Purity Vs. Unity
One special week near the end of the college football season is referred to as “Rivalry Week.” It is a week of games between teams in the same conference (though not always) that despise each other. Even if one of the rival teams has a down year, beating its rival makes everyone feel better about the rest of the season.
Rivalry also exists within every church—a rivalry of two biblical truths. A constant tension exists between two “virtues” in which it is too often demanded that one trump the other. The rivalry? Purity versus Unity. Purity stresses truth or doctrine and rejects any deviation from it. Unity values relationship and cooperation. The way that any church operates is largely an expression of which truth wins. On one side of the rivalry stands a church that emphasizes only purity. It will likely be harsh and unforgiving in its stand, not to mention making growth difficult. Sometimes, the church can draw strange zealots. The church on the other side crowns unity as king and is soft and subject to the whims of its members. It is much easier to grow because there aren’t many absolutes by which to offend someone. They each end up in a ditch but on opposite sides of the road.
Independent Baptists historically have emphasized purity and with good reason—they have a strong view of the Scriptures. They believe that the only church is a pure church. Yet, many an independent Baptist church struggles with a lack of emphasis on unity. Some act like their lack of growth or frequent skirmishes are a badge of honor granted by being pure, but more likely these occur because they’ve lost sight of the wealth of biblical evidence teaching them to strive for unity, as well.
The ideal independent Baptist church is the one that emphasizes unity around purity. This tension is valuable and even a little like a proper view of gender. Male and female are equal, yet different; equal in value in God’s sight, though bearing different roles and responsibilities. The man has authority, but is no more valuable than the woman under that authority. Purity is the authority, but no more valuable than unity. America needs independent Baptist churches to be strong and thriving. Among the most important keys to this strength is respecting both the order and balance of purity, then unity.
Research would unquestionably confirm (informal research has) that most independent Baptist churches struggle more with unity than purity. (From here on out, “churches” will refer to independent Baptist churches only.) Few churches develop factions because of doctrine. The Pareto Principle would likely be extremely accurate in revealing that 80% of the problems come from 20% of the causes and that the primary cause would be both pastors and members not valuing unity enough to learn how to maintain it without giving up any purity. The vast majority of problems that hinder most churches stem from disagreement concerning operations and decisions and offenses between people within the church—not doctrinal deviation.
So, why should you care about unity? What is so important that you should consider giving up that non-doctrinal issue that constantly gnaws at your insides? The answers are the same. The presence of purity is severely threatened by the absence of unity. A church that strives to be pure will not maintain an effective stand if it does not equally strive to be unified. Jesus, as well as the New Testament writers, taught and warned about dealing with offenses. And it was all because the biblical message was too important to be destroyed over something much less significant. How many communities or families have lost respect for God or His Word simply because the people who represented it in some church were more passionate about preserving their issue than preserving their church’s unity? A unified church paves the way for a pure church to be effective. A non-unified church ultimately bogs down a doctrinally pure church into the mire of pettiness. And most issues become petty when compared to the significance of the Gospel and credibility of the pillar and ground of the truth in a given community.
This is not a call to ignore every issue. While many concerns should truly be forgotten, others have some legitimacy and need to be addressed. The goal is to learn to deal with concerns that need attention in a way that preserves the purity of the church through the unity of the church. To fail to handle potential problems with the unity necessary to preserve purity typically reveals an immature or selfish believer who must win, regardless of whether the church loses. On the other hand, many churches have dealt with tough issues that were barely a blip on the radar because of the maturity and Christlikeness of members who valued the church’s purity enough to find a way to address their concern through unity. When mature believers value their church’s purity that significantly, they ultimately take a kind, but firm hand in dealing with others whose immaturity would threaten what has taken years to build.
Isn’t it amazing that divine, absolute truth on which the whole existence of mankind and its destiny rely is placed into the hands of groups of fallible human beings in the form of a church; people who are relied upon to manage their own expectations and grievances in a way that preserves that truth? That’s a lot of responsibility for a pastor and church member.