Unity, Uniformity, and Unanimity
They’re not all the same.
“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring,and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one flock,and one Shepherd”(Jn. 10:16).
We know that the unity of His people is very dear to the heart of our Lord Jesus because it is one of the subjects He prayed about shortly before going to the cross (Jn. 17:20-23).While that unity certainly has practical considerations, the Lord was referring to mystery of the church—Jews and Gentiles united in one body. Later, Paul would outline the unity of the universal church (Eph. 4:4-6) by listing seven magnificent items that are positional: they are shared by every member of the body of Christ, regardless of that believer’s appreciation of themor the quality of his Christian walk. But there is also a conditional aspect to the unity of believers.These great truths are to be translated into daily living. Hence, in connection with thosepositional truths, we are instructed how to behave in order to “preserve the unity of the Spirit inthe bond of peace” (Eph. 4:1-3). This is a description of practical unity in the church.There are two related concepts that are also significant to our understanding of practical church unity. Firstly, unity is not to be confused with uniformity. The same passages that emphasize the unity of the assembly also describe its divine diversity (e.g. 1 Cor. 12; Rom. 12).Taking this principle seriously actually fosters unity. No end of irritation develops when a believer expects everyone else to be just like him. Often, a believer will view his own particular burden or ministry as the paramount duty of all Christians. As a result, he doesn’t value (or sometimes even notice) the roles and ministries of the other members of the body. Instead of appreciating the wisdom of God in placing every member in the body just as He desired
(1 Cor. 12:18), a believer who expects uniformity will be constantly discouraged, self-righteous,and critical. This betrays a tragic misunderstanding of the nature of the local church. The Lord is infinitely creative and does not make duplicate Christians. He gives every believer a crucial and unique role. We can all rejoice as we see how other believers are equipped to meet vital needs that we, left to ourselves, had barely noticed.
This diversity, however, does not extend to every element of church life. Unanimity is required in many areas. For example, diversity of doctrine is not a strength—it is not a virtue to have a diversity of viewpoints on the deity of Christ or the importance of New Testament church principles. Furthermore, there are many “practical” elements of the Christian life where we don’tdesire variety. “You’re patient; I’m not. Isn’t diversity wonderful?” We trust that we can be in absolute agreement on moral issues or any other matter where the Scriptures speak clearly. Lastly, unanimity is an important principle specifically for elders. Years ago, a dear Christian brother told me that when the elders of his assembly were unable to come to unanimous agreement on an issue, one of them would say, “Brethren, we clearly do not yet have the mind of the Lord on this. Let’s continue to pray about it.” This might not be the fastest way to make decisions, but there’s no doubt it is the wisest. The assembly is not a democracy where majority rules. Our duty is to discern the Lord’s thoughts, as revealed in His Word. Unanimity among the elders is one of the safeguards that helps ensure that we do just that.Let us allow the Lord to be our guide in all of these matters.He is the great unifier of His people, who has sovereignly given us our unique roles in the body. And it is His mind and will that we should seek to understand and implement in our lives. by James Martin