There are 2 main principles at the heart of Jesus’ Gospel which stand as foundational to Christianity: unity and truth. In Presbyterian heritage, we often refer to them as studying the peace and purity of the church; and they were modeled on Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17.
(v.3)This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent… (v.11) I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are... (v.17) Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth… (v.20-23) I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. They are also summed up nicely in Jesus’ declaration of the Greatest Commandment in Luke 10:27:
YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.Further, Jesus said we will be known as his disciples in our having love for one another, in John 13:34-35:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.These two principles, unity and truth, are difficult for us to manage: On the one hand God is not divided, truth is absolute and without variation or compromise in Christ; on the other hand God is not divided, unity is absolute and without division of hostility or disagreement. We Christians, even with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, struggle to be both pure (true) and at peace (unity) with one another.
When we sometimes think our brother is in error and straying from the truth we go to war to win him back, and when we sometimes think our brother is experiencing hatred we compromise purity to show him love or be at peace with him. Both tendencies are inappropriate extremes for the Christian. We are called to stand unwavering in both truth and love, but we are flawed in understanding and enacting both. One extreme, for example, has been in burning a fellow Christian at the stake, in forcing a deprivation of the flesh with hope of purifying the soul (cf. Matt 3:11; 18:7-9; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 1 Pet. 1:6-7). The other extreme has been in proudly ignoring proper discipline and godly conduct out of a false sense of lovingly forgiving a brother (cf. 1 Cor. 5:5; 9-13), in essence giving love no moral backbone.
Perhaps the key comes in humbly acknowledging our own limitations of perfectly understanding and following Christ’s commands, but at the same time being true in practice to what we find in Hebrews 10:23-25:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.