Unity In The Ekklesia

Unity in the Ekklesia, the Body of Jesus Christ, is not only a very praise-worthy ideal for which we should aspire, it is also a critical component in God’s plan for our transition from the Devil’s darkness into His light. In John 17, Jesus pours out his heart in prayer as He shares some of his most intimate desires with His Heavenly Father. Let us join Him in John 17:20-23 –

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who [j]will believe in Me through their word;  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, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

In Ephesians 4:11-13, the Apostle Paul outlines the Master’s Plan for the Ekklesia, the Body of Jesus Christ. It is very instructive that the desired and anticipated end-result is the Unity of the Faith. Let’s check it out together:

And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the [edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”

In Psalm 133, the Prophetic Psalmist King David projects the value that God places on unity in the Ekklesia, the Body of Christ.

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brethren to dwell together in unity!

It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Running down on the beard,
The beard of Aaron,
Running down on the edge of his garments.
It is like the dew of Hermon,
Descending upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the Lord commanded the blessing—
Life forevermore.”

Two thousand years later, the Body of Jesus Christ is anything but united, except in countries where there is physical persecution. There the physical building that so many think of as the Church is completely irrelevant to their life and worship. And yet in those same circumstances, the Ekklesia, about which Jesus said, “the gates of hell will not prevail against it”, is gloriously shining and reproducing at one of the fastest rates in history. In countries like Afghanistan, Iran and China, all countries in which Christians are daily persecuted, Christians are united, and the Kingdom of God is expanding exponentially.  Are we in the West waiting on persecution to unite us? If that is what it takes, then that is what God will do because of the importance He places on our unity.

Work of the Holy Spirit in Unity

When I think of the goodness of Jesus and all He has done for me, my soul cries out, “Hallelujah” “Praise God for saving me”.

It is very important as we dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of achieving unity in the Body of Christ, that we understand some fundamental truths. The first one is that unity in the Body of Christ is going to be the work of the Holy Spirit. Of course, we also understand that the Holy Spirit is, humanly speaking, handicapped when we decide to frustrate His efforts and grieve Him. Put another way, God works in partnership with us. If this were not the case, “Peace on earth and goodwill to men”, and “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, would have been achieved a long time ago. Therefore, I have concluded that the secret to being in the presence of God, and benefiting from His presence, requires me to consciously focus on Him, on His goodness, and on all that He has done for me. And only then will my soul sing, “Hallelujah! Praise God for saving me.” Now, I’m ready to face any difficult situation, and address any difficult problem.

Division – Nothing New

Division In the Ekklesia, the Body of Christ, is a very sad and discouraging subject. Unfortunately, we cannot pursue unity in the Body of Christ without recognizing the reality of division in the Body of Christ. However, in a sense, it is consoling to know that we have inherited this problem, and did not create it in our generation. In fact, it is instructive to understand that the human condition that causes division did not escape the attention of the Apostle Paul. Neither did it escape the attention of Jesus Christ himself while He was on earth. The spirit of division infiltrated the closely-knit circle of the twelve disciples of Jesus. Some of them were concerned about power ranking, and which of them will be given the rights to sit on His left hand and on His right hand in His Kingdom (Mark 10:35-45). They also wanted to know who would be the greatest in His Kingdom (Mark 9:33-37). And whereas there is absolutely nothing wrong with personal ambition, there is everything wrong with taking the focus of our attention off of Jesus, and placing it on ourselves, or on anyone else for that matter. And therein lies the elusive secret of Unity in the Body of Jesus Christ. Unity will be achieved only when we all turn our eyes upon Jesus, when we all look full in his wonderful face. Then, and only then, the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace. Many of our entrenched difference will not disappear. Their significance and identity will diminish on our importance-ranking chart, and we may even forget about them completely.

 Perform this little experiment under advisement from your health-care professional, and definitely do not do a full gaze. If you can, take a quick, part glance in the direction of the noon-day sun. Your immediate surroundings will grow dark. It’s what happens to a deer that looks into the headlights of an on-coming vehicle. Fortunately, we can gaze at Jesus whose brightness is a million times brighter than the sun, and the things around us will quickly grow dim… and as a bonus, that prolonged gaze will not impair our eye-sight.


