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The Greatest Threat to Church Unity

There are many things that threaten the unity of the church. Many of these things—like “the color of carpet,” which is an often-cited example—are pointless and groundless. For this reason, many people have rightly called for unity in the church. But seldom do these calls for unity also provide biblical ground for breaking unity. There are biblical grounds for breaking unity, and we should be very familiar with these.

Without a doubt, the Scriptures call the church to unity (1 Cor. 1:10-12, Eph. 4:1-6, John 17:21, Phil. 2:1-3), and as believers, we should strive to maintain oneness in the Spirit, setting aside self-interest and self-promotion. As we protect the unity of the church at all costs, Scripture does sanction two situations when unity should be disrupted: persistent sin and false teaching.

The common theme in both of these situations is wrapped up in the word error. Persistent sin is moral error. False teaching is doctrinal error.

Persistent Sin Threatens Unity

Every believer struggles with sin (Rom. 7:15-20), so when there is sin in the church, members should not be too hasty to expose and excommunicate a brother or sister. Rather, the spiritual should seek to restore the weak with an attitude of meekness, avoiding a “witch-hunt mentality.” Everyone is susceptible to temptation and falling into sin (Gal. 6:1-2).

For those who are in sin, Scripture has prescribed several means of dealing with sin:

While there are many steps that should and must be taken on the way to excommunication, it should be noted that the error of persistent sin is a biblically sanctioned reasoned for the disruption of unity.

False Teaching Threatens Unity

There are numerous references to false teachers and false teachings in the New Testament (Mat. 7:15-20, 24:2, 24:4-5, 24:11; John 2:26-27, 4:1-6; Acts 20:29, 17:11; 2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Tim. 3:5-13, 4:3-4; Eph. 4:14, 5:11; Col. 2:8; Gal. 1:6-9; Rom. 16:17-18; 1 Tim. 4:1, 6:3-5, 6:20-21; 2 Peter 2:1-3; Jude 1:4). Given Scripture’s frequent mention in both the Old and New Testaments, false teaching is something that Christians should be very ready to identify, and believers should be very quick to separate from false teachers.

On at least three occasions, Scripture commands the disruption of unity because of false teaching. Paul says that false prophets should be “accursed” (Gal 1:6-9), and he also tells the believers to avoid them (2 Tim. 3:5, Rom. 16:17).

Conclusion

We should do everything within our power to preserve the unity of the church. But church unity is not the highest value for the church. Church purity—moral and doctrinal—is of greater importance. Christ’s church will find unity when, as the holy bride of Christ, she seeks Christ’s holy truth.

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bio picture for Daniel Webster A Thing Worth Doing ATWD blog - worship, ministry, and culture

Daniel Aaron Webster is a minister, writer, and teacher. His primary research interest is Early Christian music, especially the musical thought of Clement of Alexandria.

Daniel serves at Welch College as Director of Enrollment & Marketing and as Adjunct Instructor of Music & Theology. He also serves as the Associate Pastor for Music & Worship at Immanuel Church in Gallatin, TN.

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