Unity is the Pathway to Doctrinal Purity

Tuesday Re-mix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and resubmitted for your consideration and comments.

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:14

Over the years, as my passion for unity in the church has intensified, some of my more conservative brothers and sisters in Christ have expressed concern that too much emphasis on unity could actually hurt the church, especially in the area of doctrinal purity.  The premise is, I think, that we can have complete unity or we can have doctrinal purity, but we cannot have both, i.e., that the two concepts are somehow mutually exclusive.  That concern is understandable, even predictable…but badly misplaced.  The call to Biblical unity is not a call to some sort of compromise in order to get along.  Moreover, maintaining doctrinal purity should not mean constant pushing and shoving to keep people in line.  Some in the church believe that, in order to keep our doctrine pure, we’ve got to step on a few toes and bang a few heads.

As confrontational as he was capable of being, I believe Paul would disagree with this “bang a few heads” mentality.

In Ephesians 4, Paul writes one of his most complete lessons on unity in the church.  He calls us to live a life worthy of the calling we have received, he reminds us of some things we can all agree about, he teaches us about Spiritual gifts, and he gives some very practical counsel about our life in community with each other.  He paints a clear picture for us of unity, and in the middle of that discussion, he clarifies something for us: our learning to live correctly in community with one another is the pathway to maintaining doctrinal purity as well.

He compares the church with little unity, no genuine relationships of accountability with each other and no understanding of one another’s spiritual gifts, to reeds in the water being moved back and forth by the waves and the wind.  Every little breeze of false teaching moves them this way and that way.  They are vulnerable in that regard.  But the group of believers who are living in community with one another, holding one another accountable, experiencing one another’s Spiritual gifts and doing all the other “unity” things described in Ephesians 4 are not so vulnerable.  Rather, they are more mature, grown up into the head of the church, Jesus Christ.  For them, doctrinal purity is not a problem.

Interestingly, Paul showed a great deal of concern in all of his writings about doctrinal purity.  It was not an issue he treated lightly.  But even more interestingly, though he had ample opportunity to do so, he never taught that the path to doctrinal purity was through creeds or debates or yelling more loudly than the preacher next door. As it turns out, the pathway to doctrinal purity is through Spirit-filled relationships with one another.  This, it seems, is what grows us up into stronger communities of believers and inoculates us against false teaching.

Want more mature Christians in your church?  Teach them unity.

© Blake Coffee

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