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Unity, Truth and Love (Part 2)

JACKSON, Tenn. (BP)–Our Southern Baptist witness to the world will be stronger when we are united (John 17: 11, 21; Eph. 4:1-6). Southern Baptists are called to unity, but also to holiness. Faithful Christ-followers are called to be separate and distinct from the world (John 17:15; 1 John 2:15-17).

Having been redeemed and regenerated by the Lord, believers are to be different in their lifestyles and beliefs from the unbelieving world. Yet, separation often leads to unnecessary fragmentation, thus diminishing opportunities for consensus building and renewal.

We are called to live in tension, emphasizing both truth and love, holiness and unity. As Southern Baptists move forward from the recent decades of controversy over the nature of Scripture and the uniqueness of the gospel, it is more important than ever to balance truth and love, holiness and unity. Let us make every effort to love one another while seeking to live pure and holy lives pleasing to our Lord. In Ephesians 4 we can find guidance to help us move forward together in unity as we seek to cooperate together in the work of the Great Commission.

Now that the conservative resurgence is complete, there is a need to re-establish a consensus to point Southern Baptists toward a helpful and hopeful future. In Ephesians 4 we find an appeal to biblical unity, which Southern Baptists need to hear at the local church level, as well as convention wide. The Apostle Paul provides us with necessary virtues and guidelines that can help bring about this kind of biblical and authentic unity.

When we turn to Ephesians 4, we are struck by Paul’s repetition of the word “one,” which occurs seven times. Further observation reveals that the seven “ones” are grounded in the three members of the Holy Trinity: “one Spirit,” 4:4; “one Lord,” 4:5; and “one God and Father of all,” 4:6.

Believers who have been reconciled to Christ (Eph. 2) have new standards and expectations. Paul urged his readers, “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph. 4:1). Five virtues are presented in Ephesians 4:2 that characterize and exemplify a life worthy of the Christian calling: humility, gentleness, patience, forebearance and love.

If Southern Baptists are to demonstrate unity before a watching world, all of these virtues, and particularly love, as the embracing virtue and crown of all virtues, must characterize God’s people. Jesus said that love is the mark of His followers (John 13:34-35). Southern Baptists will have genuine unity only when these Christian virtues characterize our lives individually and corporately.

Believers are to make it their business to pursue unity in the body of Christ. We are not to take a wait-and-see attitude, but we are to be eager to do what we can “to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). God’s Spirit energizes us to exemplify unity to an observing world. When we cultivate and practice the virtues described in Ephesians 4:2, we will be able to display and preserve the unity of the Spirit.

Genuine commitment to the truthfulness and authority of Holy Scripture calls for us to live as the Scriptures instruct us to do. We need once again to recognize the high priority that Scripture places on true unity among God’s people. We need to confess our failures and ask God to bring renewal by His Spirit to Southern Baptist churches and entities. The personal attacks, especially the public ones, need to cease. The virtues and vision for the followers of Christ presented in Ephesians 4 need to be heard across our convention.

If Southern Baptists truly are to be the people of God before a watching world, we must visibly exhibit an attitude of unity. God’s oneness defines the oneness of the body of Christ. As God is one in three, so the believing community is made up of different parts with a variety of expressions; yet the body is one.

We need to hear afresh that visible unity grounded in biblical truth is God’s expectation for us. Let us pray and work for renewal and unity in our theological commitments, in our worship, in our fellowship, in our educational efforts, in our shared service and social engagement and ultimately in our gospel proclamation.

Let us pray that our Lord will renew the people, the churches and the entities of the Southern Baptist Convention to serve and adore the one true God. Let us trust that our Lord will grant us grace to help move us forward together toward a new consensus. Let us hope that Southern Baptists can be renewed so that the gospel can be proclaimed to all the world, even as we listen once again to the prayer of Jesus, Himself: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21).
David S. Dockery is president of Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

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  • David S. Dockery