Unanimity, not unity

Unanimity — is agreement by all people in a given situation. When unanimous, everybody is of the same mind and acting together as one. Though unlike uniformity, it does not constitute absolute agreement. Many groups consider unanimous decisions a sign of agreement, solidarity, and unity. Unanimity may be assumed explicitly after a unanimous vote or implicitly by a lack of objections. (Wikipedia definition)

From The Grace Awakening by Charles Swindoll

“Grace also brings a freedom to do something else – a freedom to enjoy the rights and the privileges of being out from under slavery and allowing others such freedom. It’s freedom to experience and enjoy a new kind of power that only Christ could bring.  It is a freedom to become all that He meant me to be, regardless of how He leads others.  I can be me  — fully and freely.  You see, God isn’t stamping out little cookie-cutter Christians across the world so that we all think alike and look alike and sound alike and act alike. The body has variety.  We were never meant to have the same temperaments and use the same vocabulary and wear the same syrupy smile and dress the same way and carry on the same ministry.  I repeat: God is pleased with variety.  This freedom to be who we are is nothing short of magnificent.  It is freedom to make choices, freedom to know His will, freedom to walk in it, freedom to obey His leading me in my life and you in your life. Once you’ve tasted such freedom, nothing else satisfies.”

He also writes about legalism,

“the staunch enemy of liberty.  Legalism is an attitude, a mentality based on pride.  It is an obsessive conformity to an artificial standard for the purpose of exalting oneself.  A legalist assumes the place of authority and pushes it to unwarranted extremes. As Daniel Taylor states so well, it results in illegitimate control, requiring unanimity, not unity.”

From Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty

“The great weapon of authoritarianism, secular or religious, is legalism: the  manufacturing and manipulation of rules for the purpose of illegitimate control.  Perhaps the most damaging of all the perversions of God’s will and Christ’s work, legalism clings to law at the expense of grace, to the letter in place of the spirit.

Legalism is one more expression of the human compulsion for security.  If we can vigorously enforce an exhaustive list of do’s and don’ts (with an emphasis on external  behavior), we not only control unpredictable human beings but have God’s favor as well…

Legalistic authoritarianism shows itself in the confusion of the Christian principle of unity with a human insistence on unanimity.  Unity is a profound, even mystical quality.  It takes great effort to achieve, yet mere effort will never produce it; it is a source of greatsecurity, yet demands great risk.

Unanimity, on the other hand, is very tidy.  It can be measured, monitored, and enforced. It is largely external, whereas unity is essentially internal. Its primary goal is corrected  behavior, while unity’s is a right spirit.  Unanimity insists on many orthodoxies in addition to those of belief and behavior, including orthodoxy of experience and vocabulary.  That is, believers are expected to come to God in similar ways, to have similar experiences with God, and to use accepted phrases in describing those experiences.”

These words explained something huge to me.  One thing that thrills members of the meeting fellowship is hearing about workers or friends traveling to far corners of the earth to visit friends or workers they’ve never met and discover they are exactly the same as they are.  They have perfect fellowship together even though they have just met.  It reinforces the ‘miracle’ and the rightness of the group because how else could that happen? It had to be the result of the Holy Spirit working the exact same way in all their lives creating this marvelous oneness and unity.

But, the writings of Swindoll suggest something else.  The first paragraph I quoted references liberty and freedom.  He also writes about “the liberty that Christians are meant to have.  Freedom from slavery or bondage, sin’s power, guilt, God’s wrath, satanic and demonic authority….freedom from shame. Freedom from the curse of the law….from the constancy of its demands to perform in order to please God and/or others.  It is a freedom from the fear of condemnation before God as well as from an accusing conscience. Freedom from the demands of other people.”  The body of Christ has variety; not people who all think alike, look alike and act alike.

Then, he defines legalism; a term I knew nothing about while still in the meetings but once I read about it, I recognized it immediately because it defines what the meeting church is and has.  The next paragraph  about legalism makes it crystal clear that what the meeting fellowship has produced is unanimity, not unity.  Read that section again if necessary because I think the author has made an extremely important point. “Unanimity is largely external, where unity is essentially internal. Unanimity’s primary goal is corrected behavior, while unity’s is a right spirit.  Unanimity insists that believers come to God in similar ways, have similar experiences with God and use accepted phrases in describing those experiences.”