There are psychological and physical realities, which when considered, could help us to understand the problem of lack of unity in the Ekklesia, the Body of Christ when we fail to focus on Jesus Christ. Let’s begin with the physical. The concept of “focus” dictates that the subject of our gaze must be singular. By definition, it is impossible to focus on more than one object or subject at the same time, unless their location is identical. The camera is modeled on our eyes. God has so wonderfully created our eyes, that we have the ability to focus on even the smallest object in the middle of the largest forest. We can look at the ground, full of a variety of distracting objects, and focus on the little ant as it slowly makes its way with the last piece of timber required to build its house. A relatively inexpensive camera that has only an autofocus lense will be unable to perform that task. It requires a manual lens in the hands of a skillful photographer to isolate the distractions and focus on the smaller desired object at the back of the room. Women are justifiably given more credit for being able to multitask when compared with their male counterparts. However, multitasking is not the same as multi-focusing. The mother may be cooking the meal, while cleaning the kitchen, while washing the clothes, while changing the baby’s diapers, all the while studying for her final examination. That is multitasking. However, the reality is that in most cases it is with assistive technologies that are performing the task under the guidance and instructions of the mother. She puts the clothes in the washing machine, focuses on properly setting the instructions on the washing machine, starts the machine, and then returns to the kitchen, admittedly, with the baby in her hand. If that mother did not have a washing machine, and was required to wash all the clothes by hand, then at the moment that she is using her hands to wash the clothes, she could not be cutting and seasoning the meat at the same time. She has to focus on one task at a time. She may rapidly shift her focus from one task to another, as in the proverbial, “stirring many pots”. But she can effectively stir only one pot at a time, especially with the baby in her hand.

Learn to Focus on Jesus

It is against this background that I encourage and exhort us all to learn to focus on Jesus. Fortunately, He makes it possible for us to focus on Him while washing the clothes, while cooking the food, while ministering to the baby, while grieving for the loss of a loved one, and while rejoicing at the successful completion of another grueling term or semester at school. I did not say it was easy. I did not say it was automatic. I am saying that it is necessary, unlike every other thing around which we form a habit, we can train ourselves and discipline ourselves to focus on Jesus.

It would have been impossible for the disciples to be focusing on Jesus, and at the same time being concerned about who would be the greatest in His kingdom. For had they been focusing on Jesus, in that moment, they would have been so obsessed and consumed by His greatness, that considerations of their own greatness, would have grown strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace. Give them credit for not making the mistake that Lucifer, the Devil, made. They were not considering becoming as great as Jesus, or for that matter even greater than Jesus, they were concerned about the second tier of greatness that would be accorded to His deputies. They were better than Lucifer, but there was still room for improvement. We now have the benefit of their example, and with the Holy Spirit living within us, we can learn from their mistakes, emulate their successes, and make improvements where necessary.

By the time we fast-forward to the ministry of Apostle Paul, we are no longer dealing with 12 disciples, but thousands of Believers in Jesus Christ. Like the Disciples, and like us, they were all afflicted with the human condition that facilitates self-focus, and breeds division. Let us hear from the apostle Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 1:10–13 – “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.  For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are [contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each of you says, “I am of Paul,” or “I am of Apollos,” or “I am of Cephas,” or “I am of Christ.”  Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

Paul continued to express his concern about schisms or divisions in the Corinthian Church in 1 Corinthians 11:18 and 1 Corinthians 12:25.

Human Conditions

The first human condition to which I have made several references is that of the preeminence of our individuality fueled by an over-active ego. This causes us, in normal conditions, to think of ourselves as the “best”, and by deduction, better than the other person. But then a second human condition takes its toll. That human condition is referred to by our social scientists as our gregariousness, or overwhelming need to belong. In pre-adolescence and adolescence phases of our life, we are easily influenced by peer pressure. Many boys, and even some girls, join, social groups, fraternities, gangs and tribes, many of which are harmless, but a few of which are criminal.

