OceanSide church of Christ

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Unity-in-Diversity, John 17:20-21

Victor M. Eskew


          Unity-in-diversity is a doctrine that asserts that it is impossible for those who believe in Jesus to have the same understanding of the Scriptures.  This means that diversity is an abso-lute must.  Unity, therefore, is the acceptance of diversity.  Unity-in-diversity finds agree-ment in “agreeing to disagree.”

            The advocates of unity-in-diversity often appeal to John 17:20-21 as a text that supports their position.  Jesus is praying in this chapter.  He states:  “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:  that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”  It is hard to imagine that a text that advocates oneness would be used to support unity-in-diversity, but it is.  The unity-in-diversity advocates emphasize three words, “believe on me.”  They teach that it is faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God that unites.  All believers, they say, are one.  Beliefs about particular doctrines, we are told, should not destroy unity as long as all hold to the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.

            In the immediate context, Jesus desires a unity among His followers likened unto the oneness that exists between the Father and the Son.  Jesus said:  “…as thou Father art in me, and I in thee…”  Is the oneness that exists between the Father and the Son a perfect unity in all points, or, is it a “unity-in-diversity” type of oneness?  The answer is obvious.  There is complete agreement between the Father and the Son.  This is the type of oneness that is to unite the disciples of Jesus Christ.  The prophet of old put it well when he asked:  “Can two walk together, except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3).

            Let’s look at two examples that destroy the reasoning that says that belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God is all that is needed for unity.  In the first century church, Judaizing teachers arose, “and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).  These false teachers did not deny that Jesus is the Son of God.  Paul, however, opposed these teachers vehemently.  At the Jerusalem council, he “...gave place by subjection…” to them, “no, not for an hour” (Gal. 2:5).  In the Galatian epistle, he desired for these men to be “cut off” (Gal. 5:12).  Paul believed that the gospel they taught was “another gospel,” another of a different kind (Gal. 1:6-7).  He pronounced a curse of Anathema upon all those who taught this false doctrine (Gal. 1:8-9).  Why the concern, if doctrine doesn’t matter?  Why didn’t Paul just agree to disagree with these Judaizing teachers.  They could have had a wonderful “oneness” in unity-in-diversity.

            Another example is found in II Timothy 2:17-18.  Two men, Hymenaeus and Philetus taught “that the resurrection is past already.”  Paul said that their teaching was error, and that it was overthrowing the faith of some.  If doctrine doesn’t matter, how could this be possible?  These two men did not deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.  They were just a little off on the time of the resurrection.  Why didn’t Paul engage in unity-in-diversity with these men?  The reality is that doctrine does matter.  There is one truth, one sound doctrine, one faith (Eph. 4:5).  Those who believe and practice it can have unity.  Those who do not should be marked and avoided (Rom. 16:17-18).