“Our Polar Star”: Unity or the Faith?

Jerry C. Brewer

The religious world has a penchant for focusing on the symptom of spiritual disease rather than its cause. The prime symptom of that disease is religious division and voices are raised against this, calling for “unity.” Unity is defined, in part, as, “The state, property, or product of being united, physically, socially, or morally; oneness: opposed to division, plurality…” (Funk & Wagnalls, Britannica World Language Dictionary)

In the religious world, unity is seen as a panacea for every spiritual ill. That unity is desirable goes without saying, but one must ask, “Upon what basis may Scriptural unity be achieved?” Simply achieving unity for unity’s sake is not the teaching of the Scripture. Discordant voices are constantly raised among ecumenists of all stripes calling for religious unity without regard to the basis upon which true Scriptural unity may be achieved in religion.

In his 1996 lecture at Abilene Christian University, Mark Henderson set forth his agenda for the inclusion of mechanical instruments of music at Quail Springs in Oklahoma City and his embrace of denominational fellowship. In that speech, he advocated “unity” with all— even though there is disagreement about the Scripture—a concept known as the oxymoronic, “Unity in Diversity.” Here’s what Henderson said, speaking on, “People Need The Unity-Committed Church”:

Brothers and sisters, we don’t have to live in estrangement and isolation from those who honestly differ with us inside or outside our fellowship. We don’t have to agree with them at every point, nor do we have to convince them to agree with us on every issue. All we have to do is look to our left, to those who have felt the sting of our rejection, and everywhere we see one who has surrendered his or her life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, we may rejoice that we have discovered a brother or sister, and we may extend to that child of God the same inviting hand of grace and acceptance that we ourselves have received from the Lord Jesus. It won’t be easy to do that. It is hard to lay aside the mantle of exclusivity, but I believe it will be worth the effort, if for no other reason, than for the sake of those lost souls who won’t ever find Jesus unless they find him through the unity-committed church.

Henderson and his ilk set forth “unity” as the panacea for all spiritual ills and all religious division. That’s like saying, “getting rid of a headache will cure a a brain tumor.” Religious division is viewed as the source of spiritual problems rather than its symptom. And all of the voices pleading for “unity” today are merely echoing the blurred understanding of the Restoration pioneers who said essentially the same thing. Many use Barton W. Stone’s plea as theirs to advocate compromise with sectarianism today, as Carl Ketcherside did:

Let Christian unity be our polar star,’ was Barton Stone’s constant cry. It was the rule and passion of his own life. And it reflects the right attitude toward unity, that it is a means to a much larger end rather than an end itself. Jesus prayed that the disciples would be one so that the world will believe. This is the glorious end of the union of believers, that the world will be led to the Christ. An ecumenicity that is an end in itself can only produce a vacuous institutional union, a super-church of some sort. Oneness of faith does not call for a conformity to a single super-church or an identity to some rigid doctrinal pattern. Congregations may well remain diverse, whether cultural or doctrinal, and still be one together in the Lord, accepting and loving each other as fellow heirs of the promises.

Mariners watch the polar star for guidance to the goal in view. Stone saw that unity of believers is the road by which we reach the heart of an unbelieving world. A divided church contradicts the very message of love it proclaims. But when the world sees that believers love each other even when they do not agree, it is impressed. Jesus assures us that men will be convinced that we are disciples when they see our love for one another. This is our polar star. (Restoration Review, Vol. 14, No. 10; Jan. 1972).

Unity in Christ is a blessed thing, but not at the price of compromise. Unity is not the basis of men’s faith. Faith comes through understanding and embracing God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). Like so many in the past, men today twist Jesus’ words in John 17 to mean something they were never intended to mean. When Jesus said, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me,” (John 17:20-21) He did not mean that the world would believe on him simply because Christians were united. He referred to the preaching of the apostles and His prayer was answered at Pentecost and in the ensuing years. Men believed because the apostles and Christ were one. They spoke the Truth that was revealed from Christ through the Holy Spirit and men became one in, and with, Christ when they heard, believed and obeyed the gospel.

But religionists continue to take Jesus’ words and twist them into a plea for compromise with error so that “unity” may prevail. I am reminded of a statement I heard attributed to N. B. Hardeman who said, “You can tie a dog and a cat together and throw them over a clothesline and have ‘union,’ but no ‘unity.’” That’s precisely what the “unity” folks are advocating today—union. Mark Henderson says, “We don’t have to agree with them at every point…” and the Restoration Review pontificates, “But when the world sees that believers love each other even when they do not agree, it is impressed. Jesus assures us that men will be convinced that we are disciples when they see our love for one another. This is our polar star.”

So the modern formula for unity is no longer, “that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Cor. 1:10). That formula has been changed to one of “union” and now reads like this: “That ye all love one another and have union on that basis; that ye be perfectly joined together in an agreement to disagree.”

The only true basis for unity in Christ is adherence to the Word of God. Without that, man is lost and groping in a maze of his own making. Religious division is not the disease that afflicts the world. It is merely a symptom. The first religious division—between Cain and Abel—resulted from disobeying God’s Word (Gen. 4:1-8). Abel offered his sacrifice “by faith” (Heb. 11:4). God instructed them what to offer because faith comes by hearing God’s Word (Rom. 10:17). Cain offered the sacrifice of his choice and sinned thereby. There were only two ways the brothers could have achieved religious unity between them. Abel could have compromised, refused to obey God, and offered “the fruit of the ground” as did his brother. Or, both men could have done as God instructed. There was no other alternative.

A failure to respect the authority of God revealed through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2) is the disease that we need to attack. When the disease—failure to abide by God’s Word—is properly treated, the symptom—religious division—will disappear.

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