It is this second human condition that caused many in the church at Corinth to feel that it was necessary to be associated with either the ‘gang’ or sect that they perceived to be led by Paul, or the one led by Apollos, or the one led by Cephas. But please note that it was not a totally failed Ekklesia. There were some who saw themselves as belonging to the gang of Christ. Remember what we said about focus. It is impossible to focus at the same time on any number of objects greater than one. In this instance Paul observed that the Ekklesia at Corinth was focusing on four persons. And since no one member could focus on more than one person at a time, it meant that while some were focusing on Paul, others were focusing on Cephas or on Apollos, while some were focusing on Christ. The rebuke and correction given by Paul was that the only person worthy of the focus of attention of the Ekklesia is Jesus Christ. The Ekklesia at Corinth was divided because its focus was divided. If and when they implemented the recommendation of the Apostle Paul, then the Ekklesia would be united. And at least within the local Ekklesia of Corinth, they would be Unity in the Body of Christ.

Sectarian Rivalry and Superiority

So far, I have dealt with only two reasons for lack of Unity in the Body of Christ. Another one is birthed in part by the “gang” mentality. In the gospel of Mark 9:38-41, we read of an interaction between Jesus and one of his disciples, John. This kind of proactive thinking, in my opinion, would be more fittingly associated with the impetuous Peter. But instead, it was the docile John who is the spokesman. That indicates how normal and insidious it was. Let us pick up the action.

“Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.  But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against [a]us is on [b]our side. For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

The same human condition that causes me to feel that “I” the individual am the best, and even the only one who is right, morphs into the conviction that “we” the gang, are the best, and even that we are the only right ones. A victim of this condition, the Disciple John assumed that the “outsider”, the other man who did not belong to their Denomination or gang, had to be muzzled and silenced, although the man was doing works that were similar to, if not identical to those being done by John’s gang”. There was absolutely no doubt in the mind of John and the other disciples that they were doing the right thing. If they had any doubt at all, they would have consulted Jesus first for his guidance before trying to muzzle the man. But as it turned out, they first muzzled the man, and then triumphantly reported their “victory” to Jesus. What Jesus said to his disciples on that occasion speaks for itself and needs no further elaboration.

Divisions caused by Erroneous Doctrines

It becomes less straightforward when the divisions are the result of decisions to separate ourselves from false teachings and their proponents. This is a complex subject, and so for many reasons.

First, Jesus Himself is associated with divisions. But even as we read the passage, be aware that this division is not among members of His Ekklesia. For His Disciples and all those who would believe on Him through their word, all that Jesus wants is unity. Now do not be shocked and surprised as we read Luke 12:49-53.

 “I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!  But I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how distressed I am till it is accomplished!  Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division.  For from now on five in one house will be divided: three against two, and two against three.  Father will be divided against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Jesus is the standard by which everything is judged. To the extent that many are turning their backs on Jesus, some will hate Him while others love him. Because there is no room for haters of Jesus Christ in the Ekklesia, the Body of Jesus Christ is comprised of those who love Him. And when our love for Jesus, albeit because He first loved us, when our love for Jesus burns like a consuming fire, it will destroy everything that opposes the will of God, beginning with divisions in the Ekklesia.

Secondly, it is natural because of the human condition for us to establish what we believe to be true, to be absolute truth. From this perspective, I may justify myself in separating from anyone who does not share my beliefs. And even this becomes more complicated when the person shares 50% of my beliefs, and disagrees with the other 50%. Do I separate at 51%, and tolerate up to 50%? And at any rate, how do I accurately measure the percentage? On the other hand, having established beyond the shadow of any doubt what right teaching and truth is, I am obligated to separate myself from error. This is one of the better reasons that are proffered as justification for the spread of Denominationalism.


Nevertheless, the obvious danger is that “truth” is not necessarily what we are convinced is “true”. The reason for this is simple. We are not omniscient. Our knowledge is limited, very limited, to be more precise. My understanding of the Bible is limited, and for some, more limited than others. In fact, we have demonstrated the limitations of our understanding by the insanely large number of Denominational groups, many of which subscribe to distinctive doctrines. From the perspective of the simplest analysis, it is clear that on any one topic, only one group can be right where there is a difference that identifies each group. And before we hasten to try to determine which group is right, and by deduction, that all the others are wrong, we must consider the possibility that all the groups could be wrong.