This may sound harsh but I don’t know how else to say it and I feel it needs to be said:  the very thing the meeting fellowship abhors, to some degree it has become, and that is, a group focused on outward behavior and conformity, far more social than spiritual, upholding traditions cultivated over the last 100 years and now calling them doctrine, rejoicing in conformity based on works rather than unity based on something profound happening in the very depth of a person’s spirit.

I do not write this carelessly or from a place of bitterness or frustration, but from a place of actual experience.  I know within the group there are individuals who do not sanction these practices or preferences of the group but they honestly hardly know how to survive within the group unless they continue to support those ideas; at least to a degree.

Unanimity has been produced in the meeting fellowship, although that word is never used; instead it is called unity.  But if unity is indeed a spiritual thing, then do they really have it? If unity isn’t a matter of all thinking the same, choosing the same, looking the same, what then is it? True unity can only be achieved where grace abounds. Where does grace abound? Where there is freedom.

Grace is risky, Swindoll writes, because there are so many ways of interpreting it. There will be those who embrace it and those who abuse it.  Swindoll references “cheap grace that justifies the sin rather than the sinner.  True grace, on the other hand, justifies the sinner, not the sin.” Yes, whenever the true Gospel of Grace is preached some will misinterpret that and run with it and give themselves free reign to sin.

That causes me to ask, how can there be unity when everyone seemingly is doing whatever they want? Living in grace gives individuals freedom; they are not being controlled any longer by the group or a few people in the group. And when an individual has freedom to choose, they will constantly seek the guidance and control of the Holy Spirit instead. That makes it now a very spiritual thing. Legalism does not result in unity but control.

I’ve come to the point where I can’t begin to quote the whole book Swindoll wrote, and also, why should I even try to address this subject when he has already done it so eloquently?

Just this past week I read a blog post where the writer faced much the same dilemma.  She was reading C.S. Lewis and wrote, “After reading him, it’s almost ridiculous to think I should keep on writing. Why should I write anything when the world has Lewis’ words? But perhaps my words could in some way be a bridge to him—the way he has been a bridge for me to so many authors I wouldn’t have read otherwise…”

So, I will keep on writing in the hopes that I can also be a bridge and pose questions that some might not otherwise ponder.  And share my experience that might perhaps also be someone else’s and they won’t feel so alone in that.   I’m also probably going to quote from Grace Awakening a few more times as I’m still reading it!


6 thoughts on “Unanimity, not unity

  1. The Grace Awakening was instrumental in our understanding of legalism. When I finally understood it, I would repeat over and over in my mind; “When you are free in Christ, you are free indeed”! It was the first of so much joy in understanding the true Gospel.

    I have mentioned this before but imagine our shock at finding out that Chuck Swindoll’s church was 15 min from our home. It has been our church home for almost 4 years now. At our first July 4th at Stonebriar Community Church, Chuck gave his freedom in Christ message. It finally liberated my wife, Lynn, and she has not looked back.


  2. Thanks again Darla for putting a clearer and Biblical definition around “unity”. The conversation I imagine, “If” someone said they wished we’d return to meeting, also asks, would we be free to share our love of Christ as He has made Himself so personal to us, in the meeting? The answer would be “No”. The workers would have to first give us their blessing or what we’d have to do to fit in. It would be bondage to our spirit, conforming to the style,and the form, which Bible to use, etc.. So unity around Christ, is not the true priority. Is it actually having a form of godliness, but denying the power? Going back to meeting, would be exactly that, “Going Back” not forward in our love of Christ and unity with the many who also Love Him! It is a shallow pool to swim in.
    Stan and Chris


    • What a great comment. That is the perfect way to describe the meetings, a “form of godliness, but denying the power”! The F&Ws deny the power of the gospel (i.e. God) to save us. I can’t think of a more concise description.

      Many Thanks!


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