Do you, dear reader, consider the branch of the churches of Christ of which you are a member the one and only true and loyal body of Christ? Are you "the only Christians"?

These questions deserve a thoughtful answer. For a movement that began as an effort to unite the Christians in all the sects to become fragmented beyond hope ought to be unthinkable. Yet, some of us have reached the point where we seem to think there are no Christians in any of the sects - even our own sects. Each of our sects thinks of itself as "the only loyal and true church."

Perhaps some of the blame for this disgraceful prostitution of a "unity movement" can be laid at the door of our ignorance. We do not know the difference between union, uniformity, and unity.

Union, of itself, simply signifies the joining of two things together. The two are made one, even though they may differ immeasurably. Two armies may be united in a fierce battle. Two disagreeable partners may be united in marriage. Two governments may be united by the conquest of one by the other. Union does not have to have much in common with unity.

Uniformity requires always having the same form, manner, or degree. Uniformity allows no tolerances, no variances, and no variables. In uniformity there is no room for choice. There is no room for personal opinion at all. The slightest deviation destroys the uniformity.

Unity is togetherness of a different breed altogether. It has to do with concord, harmony, and accord: being of the same mind and having one heart. Unity results in a unit - like a body - with Christ as its head!

Two fighting cats have union, but they do not have unity. Neither do two, or two million, fighting brethren.

Jesus prayed for unity, not union. And he did not pray for uniformity. Union may be fused by external forces, but not unity. Uniformity may be manufactured by dictatorship, but not unity. Only when two or more melt together in love and understanding can the two become one. That's the way it is in marriage, and that's the way it is with brethren.

Only when we restore Jesus Christ to his throne in our hearts can we have unity. As long as we try to impose our wills, or even our understanding, upon others there will never be unity. All unity meetings are doomed to failure as long as we try to substitute either union or uniformity for unity. These counterfeits can never make us one in Christ.

The complaint that "they are splitting churches" has been with us for a long time. Those who teach the Bible in classes were accused of splitting the church. Those who wanted to put in individual cups were accused of splitting the church. Those who wanted to take care of the aged and the orphans were accused of splitting the church. Those who try to lead the church into greater commitment and greater evangelism are accused of splitting the church. It is significant, in passing, that all the accusations came from those who were not exactly turning the world upside down themselves. And when all the hot air is taken out of these prejudiced accusations, there is always somewhat less than a thimbleful of truth left.

The real problem was, and is, that some insist on union and others insist on uniformity, while there is not much concern for unity.

As long as we allow our unwritten creeds to become the constitutions of our little sects, we will always have division. The elements of schism will be with us until we outgrow the concept that our understanding of the Scriptures are plainer than the Scriptures themselves, and therefore people should follow us rather than the Lord.

Brethren have long contended that they have no creed but the Bible. If this claim were true, we would not have our sects and factions. Whatever it is that is peculiar to any sect we have - the thing that makes the group distinct - cannot be found in the Bible. These peculiarities that create our factions produce conformity but not unity. As we have so long preached, if each would give up its oddity and every group go back to the Bible instead of its creed, we might effect a restoration yet.

Doctrinal error is certainly sinful, but not one whit more so than division. To ride doctrinal purity as a hobby while showing complete disregard for unity is folly. I notice a lot of patience and forbearance on the part of biblical writers in dealing with doctrinal error, but no patience at all in dealing with division. Jesus seemed more willing than we are to let the tares grow with the wheat until harvest time rather than destroy the wheat with tare rooting - even in the name of contending for the faith. We were never meant to be each other's judges, but we were meant to love one another and to bear with each other.

The biblical norm is neither union nor uniformity, but rather, unity. - Editorial in Image Magazine, 115 Warren Drive, Suite D, West Monroe, LA 71291. Published bi-monthly. $18 per year.