Disagreement exists on many levels. No doubt the American experiment is even a strange secular exhibition of this; a sovereign nation with a vaguely, yet firmly, established equilibrium. As individualism and relativism has steeped in the culture difficulty has come about in maintaining balance between antithetical positions in many conversations. Can there be any clarity? Can there be any unity? The answer is, “Yes,” but not necessarily in regard to a political unity in governing structures built by human wisdom.
How should we think of John McLaurin and Ben Tillman’s little exchange on February 22, 1902 in the senate? Or what about Thomas Benton and Henry Foote’s scuffle in April of 1850 on the Senate floor? Despite the “reports” of disunity in the United States the modern context has yet to see her senators pull pistols on each other. Maybe the United States is not as bad as people say? Maybe it is worse? One thing is certain, if one puts too much hope in a human philosophy for the “salvation” of a society one side is bound to be disappointed immediately, and the other will likely be disappointed eventually (by “salvation” I mean secular folk’s perception of what will fix all wrongs in the world, people’s perception of “salvation”).
Be careful whom you trust. Be careful how you trust! Aside from who or what the ideology is, if we hope in something that is temporal in an unhealthy way we will surely be disappointed. If we hope in something that is temporal in a healthy way we will likely still experience disappointment. When this happens what does one do? Everything you have put your hope in has quickly left, and what you thought was a societal “salvation” has left as well. On the other side of the coin..maybe the representative of an ideological position gains the position one believes would give him or her the power to legislate for what many people hold to be the “salvation” of a society (conservation, progress, etc.). We have many examples of this and many unfortunate results: (1) these folks do a lot of good, but many promises go unfulfilled because of a naiveté on the part of both politicians and those they represent regarding exactly what a person in that potential position can actually do; (2) they lied and just wanted the power, “absolute power corrupts absolutely”; (3) their policies were meant to meet a need at a particular time and the means by which the need was met becomes irrelevant or unhelpful; etc. We need to pray for our secular authorities (2 Chron 7:14; 1 Tim 2:1-3).
What does this have to do with unity in the church? Is the Bible just another vague document meant to establish the status quo? Not by any means! Is the church just another victim of natural entropy? Of course not! The Christian church is not meant to preserve a temporal political unity that so many worldly structures pursue. It is meant to be a preserve of a unity based on the foundation of the gospel, a spiritual unity. The unity is already existent. It is also amazing that God has given a polity to organize the visible expression of His church for the purpose of unity grounded in faith and the knowledge of the Son of God:
Ephesians 4:11-14 “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” (my emphasis)
Christian unity is founded in the gospel. Too many times we carry presuppositions into the church from our secular experiences. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ conclusions from his exposition of John 17 and Ephesians 4 in The Basis of Christian Unity (Carlisle: Banner of Truth, 2004) are relevant:
(1) Unity must never be isolated, or regarded as something in and of itself (70).
(2) The question of unity must never be put first [fellowship follows doctrine; Acts 2:42, etc.] (70).
(3) We must never start with the visible church or with an institution, but rather with the truth [Luke 3:8; John 8:32-34; etc.] (71).
(4) The starting point in considering the question of unity must always be regeneration and belief of the truth (72).a. People are not in Christian unity if they don’t agree with the following.i. Submission to revealed truth (73).
ii. The Fall and man’s utter helplessness (73).
iii. The person of Jesus Christ and His substitutionary atonement (73).
(5) An appearance or façade of unity based on anything else, and at the expense of these two criteria, or ignoring them, is clearly a fraud and a lie (72).
(6) To do anything which supports or encourages such an impression or appearance of unity is surely dishonest and sinful [John 17:21] (73).
(7) To regard a church, or a council of churches, as a forum in which fundamental matters can be debated and discussed, or as an opportunity for witness-bearing, is sheer confusion and muddled thinking (74).
(8) Unity must obviously never be thought of primarily in numerical terms, but always in terms of life (75).
(9) The greatest need of the hour is a new baptism and outpouring of the Holy Spirit in renewal and revival (76).