“Why should I bother with events that took place when my grandparents were going to Youth Group? The Unity Basis of Fellowship was published in The Christadelphian of March 1958, and the Unity Book which documents the Basis was first published in 1963. We need to look forward, not backward. How are these events relevant today?”

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It would be understandable if many readers pondered these questions, and quietly skipped over the pages that follow. So here are seven reasons why the Unity Agreement is highly relevant today, and why we should pay close attention to it.

1. God cares deeply about unity

From Genesis to Revelation God has made it clear that He is one, and that He wants unity in His people. In creating “man” male and female, God made them “one flesh” (Gen 2:24). “The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him”, portrays in many places and through many symbols the one family of God in heaven and earth. In between, we have great declarations of God’s unity like that of Moses: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deut 6:4). Or take Paul, for example: “There is one body… Spirit… hope… Lord… faith… baptism… God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:4–6). It is telling that Paul begins with “one body”, and leads up to “one God and Father”, with “one Lord” at the centre pivot of the series! Find out for yourself. Punch the words “one” or “all” into your Bible study program, and see how many times the Scriptures underline this key message. God cares deeply about unity, and so should we.

2. Disunity is one of the strongest arguments against the truth of the gospel

Division is one of the strongest arguments of the world against the Scriptures. “If there is one Bible, why are there so many churches? If you can’t agree among yourselves, how can I ever be sure who or what is right?” There is little point in our preaching literature proclaiming, “God is One, Not Three”, if in practice we are split three ways ourselves. Our unity is a powerful argument for the truth of what we preach, and our commitment to living by that truth; and the Unity Agreement underpins both.

3. Unity matters deeply in practice—ask the North Americans

Our beloved brethren in North America are still profoundly troubled by a division about our nature, the atonement, resurrection and judgment which goes back to the 1890s. Despite many attempts, it has so far proved impossible to mend this rift in the body of Christ. It makes life very awkward, affecting family relationships, young people’s activities, marriage, preaching and mission work, Bible Schools—you name it! That is exactly how it was in Australia before the Unity Agreement; and we should be profoundly thankful that faithful brethren in Australia, with significant assistance from Brother Carter and Brother Cooper of the United Kingdom, were able in 1958 to heal the breach that had existed in this country for 60 years or more.

4. The Unity Agreement links us into the family of God worldwide

Furthermore, the Unity Basis of Fellowship is what links us to our ecclesial family worldwide. Before the Agreement was put in place, Australians would travel overseas, only to find themselves refused fellowship, because they associated with people who did not accept the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, or very loudly rejected aspects of the Statement of Faith, or had a loose approach to doctrinal divergence and fellowship. The Unity Agreement has served the important purpose of assuring our brethren and sisters in other countries that we believe and love the same teachings and practices, so that we can travel and mix with them freely.

5. The Unity Agreement promotes ecclesial peace through a shared understanding of Scripture

From the beginning of the Christadelphian movement it has been useful to clearly state what it is that we believe the Bible to teach. Not only has this made our understanding of the gospel clear to the world at large, it has also helped us to avoid a great deal of internal dissension about what the Bible teaches—and which of those teachings are fundamentals on which varying understandings cannot be accepted without undermining our whole understanding of God’s will for us. In fact, the practice of codifying the gospel goes back to apostolic times, where “the faith” was a recognised body of understanding; and Paul himself cites and endorses prophetic statements which affirm key Bible truths in accepted words.

The alternative is to leave wide open the question of what matters are true and fundamental, and what matters are uncertain details; and the results are abundantly evident in the small fellowships which reject written statements. Instead, they are characterised by eccentricity and extremism, exhaustive interrogation, bitter disputes about words and details, repeated fragmentation and, eventually, stagnation. The Unity Agreement helps us to avoid or at least to minimise endless, fruitless disputation over what is core Bible teaching.

6. The Unity Agreement is very helpful in understanding how we can be saved from sin and death; and in keeping out teachings that would undermine our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ

Other articles in this series will explore in more detail the wording of the Unity Agreement, and its significance. Suffice it to say that, before the Unity Agreement, there were great disputes in Australia about the meaning of some words in the Statement of Faith, clauses 5 and 12. What does it mean to say that Adam’s sentence “defiled and became a physical law of his being”? What did Paul mean by “the condemnation of sin in the flesh”? Decades of wrangling about these and other questions was ended by the clear explanation that Brother Carter and Brother Cooper provided, now embedded in the Unity Agreement; and their explanation is still very helpful today.

The Agreement also provides that those who set out to preach and propagate false teachings will be dealt with “according to the apostolic precept”. So in this way also the Unity Agreement helps to underpin ecclesial peace, by providing an agreed basis for dealing with those who would cause trouble by promoting unsound, unscriptural teachings.

7. The Unity Agreement is not an inspired document, but it does stand in the tradition of the apostles as a valuable bequest from the past

No, the Unity Agreement is not an inspired document. No human document can ever compete with the unique status of God’s own Word. But it does stand, nevertheless, in the tradition of the apostles. And Paul urges us to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess 2:15). If we accept that the Unity Agreement is an expression in our day and age of the historical faith, fellowship and practice of the apostles, then we are surely bound to “hold it fast”.

With the blessing of God and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Unity Agreement became one of the great achievements of our grandparents and great-grandparents—a bequest which we should continue to value highly today, in principle and in practice. Please, read the pages that follow!