A Biblical View of True Unity in the Body

One of the primary reasons to address the issue of the movement of critical race theory (CRT) into the believing church focuses on the inherent division that CRT introduces. Of course, this is by design: CRT is by definition divisional, as it introduces barriers and distinctions based upon ethnicity, power, oppression, etc.  It is meant not to unify but to divide and engender distrust and envy.

The unity of the Body of Christ is found not in our commitment to some kind of over-arching principle. It is not found in any actions we may or may not undertake. It is found in the reality that the Body is formed by her Savior, by His life, by His flesh, by His blood, His atoning death. Since all believers stand upon the exact same ground, and have peace with God through the exact same means, there is no basis whatsoever for divisions based upon ethnicity or any other man-derived source. The supernatural unity of the body transcends anything that happened to my ancestors or any long-standing political realities. It requires us to recognize the radical break that has taken place with our sinful past, and, as a result, the radical nature of the unity of the redeemed.

In the Revelation we are given an insight into the heavenly courts, and in that vision we hear the words of a heavenly song.

And they sang a new song saying,
“Worthy are you to receive the book and to open its seals!
For you were slain and purchased for God by means of your blood
People from every tribe and tongue and people and nation,
And made them a kingdom and priests to our God
And they will reign upon the earth.”
(Revelation 5:9-10)

The lamb that was slain is the focal point of the heavenly vision, but even as the focus is upon Him, the words of the celestial hymn communicate divine truth. The self-giving of the Lamb has made Him worthy to open the book. His blood has redeemed to God a specific people, one drawn from out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation. These He makes a kingdom and priests to God by the exercise of His divine power. In all of this, the Lamb is pre-eminent, the Lamb has all power.  But out of the wide range of human cultures and experiences, a single kingdom is created by the blood of the Lamb, a single priesthood of the redeemed. This becomes the bedrock, the foundation, of the unity of believers with one another.  Their citizenship is now in the heavenly realms, and that reality overwhelms any earthly connection which might bring division or disharmony.

The heavenly song reflects a divine truth laid out clearly by the Apostle Paul in writing to the church at Ephesus. He addresses the great divide in the early church: the Jew/Gentile chasm, and shows how in fact God has made one body where everyone, on both sides, could only have seen a permanent schism. And surely, if that great division could be overcome by the power of the work of Christ, any other divide, political, cultural, ethnic, can be overcome as well! In chapter 2 the Apostle speaks of how those who were formerly “far off” have been brought near. How? By the continued efforts of Jewish believers? No, this unification requires divine will, divine power. They have been brought near “by the blood of Christ.”  Just as in the heavenly song it is the self-giving of Christ, His sacrificial death that has power to unify for only by it can sin’s power be broken.  Christ is described as our “peace,” and given the enmity and animosity that existed between these groups in the past, “peace” is the only true remedy. The enmity is abolished “in His flesh,” that is, through His self-sacrifice, and since that death is purposeful and powerful it brings “the two into one new man, making peace.”

Why should we pay close attention to what for most are “givens”? Because though the issue today is not Jews and Gentiles, we can still learn from the foundations that were laid in those early days. The divide represented there is greater than any of those that could be proposed today, so upon the same basis we must insist that Christians recognize the primacy of their identity in Christ in relationship to one another over and above any and all other human relationships. This was a necessary reality in the primitive church in the Roman Empire where ethnicities and tribes and tongues were forced into close proximity by Roman power. The early church had a common table, a single focus, and this brought the powerful and the powerless, the rich and the poor, the slave and the free, yes, even masters and slaves, to the same table to adore the same Savior and partake of the same salvation.

There is much to consider when we ask how Christians are to interact with the complexities of modern society. We may well disagree on principles of application in difficult circumstances. But much of the “social justice” discussion is taking place without first having in place the absolutely necessary theological conviction that the unity of believers in Christ is a function of the awesome power and purpose of the Son’s atoning work. The One to whom we have been united unites us in His sovereign glory.  Anything that tends to break up that awesome unity must be rejected for the dangerous error it is.

No Division in the Body

“We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:5).

Christian unity is a vital theme in the New Testament. Every hint of tribalism, sectarianism, partiality, and group rivalry in the church is emphatically condemned. Anyone who maliciously promotes schism in the church is to be rejected—excommunicated—if the divisive person persists after two warnings (Titus 3:10).

