July 31, 2020

​Unity, or War?

Peace can exist only when two opposing sides agree to unite.

Jimmy Phillips

Unity: The state of being one or joined as a whole.”

I first saw this billboard on Route 741 near my office just outside Dayton, Ohio. There was no corporate logo, just white text and a black background.

I chuckled when I saw the image. Not in a laugh-out-loud way, more like a shake-your-head-because-the-irony-is-thick way. This year is perhaps the most disunified our country has been in years, and this 14- by 48-foot vinyl wrap felt like an attempt to bail water from the Titanic with a measuring spoon.

Peace can exist only when two opposing sides agree to unite over a set of mutually accepted terms.

As I read it, I pondered how Christians should prioritize unity, particularly in times of chaos.

Let’s start with a key premise: God is not the author of strife or disunity. The Bible says, “War broke out in heaven” (Rev. 12:7), started by a prideful angel who didn’t want to be like God in character, but like God Himself (see Isa. 14; Ezek. 28).

After losing this first war, the angel-turned-demon brought the battle to our newly created earth, where Creator and creation were in perfect harmony; that is, until people were deceived by the satanic serpent. The same divide that took place in heaven had come to earth and has existed ever since.

As clearly as we know the beginning, we also know the end: “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (Rev. 21:3).

God never intended anything other than perfect relational unity; and one day soon He will restore it forever.

So the question is, what happens in between?

Sometimes We Need a Sword

The message that attended Jesus’ first coming revealed His intent to begin cleaning up what was broken in Eden. This was relayed in the angels’ proclamation to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace” (Luke 2:14).

Yet, Jesus Himself seemed to contradict this message of peace and unity, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword” (Matt. 10:34).

How are we to understand what seems a blatant contradiction?

Peace exists only when two opposing sides agree to unite over a set of mutually accepted terms. Until these principles are agreed on, there can be no peace.

As Christians, we must keep this at the center of our approach to unity. We can never sacrifice or compromise any aspect of the “everlasting gospel” that we have been called to take to the world simply for the sake of getting along.

Ellen White said it like this: “If unity could be secured only by the compromise of truth and righteousness, then let there be difference, and even war.”*

The darkest times in the history of the Western world—appropriately known as the Dark Ages—were not defined by secularism, but by a mixing of truth and error. Ironically, an image of this same power will achieve near worldwide unity. This is foretold in prophecy: “The whole earth was filled with wonder and followed the beast” (Rev. 13:3).

If we must choose between unity and truth, we must always choose the latter—no matter how clever the billboards are.

* Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911, 1950), p. 58.

Jimmy Phillips is network marketing director for Kettering Health Network.