From the Archives: Unity and Holiness

By Arlo Newell

The church which Jesus founded was built on a basis of unity. We have one Master (Matt 23:8); we are members one of another (Eph 4:25); it is to this one body that we are called (Col 3:15), and this unity is reflected in the life of the local congregation. It is the unity of a body functioning harmoniously, a building being properly joined together in symmetry and cohesiveness, or a marriage in which two have become one flesh (Rom 12:4–5; Eph 2:21–22; 5:31). In each instance the unity is an evidence of a relationship that has both internal and external theological implications.

God’s plan for his people, the church, has always been one of unity. That which had made them unique was their singular commitment to Israel’s one true God. While following particularly religious teachings and practices, their oneness was not predicated upon these externals. They were one because of their faith in what God had done for them; it was a relationship between the human and the divine.

Arlo Newell

The possibility of this type of realized unity is perfected in the prayer offered by Christ in John 17. While being united “in” Christ, the continuation of such unity is possible only through a life of holiness. It is our salvation “in” Christ that brings together a people who “are not of the world” (v. 16). Because of a commitment to the authority of the Word, revealed through the Holy Spirit, we are able to live together in harmony as we obey his will. While the early church found a common basis for unity through saving faith in Christ, it was preserved the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Their unity was not produced through federation or amalgamation, but through the sanctification of the heart, enabling them to function together harmoniously in spite of apparent differences. The church became their obsession, and its mission was much greater than personal differences. Truth pointed them to something beyond sectarian spirits or denominational terminology. Jesus prayed that his followers would be kept in the Father’s name: “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are” (v. 11).

Careful study of this chapter will reveal that unity and holiness are inextricably related. It is God’s church, bearing his name and kept by his Spirit. Edwyn Hoskyns writes in his book, The Fourth Gospel, “The holiness of God marks his separation from the unbelief and wickedness of the world, which lies in the power of the devil (1 John 5:19). It is precisely this holiness that marks the true disciples of Jesus, who are in the world but not of it, which provides the ground of their unity.”

Yes, God intended for the Church to be one! Division is sin! Therefore, let us as Christians involve ourselves responsibly in expressing this unity among all believers. Only then will the world truly believe in the Church and the Lord of the Church. When true unity is experienced within and without church walls, it will have a lasting influence. But remember God’s pattern—people cannot unify, unless they are willing to let God sanctify.

Arlo Newell is editor-in-chief emeritus for Warner Press. His article originally was originally published in the February 25, 1979, issue of Vital Christianity. Republished by permission. All excerpts of Scripture taken from the King James Version.

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