The New Testament never speaks of our unity in Christ as a far-off goal to be pursued or a provisional experiment to be trifled with. Our union with Christ (and therefore with one another) is an eternal spiritual reality that must be embraced, carefully maintained, and guarded against any possible threat.

That’s why I’m deeply troubled by the recent torrent of rhetoric about “social justice” in evangelical circles. The jargon is borrowed from secular culture, and it is being employed purposely, irresponsibly in order to segment the church into competing groups—the oppressed and disenfranchised vs. the powerful and privileged.

As evangelical thought leaders experiment with intersectional theory,* the number and nature of competing categories and class divisions we hear about will no doubt increase. But for now, the focus in the evangelical realm is mainly on ethnicity. “Race”—a thoroughly unbiblical notion to begin with (cf. Acts 17:26)—became the central talking point of the evangelical conference circuit earlier this year.

People supposedly belong to the oppressed group or the sinfully privileged group not because of their real-life experiences; not necessarily because of anything they have said or done; not because of the content of their character—but solely because of the color of their skin. Furthermore, the dividing lines are frequently drawn in a way that makes the harshest possible black-and-white contrast—literally. If your ancestors were neither white Europeans nor sub-Saharan Africans, you might be wondering where you fit in the discussion. (For example, the advantages Asian-American evangelicals enjoy and the disadvantages they face are hardly ever mentioned in the discussion, because frankly those subjects don’t fit neatly into the popular narrative.) One might get the impression that American evangelicals are all either the descendants of white plantation owners or the offspring of African slaves. There seems to be no middle ground—just a middle wall of partition.

White evangelicals are told they need to repent for sins committed by their ancestors. Black evangelicals are made to feel like hapless victims who have every right to resent any privilege enjoyed by others. Members of both groups are scolded if they don’t affirm and adopt the narrative. We’re all told that “racial reconciliation” cannot even really begin until everyone in the church affirms and embraces this particular notion of “social justice” as a matter of first importance—perhaps even a “gospel issue.”

What does this mean? That even though we are spiritually united in Christ, having confessed our personal guilt, there is still some lingering corporate guilt that keeps me from being truly reconciled with my black brother? Or is the real issue even more sinister—namely, that I’m an unconscious racist, subliminally guilty of a sin that I consciously and categorically deplore? And even though I would never hold any animus toward my black brother in my own heart, anyone who is truly “woke” knows full well that I’m guilty of it anyway?

There’s no escape from that verdict. Denying that you are a racist is commonly treated as one of the worst possible expressions of racism.

Instead of promoting any true and meaningful reconciliation, the bitter fruit of this movement has been anger, resentment, and vengeful separation. What happened? I thought we were together for the gospel. All the years of fellowship and brotherhood I have shared and enjoyed with brothers whose melanin count happens to be higher than mine have suddenly given way to estrangement, accusations, and demands for either repentance or separation. This did not arise out any personal strife that occurred between us. It seems very clear that the beliefs and attitudes that are fueling this movement are drawn from harmful identity politics and Critical Race Theory—not from the Word of God.

Indeed, this is all quite contrary to everything Scripture has to say about the unity of the body, the fruit of the Spirit, and the Christlike attitudes that should characterize every believer’s walk of faith. I’ll have more to say about the fruit of the Spirit vs. the works of the flesh in an upcoming blogpost at gty.org, but let me draw this post to a close with a reminder of what Scripture says about true unity and how it is to be maintained among Christians. These texts are just a sampling, but they teach principles of biblical unity that are impossible to reconcile with the contemporary social justice narrative:

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:3-11)

Just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:1-21)

In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26-29)

Remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God. (Ephesians 2:11-19)

* Intersectionality is the idea that victimhood and oppression occur on a variety of levels, and these may overlap or intersect. So a single individual may have multiple claims to victim status. Since victimhood is what is supposed to validate a personal opinion in these postmodern times, the more layers of oppression someone can claim, the more entitled that person is to speak about issues such as justice and racial discrimination, power and oppression, privilege and inequality. In other words, victimhood is now seen as empowerment, and the more privilege a person is thought to enjoy, the less authority that person has to render an opinion.