers. Everyone. We do not pick fights or preach as if the death and destruction of the wicked give us joy. Again, gentleness is a command of God’s word and an essential quality of a man of God. A pastor who is not gentle, even with troublesome people, is disqualified from ministry.
- He is able to teach and instructs his opponents with gentleness. Gentleness again. He does not bluster or shout, or call hellfire down on those who disagree. He gently attempts to instruct those, even those who disagree. This is hard, but so is rejoicing in the hard times, loving your enemy, and forgiving the one who sins against you. Everything the Spirit is doing in us is hard. But it is not optional for a man of God.
- He must be patient. You see the true character of a man of God when he is opposed. Who likes that? But does he lash out in anger, call names, escalate the conflict? Or does he patiently respond with gentle instruction? That is what a man of God does.
I could go on and on and on. The UNITY of the Body of Christ is of the highest value in the New Testament. We confront false teachers not because it gives us a sense of superiority and glee, but because these false teachers invariably insert themselves and their egos in the mix and produce schism in the church. They divide. Men of God work with all their hearts to be loving, patient, kind, gentle, and peaceful with others, even those who disagree or hold false ideas because that is what the Bible commands us to do. That is what a man of God does – he gently instructs, trusting the Spirit of God to use the Word of God to do the Work of God. If someone shows themselves unalterably to be an enemy of the Cross we are willing to stand – but that must always be a last resort, not a first response.
Never let anyone shame you for pursuing unity. It is not compromise to seek unity with all of God’s redeemed, it is obedience! Those who love Jesus and love the word of God will be agents of unity, not servants of division or soldiers of schism.
True discernment understands why Jesus died – to create ONE Body, an eternal people who will worship him forever in perfect unity – and devotes itself to serving that purpose here on earth. Anything else is error.