Unity is the New Tolerance

When I was a younger man, the word ‘tolerance’ began appearing in workplace training. I was encouraged to ‘tolerate’ others’ viewpoints and life choices so that ‘we could all just get along’. There was a cheerful, campfire sort of feeling about it — look how happy we could be, to be so supportive and kind to each other!

For a little while, I bought it. I was new to the workplace, and a bit naive. Who wants to be a bigot? What does it matter, in the office, if you’re of one political party or another? Who cares, in the context of work, if you’re married or single, Muslim or Christian, gay or straight? It seemed a very American sort of fair deal — I tolerate them, and they tolerate me. So far, so good, right?

I didn’t realize until much later that I had been effectively and efficiently silenced; as a person who knows the Truth of the Gospel, I could have spoken into some of my co-worker’s lives, if I had been bolder. But I believed the subtle, unspoken lie that the principles of my faith had no place in the secular marketplace.

Over time, the rules changed. Tolerance continues to be taught (well, mandated) for anyone except anyone who subscribes to any absolute view. If you believe in such outmoded concepts as the existence of God, Good and Evil, Right and Wrong, or even logic, then you are exempt from the benefit of Tolerance. Today, if you speak up and insist that the definition of marriage is ‘a sacred union between a man and a woman’, you will be silenced, labeled as a bigot, and (maybe) fired from your job.

(This actually happened to Brendan Eich in 2014, who had the temerity to donate a grand total of $3100 toward California’s Proposition 8, more than four years earlier. Even after slavishly apologizing, he was forced to resign after only 11 days as CEO of Mozilla Corporation.)

So I cringe whenever I hear the word ‘tolerance’, because I now recognize it as a clever (but dishonest) mechanism to silence unpopular viewpoints, especially those of Christians.

Fast forward to the present day, in the context of the Church. The value of “Unity” is much bandied-about by church leaders. I suspect that the word ‘Unity’ in the modern American church has become a club to silence those who might make others uncomfortable with hard truths from Scripture. At the risk of being clubbed myself, let’s look at what Unity is, and what it is not, according to Scripture.

Scripture (ESV) What Unity Is What Unity Is Not
1 Corinthians 1:10 — “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” Commanded for believers, achievable, resulting in the same mind and same judgment Agreeing to disagree
Acts 4:32 — “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Having the same goals and allegiances, expressed by love in the form of sharing with each other Divorced from action
Philippians 2:2 — “complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” Same as 1 Cor. 1:10 — commanded, achievable, reflecting people completely ‘being on the same page’ An automatic state of the Church, as opposed to something that involves a conscious choice and effort
Romans 14:19 — “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Requires pursuit
Has an end result of making the church stronger
Is characterized by peace
An automatic grant of being a believer in a church
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ … Involves diligence and work to equip the entire body of Christ, needing many spiritual gifts to achieve Something that can be attained by immature, unequipped Christians

There are a LOT of passages in the Bible about Unity — I’ve only listed a few, and I don’t claim this is an exhaustive treatment of the term. But it is interesting to note how many of them include some variant of the phrase ‘same mind’. While it is true that Romans 14 teaches that some minor differences can be resolved through grace and maturity, many disagreements are about critical truths, closely connected to the ‘essentials of the faith’.

While road-tripping recently, Kathy read to me a chapter from Tactics, by Greg Koukl. I found a few of the things he wrote to be especially pertinent:

“If the notion of truth is central to Christianity, and the ability to argue is central to the task of knowing the truth, why do some Christians get upset when you try to find the truth through argument and disagreement? Two things come to mind that are especially applicable to those in a Christian setting, usually a church environment.”

“First, some fear division. When people are free to express strong differences of opinion, especially on theological issues, it threatens unity, they say. Consequently, the minute a disagreement surfaces, someone jumps in to shut down dissent in order to keep the peace. This is unfortunate.”

“True enough, Christians sometimes get distracted by useless disputes. Paul warns against wrangling about words and quarreling about foolish speculations (2 Timothy 2:14,23). But he also commands us to be diligent workmen, handling the word of truth accurately (2 Timothy 2:15). And, because some disputes are vitally important, Paul solemnly charges us to reprove, rebuke and exhort when necessary (2 Timothy 4:1-2). This cannot be done without some confrontation, but disagreement need not threaten genuine unity.”

