How good and pleasant a thing it is for Brethren and Sisters to dwell together in Unity (Psalm 133:1). It is sung of by David, prayed for by Christ, and expounded on by Paul. And in an era when Christ questioned whether he would “find faith on the earth”, it is critical that the brotherhood holds fast to this precious value.

Life serving our God is always about oneness. There is one body, one Lord, one faith, and one baptism (Eph 4:4–5). This one foundation provides for the one body to be “joined together” (v16) and “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (v15).

The Concept

The figure which the apostle Paul uses teaches us this truth. The limbs and members are all of the one body. Each muscle and joint can work together for the good of the one body. Each member is different from another, yet has one cause and one purpose for existence. And it has pleased God to fashion it this way (1 Cor 12:18).

Furthermore, there is never a hint that there is more than one body. Of that one body Christ is the head. If there were more than one body, then one of them must be headless, for the one head cannot be divided.

Should a part of the body become unwell then the whole body will be affected, for if “one member suffer, all the members suffer with it”. Members ought to care for each other, because disabled members will reduce the function and ability of the whole body.

So there is a need for believers to be associated together as a distinct body of people. This is reinforced by the fact that “the Lord added to the ecclesia daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47). The conversion here is not described as the salvation of individuals, but as the enlargement of the body. We are not baptised into a void: we are born into a household in Christ.

The seriousness of being one together is emphasised by the apostolic commands concerning division and strife. Action was necessary when there were those who promoted views or behaved in a way that was inconsistent with sound doctrine. There are many such commands in the Scriptures—for example in 2 Timothy 2:16–21, where Paul advised to shun the erring doctrines of Hymenaeus and Philetus, that the vessels may be meet for the Master’s use.

A Bible Basis

Both Testaments of the Scriptures are full of positive pictures and the gains of God’s people working together.

Case Study 1 (Old Testament)

God established laws governing inter-tribal (or ecclesial) cooperation and communal worship. He commanded that “three times a year thou shalt keep a feast unto me” (Exod 23:14). God saw the need for His people to worship together. People scattered from Dan to Beersheba would leave their homes for the long journey to Jerusalem, where they would unite as one. This observance ensured that Israel remembered that they were one nation (body) and not twelve tribes.

Case Study 2 (New Testament)

The parable of the True Vine in John 15 is emphatic on the relationship of believers to Christ. “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye except ye abide in me.” No one branch has an individual and exclusive right or relationship within the Vine. No one branch can leave the Vine to form a new Vine. All of the branches together comprise the true Vine, and it is our collective fruitful contributions that will bring glory to the Vine.

Documenting Ecclesial Order

Inevitably problems arise, and with them the potential for disunity. So it became necessary to document the basis on which our brotherhood meets and interacts.

Our platform is of course the Bible. In order to clearly detail our basis of fellowship, we accept the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith (BASF) together with the explanations of clauses 5 and 12 as provided in the Cooper Carter Addendum, and the fellowship clauses outlined in the Unity Book.

It is also useful to note The Ecclesial Guide: A Guide to the Formation and Conduct of Christadelphian Ecclesias. This helpful booklet was produced by Brother Roberts as a way of assisting ecclesias to function in a Christlike manner, both individually and collectively.

Unity Within the Ecclesia

The key advice that the New Testament provides for successful ecclesial life is submission one to another. Just as our Master submitted to reviling, suffering and then death, so we are to submit to others if we are to achieve harmony in a group.

This is not an easy task. We are all very different. We are drawn from different cultures and socio-economic groups. We have different characters, interests and abilities. Yet God has called us all to function together as an ecclesial body.

Case Study 3

John 17 records the great prayer of our Master in the upper room. Christ prayed with intense earnestness to the Father for the disciples, “that they may be one, as we are” (v11,22). We note that God and His Son were united at the highest level. They had the same desire and willed the same things. If we can appreciate the unity that exists between them, we will know something of the unity which should exist between disciples.

There are many practical measures that can assist in the harmony of the ecclesia:

♦ Attendance. It is absolutely critical for individual brothers and sisters to belong to and be accountable to the body of Christ through our ecclesial membership. Paul exhorts us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Heb 10:25). Our mutual association can help us be refreshed and to refresh others. It is an opportunity to seek the welfare of others and to provide encouragement in word and deed.

♦ Support. The ecclesia cannot serve its purpose without members undertaking functions. All members have a role to play in some way. There are many roles to play in the ecclesia – organising groups for areas like gospel proclamation, functions to be prepared, halls to be set up and maintained, Sunday School classes to be taught etc. An ecclesia that works together will stay together.

♦ Hospitality. What better way is there to get to know other members of the body and build up ecclesial vigour than entertaining our brothers and sisters. We can enjoy a meal or evening readings together, and in so doing show our care for each other.

♦ Spirit. We cannot afford to be self-willed or hostile in the ecclesia. Instead there has to be a conscious effort to rise above any natural inclinations and develop the spirit of Christ. Participating and interacting with a vibrant and enthusiastic spirit, consistent with our wonderful calling in Christ, will motivate and encourage.

Unity between Ecclesias

The principles of working within an ecclesia also apply to ecclesias working with each other. Furthermore, there are great advantages in ecclesias cooperating with each other.

Case Study 4

Acts 15 details the challenge when largely Jewish ecclesias were trying to come to terms with the admission of Gentiles to fellowship in Christ. Representatives of the ecclesias met with the apostles and prayerfully and scripturally worked out a strategy to resolve the issue. It was not then left for each ecclesia to further this in their own way. An approved letter was prepared and taken to the ecclesias by Paul and Barnabas, Judas and Silas. Their desire was that the Body of Christ should be united. The effect of this orderly procedure was rejoicing and comfort and peace among the members (v31–33).

This case study clearly demonstrates the advantages of working together in reconciling an issue. Tackling this problem independently may have resulted in many different outcomes and possible division. Instead, careful process, clear logic, and a true spirit delivered a working solution.

Having established the importance of working together, there are many avenues to foster this. Fraternal gatherings are great occasions for inter-ecclesial fellowship, as are Bible Schools and other conferences. Many ecclesias have worked with other ecclesias to hold combined camps, with great success. Young people’s activities are even more rewarding when arranged with other groups. Bible mission and gospel proclamation work can have greater effect when cooperating together.

Combined gatherings like this are of course conducted with those of like fellowship. If we were to break bread with those of other fellowships, we would deny the basis of our fellowship and state that the things that unite us are of no consequence. If that is the case, why not break bread with any professed Christian? Gradually the whole point of our separation from other communities would be undermined.

We can see the importance of keeping lines of communication between ecclesias open. We must not interfere with the autonomy of ecclesias, but what a tragedy it would be if ecclesias ignored each other. Being united assures us that we are not alone in our fight; that there are others who treasure the same values and love the same Father as we do.

Key Conclusions

Unity in Christ is very precious. The key principles that allow us to function collectively and bring glory to our God are:

1 Christ is the head of the ecclesia. We are members of the one body.

2 Unity is the harmonisation of different members being brought together for one common purpose.

3 As members, we have responsibilities and obligations to the body, just as the body has for us.

4 Membership of the body is a wonderful privilege. We have a worldwide family in Christ. We should not spurn that privilege.

5 Working together within an ecclesia and between ecclesias will result in the well-being and fruitfulness of the body.

We are part of a great family that seeks to glorify God in immortality. One day we will work with our brethren for ever. How can we belong to that family in the future, if we are unable to work with each other now? Let us cooperate in a true spirit of love, such that when our Master returns he sees the members of the one body working together with single purpose.