Church unity is not the mere task of bringing folks together and hoping they’ll talk to each other. Often, you have tried to repair groups in your church, but the process of fixing broken relationships seems grueling. You wonder if your church will ever be unified.
Church unity reminds me of a simple time in my life that involved swimming. I began swimming before walking, well not exactly. We had a swimming pool in our backyard. As I grew I didn’t just play in the water, but I started doing laps. Eventually, my parents paid for weekly swimming lessons. I swam well enough to compete and won several trophies and ribbons. It was my dream to head off to the Olympics. However, that was not meant to be, so I joined a talented team of synchronized swimmers.
Synchronized swimming involves each member of the team working in unison for the movement to look smooth; not one person can be out of sync, or the entire performance ruined. As a team, we needed to accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses, faults and talents to have unity by building up the team for a better presentation. When the team didn’t work together, unity was broken.
Same thing goes for the church. Working as an agreeable group is the goal. You know that, but it’s time for you to lead your church toward unity. Before you can aim for unity, however, you need to accept one another.
Let’s focus on what Paul says in Romans 14-15.
Accept One Another for Church Unity
Romans 14:1 says that you should “Accept other believers who are weak in the faith…” The first thing you need to do to build unity is to receive people no matter how weak or strength their faith. You do not know the stability of the faith of anyone, so you must welcome every Christian as having faith equal to yours.
In your church today, certain Christian groups are unaccepted amongst other Christians. For instance, people with tattoos, different clothing styles, piercings, hairstyle/color, addictions, low education, different lifestyles, bad language, political affiliations, and more are deemed unworthy, or too sinful. This list is not all-inclusive. As a Christian, you feel it’s your duty to stand up for what is right and not allow Christians who have tattoos or live a gay lifestyle to be a part of your church. They are sinners and should be shunned. Right? Wrong. Let me explain.
~ Condemning vs. Accepting
At this point, I start to meddle in the actions of your church.
Romans 14:10 says, “So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer?”
Don’t get mad at me! I didn’t say it; God did. It’s right there in Romans.
The Christians in your church are condemning other Christians over “disputable matters” (Romans 14:1 NIV). Disputable matters are those areas that are not important to the Kingdom of God. How ridiculous it is when you hear arguments whether a tattoo, or pink hair, or even a person with a different lifestyle are acceptable in your church, or not.
According to Romans 14:17, the Kingdom of God has nothing to do with these things! Here’s what it says:
“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
Look that verse over very carefully. In it, you won’t find anything about tattoos, clothing styles, piercings, hairstyle/color, addictions, education levels, lifestyles, bad language, political affiliations, or anything that focuses on what’s here on earth. What you do see is that the Kingdom of God is about living a life of goodness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
That’s unity. That’s what’s important.
Aim for Church Unity
Romans 14:19 suggests for your church to be unified you need to “…aim for [unity] in the church and try to build each other up.”
Aiming for unity doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll hit the bullseye every time, but it means you’re working to accept all Christians into your fellowship. I believe Paul is trying to give us six ways in which we should aim for unity.
~ First Way to Aim
- Build each other up
Romans 14:19b provides the first way to aim for unity. Paul says that you need to strive to “try to build up one another.”
The opposite of building a house is tearing one down. If you are not building up your Christian neighbor, church staff, lay leaders, congregation or reaching out to needy Christians in the community, you’re tearing down unity.
The darts you throw need to go into the bullseye, not into the backs of the Christians who aren’t living according to your rules and expectations. The disputable matters on which you focus cause unity to break when you tear down instead of build up.
~ Second Way to Aim
- Don’t tear apart the work of God
Romans 14:20 provides the second way to aim for unity when it says, “Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat.” Again, Paul is using the food example because it was a problem for the Roman Christians in his day.
The problem is you don’t truly know the heart of another Christian. In fact, you don’t know the heart of anyone. So, when that new Christian, trying to break free from drugs and alcohol, walks through your door, your negative attitude toward them tears apart the work that God is doing in their life. Do you want to be the one to make them stumble?
Be careful not to turn away a believer, based on appearance or lifestyle. Let God be God who works through the powerful Holy Spirit to change the lives of those He loves.
~ Third Way to Aim
- Be considerate
Romans 15:1 suggests that it’s important for you to “be considerate” to aim for unity. The definition of consideration is thoughtfulness. Be thoughtful of the faith of another believer.
Like I said at the beginning, you just never really know each person’s level of trust in God, so you should always come with an open spirit to consider the spiritual position of each believer, especially those who walk through the front door of your church. They need a doctor, not a surgeon. Be considerate.
~ Fourth Way to Aim
- Help others to do what is right
Romans 15:2 says that you should “help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” I underlined “in the Lord” for a very particular reason.
So many times you give advice according to your thoughts, or beliefs without going to the source: the Lord. Your “advice,” (and I use this term loosely) should only come through the filter of God’s Word. When your growth brings you to the point where you can help “weaker Christians” (Romans 14:1), you better come to them with plenty of Scripture to back up what you are saying.
As you guide them toward growth, build them up at the same time. This way you’ll be promoting unity in your church.
~ Fifth Way to Aim
- Don’t please yourself
It’s so easy to get caught up in pleasing yourself. However, it’s important that you recognize unity is not about you. It’s about the body of Christ and the Kingdom of God. Hear the message from Paul when he reminds you that “…even Christ didn’t live to please himself” (Romans 15:3).
Do you think Jesus wanted to be brutally beaten and executed by crucifixion or would he have chosen a different way if God had given him an option B? Maybe, I’m not going to try to speak for him. However, I believe he chose us first by obeying his Father. He didn’t please himself.
You shouldn’t aim to please yourself either. The services, the worship style, the service flow, should be about the leading of the Holy Spirit, not your agenda. Unity cracks when your agenda is the focus and your brothers and sisters in Christ feel second.
~ Sixth Way to Aim
- Accept one another without judgment
When you “accept each other just as Christ has accepted you…” (Romans 15:7) you are walking in the steps of Christ. When you begin the judgment process, you tear down unity because those who need to hear from God do not feel accepted in your church.
Struggling Christians coming into your church know when you are judging them. Those who are trying to break free from adulterous relationships, unholy lifestyles and addictions are especially susceptible. When the sins of others seem obvious, they can feel condemnation a mile away. If they even come into your church, unity dissolves in the face of judgment.
You are an individual, but as a Christian, you are supposed to seek unity through Christ with other believers. You want to begin the process of unity in your church, but you know the difficulties often faced with the power of your judgmental heart.
However, Paul understands that when he says, “So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up” (Romans 14:19).
You won’t always hit the bullseye, but at long as you are intentional, the Kingdom of God will reveal itself through unity in your church.
Blessing for your church:
May God, who gives this patience and encouragement,
help you live in complete harmony with each other,
as is fitting for followers of Christ Jesus.
Then all of you can join with one voice,
giving praise and glory to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, accept each other just as Christ has accepted you
so that God will be given glory.