...I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one. — John 17:20-22
A great deal of attention has been given Jesus' prayer for unity and oneness among all Christians, and no doubt this is an extremely important reality for us to pursue and enjoy. However, it appears that too many among the Church, with a sincere concern to make God's prayer a reality, have either insisted or settled on a superficial brand of unity. Who are we to feel the pressure of answering Jesus' prayer to the Father! Instead, our responsibility is to follow the instruction found in God's Word regarding Biblical community and the soundness of our doctrine.
Sadly, much compromise is taking place in the Church in the name of unity. After all, inherent in the definition of the word unity is the dismissal of certain differences for the sake of emphasizing more important commonalities. And unity does requires grace for our brother as well as the concession of one’s desires and opinions, in order to prefer another. This is the high price of humble, unified, Biblical community that is motivated by God's love, which He has given us for one another. However, it seems that many will do almost anything in the name of unity, even forfeit sound, historical doctrine. While this is their sincere goal, there can not be genuine unity where there is not doctrinal unity regarding primary points of belief and practice. And we are to be discerning and willing to distance ourselves from or expose those whose lives contradict the Gospel message.
"Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in. He attaches far more importance to godly intercourse than we do. Since union is strength, he does his best to promote separation." — Charles Spurgeon
We must understand that to holding to a Biblical standard for fellowship is eventually divisive, as the unity for which Christ prayed must always be based on unmoving truth. And while truth gives life, it is by nature exclusive. Isn't it our true Biblical Christian unity, by the Spirit of Christ, that makes us unique from the world? So, it follows that there must be division if we are to maintain a pure unity among one-another. The wall of division from the outside is necessary for unity within.
This means, in order to preserve pure Biblical unity among believers, that we must be willing, when necessary, to...
Those who hold unity above doctrine generally site John 13:35 and Matthew 7:1-6 in their defense. Jesus did teach that our love for one another would prove to the watching world that we are truly His disciples. And while protecting true Christian unity may not appear "loving" at times, we simply aren't responsible for how the world defines love. We are, however, responsible to follow Biblical instructions regarding unity by the Spirit of Truth. Regarding Matthew 7, Christ is, by many, reported to have commanded us to not ever judge anyone, when, In fact, He described when and how to rightly judge (or correct) a brother. At the end of the day, we are not told to unify with those who simply profess to be believers or with those who simply profess to agree with sound doctrine. We must be like the Bereans, who tested the life and message of even the Apostle Paul. This is precisely why doctrine matters more than "unity" (or unity at all costs), because the twin streams of proper living and proper teaching can only come from one spring, proper doctrine.
We must love God humbly and approach His truth honestly if we are to have the unity with the saints for which Christ prayed, even if we have to cross some denominational lines to experience it. And we will. True unity is not merely organizational in nature. It does not mean we must worship in the same room or with the same forms. However, it does mean that we be able and, if requested to, happy to worship together free from any substantial distraction. And where the Church has been guilty of allowing these differences of opinion, practice, and degree to cause sinful division, we are without proper excuse and should repent, forgive, and love one another with the love of Christ.
But this is not the only battle for unity in most of the visible Church today. Today the battle has less to do with a lack of grace for true brothers, and it has more to do with a lack of discernment needed to confront irresponsible brothers or identify false brothers. The chasm separating important doctrinal positions of many of today’s evangelical church leaders is vast, yet many of them are all too happy to partner together for the sake of unity and the Gospel. We ought to be encouraged by such a passionate commitment to unity, but at what cost to our message? Does it not matter what we believe about the trinity, or that we believe differently about the sufficiency of God’s Word, or whether or not women can have authority in the church, or even in the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ? The answer is yes. Yes, these things matter, and they are critical. The strong words of the Apostle Paul to pastor Timothy come to mind...
...preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. — 2 Timothy 4:2
Believing doctrine matters will mean doing these things that God commands pastors do. These actions will appear divisive and in some cases will be. But, they are absolutely necessary in order to protect the true unity of the Church. We must recognize that with so much easy-believism and deceptive teaching, its irresponsible, naive, and dangerous to not be discerning and critical (in a positive sense, as in "to judge," but not being judgmental). We do this for to guard the immature brother, to see the sincere but false-professor saved, and ultimately for Christ and the purity of His Church. Unity at the expense of even biblical doctrine somehow sounds noble to many. However, we are nothing if not people of beliefs who have a certain message. And the more false religions, doctrines, and teachings we endorse by our partnership, the more diluted our message becomes, and to dilute the Biblical Gospel at all is poison.
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. — Ephesians 5:11
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? — 2 Corinthians 6:14
The influence of large churches, popular pastors, and leaders of ecumenical gatherings is ultimately where this movement gains ground. And may we have have more pastors and spiritual leaders who will both feed and defend His sheep! Doctrine matters, and it matters enough to demand nothing less than a unity worthy of Christ Himself!
Unity without the gospel is a worthless unity; it is the very unity of hell. — J.C. Ryle