One recurring theme throughout the New Testament is unity. Jesus speaks of oneness among His disciples in His high priestly prayer found in John 17:21-23. He prayed, “That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one.” The Apostle Paul also highlighted Christian unity in Ephesians 4:3, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” In order for the gospel of Jesus Christ to spread, the mandate for today’s church is to live, worship and serve in unity.
Jesus prayed, “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.
John 17:21 ESV
Three Ways to Strengthen Unity
Believers have always struggled with unity. The Apostle Peter struggled with the issue of unity when Paul rebuked him for acting one way with Gentiles, and another way in the presence of Jews. In Galatians 2:11-14, Peter was perfectly fine eating with Gentiles as long as no Jews were around. Paul called Peter a hypocrite and reprimanded him for setting such an ungodly example before the believing Jews. Peter’s actions were wrong and Paul exposed him for the sinful behavior. Prejudice should not exist in the body of Christ.
Another passage highlights the importance of Christian unity. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Paul wanted the Galatian Christians to know that one’s ethnicity (Jew nor Greek), class (slave nor free), and gender (male nor female) is irrelevant when it comes to salvation. The hallmark of Christian fellowship rests solely on the unity shared through Christ and Him alone. In a multiracial congregation, the differences are evident, yet the diversity enhances the worship. However, no ethnicity is required to give up their separate identity, but each one is valued. A common bond occurs because all are one in Christ. Barriers should not exist in the body of Christ.
Paul again speaks of unity in the local church in Ephesians 2:11-22. His desire was for God’s people to understand that Jew and Gentile are no longer two different races. By way of the cross of Christ, the two are now one race–the Christian race. A critical study of this pericope reveals how the Bible supports the unity of believers of all ethnicities, backgrounds, and cultures in the local church. God’s purpose to unite Jews and Gentiles into one new race takes center stage. Jesus, the main character “is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition” (Ephesians 2:14). Christ not only brought peace between the two, but also that He might “reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby” (Ephesians 2:16). Salvation came to the Gentiles who were formerly without God and hope. The finished, reconciling work of Christ on the cross worked mightily in the life of Gentiles, making the believing Jews and Gentiles a privileged people as the body of Christ. The context of these verses reveals the great mystery of the gospel; God in Christ, redeeming mankind of all nations into His body, the church. God demonstrates His unifying plan of bringing the Jews and Gentiles together to make one new man. The letter to the Ephesians presents a strong case for God’s paradigm of multi-ethnicity for His church. Paul was a willing vessel in the hands of God for the glory of God. A favored 1908 hymn by William Arthur Dunkerley describes how walls of prejudice, barriers to Christian unity, and racism should never exist in the body of Christ:
In Christ There is No East or West
In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.
Join hands, then, members of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as His child
Is surely kin to me.
William Arthur Dunkerly
Dr. James D. Noble is Assistant Professor of Practical Ministry at Clamp Divinity School at Anderson University. He is married to Redunda Noble and they have two sons and a daughter. Dr. Noble attended Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary in Cordova, TN where he earned both a Master of Divinity Degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree. Dr. Noble has served as a pastor, associate pastor, church launch team member, and Vice President of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.