UNITY: “KEEP THE UNITY OF THE SPIRIT”
By Wayne S. Walker
“And all that believed were together, and had all things common” (Acts 2:44). This verse describes the unity possessed and maintained by the early disciples who assembled as the church in Jerusalem. It might be good to review some of the events that took place on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 which brought about this church’s beginning. First of all, the Holy Spirit came to the apostles in fulfillment of the prophecy in Joel 2 (as well as Jesus’s promises in John 14-16). As a result, there was gospel preaching. We have the sermon of Peter recorded. He told the Jews that Jesus was Lord, the resurrected Christ, the Son of God. They believed him; and as they realized that they were the ones who had put Him to death, thereby murdering the very Messiah for whom they were looking, they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They recognized that they were sinners and inquired what to do to be saved from their sins.
Peter instructed them concerning what to do. “Repent ye, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (verse 38). It was with these, and many other, words that he exhorted them to “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” Following this, “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized”—they obeyed what he had told them to do—“and there were added unto them the same day about three thousand souls.” Later the inspired historian says, “The Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved” (verse 47). So when these people repented and were baptized, they received the remission of sins, or were saved, and became a part of Christ’s church. They continued steadfastly as a local congregation in Jerusalem (verse 42). And verse 44 indicates the state of unity that existed in the local congregation there.
Unity is a very important subject. The Psalmist wrote, “Behold, how good and pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1). In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed that all His followers might be one—united. And Paul pled for unity in Ephesians 4:3, saying, “Let us endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Even though through the years what is called Christianity has been divided into a number of specific religious organizations, in our day we see in many cities throughout the land where several churches in town join together and hold “union meetings”—joint services—in an effort to appear more united. The past fifteen or twenty years have seen a good number of denominational mergers in which two different and separate denominations united to for one huge super-denomination.
For instance, about 1959 the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, each one itself the result of a merger, merged to form the “United Church of Christ.” Later in the early to mid sixties, the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church merged to become the “United Methodist Church.” Also, within denominational structures, such as among the Lutherans and Presbyterians, various synods or sub-groups have combined. And even among our brethren, there have been numerous attempts to unite various segments of those who claim to be descendants of what is called “the restoration movement” by means of so-called “unity forums.” Thus we can see that people are interested in unity, at least in one sense or another.
Let us make a study of unity in which we shall identify ten characteristics of these first-century, New Testament disciples of Christ in the Jerusalem church which caused them to be so united. 1. They held only to the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). 2. They enjoyed one another’s companionship, not only in regular worship assemblies conducted by the church, but also in social associations maintained by individuals in their homes (Acts 2:46). 3. They faced opposition and persecution with faith in Christ, patience, joy, and hope (Acts 4:13, 19-20; 5:29, 41). 4. They prayed together (Acts 4:23-31; 12:1-5, 12). 5. They practiced true benevolence (Acts 4:32-37).
6. They recognized and benefitted from the effects of church discipline (Acts 5:1-14). 7. They spread the gospel throughout their local community of Jerusalem (Acts 5:28, 42; see also 2:47, 4:4, 5:14, 6:7). 8. They solved their own problems according to the apostles’ word without wrangling or resorting to outside interference (Acts 6:1-7). 9. They disputed, debated, and contended for the faith; they were not afraid to tell people the truth (Acts 5:9-10, 7:51-53). 10. They were “missionary-minded” and helped to spread the gospel throughout the known world (Acts 8:4-5, 14; 11:19-23). All of these things undoubtedly played a part in bringing about the kind of unity that characterized the early church.
Look at Acts 2:46-47. “And they continued daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their food with gladness and singleness of heart; praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those that were being saved.” I am persuaded that one of the reasons why the Lord was adding to the church daily was that the Jerusalem church was genuinely united; and when the people saw that this was the case they became interested and, upon investigation, just naturally wanted to become a part of it. I am also convinced that many churches today do not grow as they should or as they want to simply because they do not exhibit a spirit of unity so that anyone would even want to become involved.
We talk a lot about “restoring the New Testament church.” What we usually mean is to restore the New Testament plan of salvation, form of church organization, order of worship, and pattern for the work of the church. And these things need to be restored, for sure. But somehow in all of this restoring, we forget, or conveniently ignore, the need to restore the sense of unity among first-century Christians. Do you want to know why? Well, it might just be that we can restore the salvation, organization, worship, and work quite easily without much individual effort on our part. But to restore New Testament unity among the members of the local church seems to require a little more dedication and commitment than many of us are willing to give in our modern, busy age. And again, maybe that is why we are not growing as we should. Think about it!
—taken and slightly revised from Torch; October, 1980; Vol XV, No. 10; pp. 5-7 & 23