Requirement for Unity

When we grasp this concept, it may not move us any closer to determining who is right and who is wrong. However, it will certainly smooth the jagged edges of religious conceit and bigotry, as we focus on the person of Jesus Christ on whom we are united, and minimize the importance of the doctrines on which we are divided. This is the great news about our quest for Unity in the Body of Jesus Christ. Agreement on most doctrines is not a prerequisite for unity. Agreement on all but the fundamental doctrines of the Christian is not a prerequisite for unity, Agreement on the mode of worship, day of worship, and mode of dress, are not requirements for unity in the Body of Jesus Christ. To be clear, there are baseline doctrines around which we must unite, and that without which we must remain divided. But those fundamental, baseline doctrines are so few, that I can count them on one hand with fingers to spare.

The first is unconditional agreement on the Deity and Divinity of Jesus Christ. He is fully God, always was, and always will be. And although we have a major difficulty understanding and explaining what many refer to as the “persons of the Godhead,” the Lord God is one God. Through a process that we cannot understand, and to which we describe the name, the incarnation, Jesus became human, lived and died as a human, while voluntarily deciding to temporarily set aside His rights, privileges, and power of deity in exchange for the physical, spiritual, and related limitations of humanity.

That Jesus as man, could have sinned but did not sin, and so qualified himself to be the only person that satisfied the requirements for paying the penalty for man’s sins that was justly determined by God. Having suffered to the maximum human capacity possible, and having died through the cruel process of crucifixion, the divine Jesus raised Himself from the dead, subsequently ascended into heaven, thereby completing the trifecta of our salvation from the penalty and power of our sins. This salvation that leads to life eternal with Jesus Christ could have been made possible only by the sacrificial death of the sinless Jesus Christ. There is absolutely nothing that we can do to contribute to the efficacy of this salvation. For it is by God’s grace through faith that we are saved. It is the gift of God, and not of works, lest we should boast about the role we played in our own salvation. We now live a life that can be powered by God’s Holy Spirit who lives within us, and that through him we are able to do all things that God desires us to do.

In another presentation, I will share with you some of the many doctrines on which we are divided, and on which we can remain divided with zero impact on our unity in the Body of Jesus Christ. Fortunately, with the full knowledge that on any major issue, two or more opposing views cannot all be right, we can humble ourselves in the presence of each other and under the mighty hand of God and the teaching ministry of His Holy Spirit, and we can search the Scriptures diligently to examine and re-examine some of our doctrinal differences on which we are divided. In this noble, desirable, ongoing undertaking, we will achieve varying degrees of success. But what I guarantee we will discover, is that even if there is no noticeable change in what we believe, we would have gotten to know our brothers and sisters in Christ much better than we did before.

 I can testify to this reality in my life. I am the beneficiary of a beautiful and promising friendship with a brother who I have never met physically, who I have known for less than a year, and who subscribes to at least one major doctrine on which we have significantly different views. We both agree that we spend more time that we should in fellowship on the phone over the Word of God and personal matters. Nevertheless, we continue to indulge, albeit with increasing self-control and restraint. I would trust my life in his hands, and I suspect he will trust his in mine, or at least I hope so. However, this is not a new phenomenon to me. Half a century ago, I left my native country of Guyana and traveled to Jamaica to enroll in a four-year course in theology with a minor in psychology at the Jamaica Theological Seminary. There was very little that I was taught that I could not have acquired to a lesser degree from reading and personal research, assuming that I had mastered both study methodology and the required discipline. However, what was priceless for me, and something that I still treasure fifty years later, was the opportunity to live in a campus environment with brothers and sisters from different Denominational backgrounds. I always thought that Christians from certain Denominations were conceited. The first thing that I discovered, was that coming from the ultra-conservative Brethren Church, I too was conceited. Like most of us, my meaningful relationships were restricted to Christians within my own denomination. It was therefore very easy to be critical of Christians who I did not know, and of whom I barely heard. Yes, I knew that their doctrines in some instances were different from mine. But because I did not know them, and had no realistic way of knowing them, my justified disagreement with their doctrines spilled over into disagreement with them. I do not recall how many, if any denominational doctrinal differences were resolved during the four years I spent at the Jamaica Theological Seminary. What I do know for sure is that within the first few months of living on campus with my Christian brothers and sisters from different Denominations, they became so real and dear to me as people, that I loved them as such, and completely forgot about our denominational differences.

My experience fifty years ago, and my experience within the last year can be your experience if you become obsessed with attaining to the unity in the Body of Jesus Christ for which he died, and for which we must now live.

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