Today, we face a real challenge in the Christian community. While many of us seem to understand there are limits to biblical unity, we’re not always sure where to draw the dividing lines. Paul told the Romans, “Watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them” (Ro 16:17). On the other hand, Jesus tells us not to separate the weeds from the wheat because we might root up the wheat along with them (Mt 13:29).
Where do we draw the line? If you’re looking for a black-and-white answer, I’m afraid I don’t know of one.
The denomination I grew up in claimed to be the only true church of Jesus Christ. It makes things simple to believe every Christian under a particular denominational label is a true Christian. Elders in the church would often use Ephesians 4 as their proof text. “Paul says it right here,” they’d say. “There is only one body, one faith, one baptism, and so on.” The problem is, they miss the point. Paul is not describing an organized unity. He’s talking about a spiritual unity between all born-again believers.
Again, our unity is unity of the Spirit (Eph 4:3). It is spiritual unity. When we attempt to maintain this unity as Paul tells us to do, we strive to foster a relationship between us and other redeemed, born-again people.
The problem we run into is that not every believer is equally faithful or theologically-grounded. Apollos, for example, was competent in the Scriptures and fervent in spirit, but he also lacked an understanding of the gospel (Ac 18:25). False teachers woefully deceived the Galatian churches, but Paul calls them brothers in Christ (Gal 6:18). Severe sin issues plagued the Corinthian church, but Paul refers to them as the church of God sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints (1Co 1:2).
Sometimes we have to look deeper than the theological confusion that fills contemporary Christian churches. That’s not to say we can enjoy close fellowship with every child of God. Time and time again, the Bible warns us to avoid the influence of sin and false doctrine. We have an obligation, however, to love and nurture fellow Christians. We are to teach and disciple the family of God with humility and patience, careful not to destroy good wheat in our attempts to overthrow heresy.
The best advice I can give is to be careful. Move slowly and gently. Don’t minimize the truth to spare someone’s feelings, but approach them with clarity of your mission. We aim to preserve the unity of God’s family. We are here to build up one another. Recognize that someone deceived by some false teaching may very well be an immature babe in Christ. I should also point out that not every doctrine should be cause for any amount of contention. See Romans 14.
Study Ephesians 4. Our calling regarding God’s family will become clear. In the meantime, let unity and peace be our guiding principles. If it’s possible someone you’ve met is a budding stalk of wheat, then water them. Don’t pluck them out of the ground. For the sake of God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, see whether there is a spiritual bond that you can nurture into a more substantial relationship.