Thursday, March 01, 2012


At the risk of driving a subject into the ground, having addressed unity in a first of the year post, I think it wise to say something else about it. The present day spirit of dis-unity and even harsh dissension in homes, churches, and especially politically, may indicate a need for a more thorough look at the subject of unity.

I'm going to attempt to give some very personal and certainly fallible thoughts on the subject. Having been married for 53 years, a parent for 52 of those married years and having pastored churches for nearly 40 of 57 years of a preaching ministry,  I have had ample reason for struggling with this very messy issue for a long time.

In my opinion there isn't a lot of difference between a family, a church, or a business in terms of working with people. Each grouping is different in some ways, to be sure, but each group is still made up of people who are different from one another but still just people. So unity will always be a work in progress.

Families often choose to struggle behind closed doors, for whatever reason, but as John Powell says, "A family is unhealthy to the level of it's secrets." Some churches tend to be a little more upfront with problems, or maybe not, but they have them just the same. The business or political structure that pretends that only positive things are going on and refuses to deal with the real problems that everyone knows are there is as unhealthy as that family that lives behind closed doors.

It is a rare person or group that can face their own weaknesses and openly deal with issues. But for unity to be maintained as a reality, a lot needs to be thought through and talked about sensibly, as well as openly, whether it's two people in  a marriage [or friendship] or thousands of people in the group.

We need to begin with a clear statement of scripture. In Eph. 4:3 Paul said we are to endeavor to "Keep the unity of the Spirit," The idea here is God has already created us, as Christians, as united in Christ. No need to create unity. He's done that. And notice there is no talk of a local church here and marriage is introduced later in chapter 5, so this is a statement to ALL believers. It's that One Body of verse 4 being referred to. 

We are one with all true believers and we know that group is made up of all who name Jesus as Lord. So, we must be able to maintain unity of some kind with differing churches, denominations, or away with the groups because unity IS to be maintained. Simple fact of scripture.

You can already tell I do not believe unity is equated with uniformity. What's the difference? Permit me to use a list someone else put together but illustrates the differences quite well.

Unity implies diversity; uniformity eliminates it.

Unity makes us different but one; uniformity makes us the same.

Unity creates an organism; uniformity craves organization.

Unity combines and includes; uniformity confines and excludes.

Unity forms a totality; uniformity is totalitarian.

Leaders promote unity; tyrants impose uniformity.

As long as Christians are willing to be in a relationship with only those who agree with each other based on the acceptance of a contrived system of human thought, whether it be theology, politics or even social issues, they will simply be producing and protecting their own sectarian uniformity which is a type of bondage instead of freedom. 

The end results will be, as someone I read put it,  "A stifling sameness which is defined by a very narrow set of temperamental preferences, philosophical opinions, inductive conclusions and institutionalized traditions that are of human origin instead of Divine authority,"

It is only fair and honest to admit that true unity doesn't eliminate struggles. In fact, true unity being maintained necessitates struggles whether in a marriage, family, church or denomination. But what happens is it enables the people involved to deal with the REAL issues and not the ones that are not of the Spirit. Those REAL issues have far more to do with attitudes than with actions as we shall see.

Paul B.


Gary Snowden said...

Great thoughts, Paul, on the significant contrasts between unity and uniformity.

Paul Burleson said...


Thanks for stopping by AND for commenting.

I'm going to try and incorporate them in my next post about attitudes that are essential to unity.

Aussie John said...


Such an important issue, and one which is hard to address, especially in the parochial church scene in this country.

I naively tried to work towards dealing with the matter in the first Baptist church I ministered in. Problem was I hadn't realized how much they believed that involvement with other churches would pollute the local Baptists.

Paul Burleson said...

Aussie J,

I pastored that church! ;)

Rex Ray said...


“Unity combines and includes; uniformity confines and excludes.”

“The office of pastor is limited to men…” (2000 BF&M)

Sort of self explanatory; huh?

A couple of years ago, your son wrote:

“One of the traits of human behavior I’ve observed over the years is that when things don’t go well for us, we have a tendency to blame other individuals, other circumstances, and other events for our failure, rather than taking responsibility and identifying the problem within us. There’s something refreshing about a person or and organization that is performing poorly and simply says, “We are not very good right now. That doesn’t mean we can’t get better. It just means that unless things change, we will never fulfill our mission.”

He also quoted Albert Einstein, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while each time expecting different results.”

A church may try ‘change’ for three months. The three months go to six, and then a year, and then many years with the same failing results. When does it become necessary to change from a change?

Kristen said...

Rev. Burleson, I enjoyed this very much! I think you're so right that the New Covenant just isn't like the Old in terms of what 2 Cor. 5:16 calls "recognizing no one any longer according to the flesh."

I do differ with you on a couple of points. First is about the Fall, and that part translated "your desire shall be for him." I don't think this has to do with wanting to be in charge so much as wanting to possess. As you may know, the word used there literally means "to turn towards." In the other two uses of the word (once to Cain in Genesis: "Sin is crouching at the door and it's desire is for you; and once in the Song of Solomon: "My desire is for you") I think the idea is similar. It's a fine shading of meaning between sin wanting to control and sin wanting to possess-- but I think the passage is saying sin desires Cain's person; ie. to possess him. I think translating the word this way more accurately reflects that there is a difference between the woman's inclination after the Fall, and the man's. He desires to rule her; she "turns towards" him instead towards God, wanting to possess him. It doesn't say the woman will "desire to control" the man-- it simply says she will desire him-- that is, his person.

In the Song, the desire to possess is part of the nature of romantic love-- which can be good when kept under control of the reason, but that text is also full of warnings like "love is as strong as death; jealousy is as severe as the grave" (8:6)

In any case, I have seen this idea that the woman wants to control the man used as a reason for a woman's every motive being suspected as a manipulative attempt to control. And being a woman myself, I really don't think that's what's going on with most women, even in their fallen nature.

Kristen said...

Rev. Burleson, I posted the above comment on the wrong post, but for some reason Google won't let me delete it! So sorry. Can you oblige?