Just a paragraph later, Koukl writes:

“There’s a second reason why Christians resist arguments. Some believers unfortunately take any opposition as hostility, especially if their own view is being challenged. In some circles it’s virtually impossible to take exception to a cherished view or a respected teacher without being labeled malicious.”

“This is a dangerous attitude for the church because the minute one is labeled mean-spirited simply for raising an opposing view, debate is silenced. If we disqualify legitimate discussion, we compromise our ability to know the truth.”

It seems clear to me that unity is not something the Church already has by default — it is a gift of God that can only be attained through obedience, united purpose and humble submission to the Holy Spirit. It is the result of a sustained, faithful effort, not achieved by simply silencing anyone who sounds the alarm. In the past year, the unity of my home church has been damaged by one-sided discussions on race, social justice and our response to COVID-19.

I use the term one-sided because (as in the case of workplace ‘tolerance’) the very rules of discourse seem to have pre-supposed that some arguments and positions are invalid, before they can even be heard. If I were to argue that racism in America has been largely eradicated, or that social justice shouldn’t involve stealing from the rich to give to the poor, or that masks don’t really protect us from COVID-19, I would be labeled as a racist bigot, an oppressor of the poor, and a hater of the vulnerable elderly.

Koukl ends his argument with these final remarks:

“When the church discourages principled debates and a free flow of ideas, the result is shallow Christianity and a false sense of unity. No one gets any practice learning how to field contrary views in a gracious and productive way. The oneness they share is contrived, not genuine. Worse, they lose the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. Simply put, when arguments are few, error abounds.”

As believers, our unity must be centered on the gospel and the truth of God’s Word. It should draw us closer to Him and to each other. It should point people to Jesus. Above all the unity of God’s people should bring Him honor and glory. As Paul wrote:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:5–7)

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This year we broke from tradition and traveled to Louisiana to celebrate Thanksgiving with Tim and Rachel in their new home. I had not yet physically visited their house, so I was delighted that Rachel agreed to serve as hostess. It made travel a lot simpler for Daniel, David and Sarah (who all live in Tennessee, about 7 hours away).

Joshua and Kelsie (and, perforce, Benaiah and Rosie) stayed home in Idaho, since Kelsie is too near her due date to travel. We missed them greatly, but still managed to be festive and silly and (not least of all) thankful.

The highlight of the week came when Rachel brought out presents for us all, and insisted we open them all at once. My gift was a mug, and I puzzled out the implications.

“Granddad again, Re-Established, 2021″ I read aloud.


David’s gift complimented him on being a great Uncle, and Sarah’s gift was a magnet proclaiming her an Aunt. Kathy received a Nana mug. Slowly, it dawned on us all — Rachel and Tim were announcing that they are expecting a baby! (Rachel had been wearing a special shirt that also trumpeted the good news, but she had craftily concealed it under a sweatshirt.)


I was stunned and overjoyed. I have been praying for several months that they would decide and be able to have a baby, but one learns to be patient in the grandchild game. Kathy and I don’t want to be those annoying parents who pressure their kids to have children before they are ready — that’s why we were praying, leaving it in God’s hands. What fun to hear this news a few days before Thanksgiving, to give the holiday some extra lustre.

As it turned out, Tim and Rachel had been hoarding their secret for some time, gleefully planning this great ‘reveal’ when we were gathered together. As soon as they had announced the joy to Tim’s side of the family, we joined them in cryptically communicating with Joshua and Kelsie. (Joshua and Kelsie had both dreamed that Rachel was pregnant, and so Tim sent a message to Josh, complimenting him on his gift of prophetic dreams.) It took only a few minutes before we heard back from Joshua: “About the dreams, would you like to clarify … ?”

This was the picture they sent to Tim's side of the family.  Hannah figured it out right away.

This was the picture they sent to Tim’s side of the family. Hannah figured it out right away.

It was very hard to keep it all under wraps until Daniel arrived, and opened his own gift, and heard the joyful news. One of the nice things about having a large, happy family is that everyone is very delighted when their siblings have children of their own. By June, Lord willing, I’ll be the proud Grandad of two new grandchildren, each with a name and gender and personality of their own! I can hardly wait to meet them!

Today Rachel told us that she heard the heartbeat of the new child. Kathy and I prayed for God’s blessing on this new member of our family, that He would show His love to this baby, and that he or she can grow safely in the womb and be delivered in good time and health. Even more, we pray that God will call this new soul into faith and relationship with Himself, adopting this baby into His family forever.

But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments. — Psalm 103:17-18


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