"May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." John 17:23
The unity of the Church is evidence that Christ was sent and that the Father loves the Church even as He loves His Son, Jesus!
It is finished!
Jesus always prayed according to the will of the Father and knew that His death would accomplish the Father's purpose. Paul writes,
"His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord." Eph. 3:10,11
God's purpose in Christ has been accomplished so that the Church is one Body - the unity of believers that is the revelation of the Father's love and purpose. God's wisdom has been revealed to the spiritual realm through joining believers to be one Body in Christ.
The Church is therefore God's demonstration of His wisdom, His love and His purpose for man which He accomplished in Christ! It should therefore not surprise us that the unity of the Church is the primary target of the enemy! Satan is all out to bring division in the Body of Christ so that she veils what God has accomplished in Christ! The unity of the Church is at stake!
How does Satan bring division into the Church?
Clearly there are many ways but I believe the primary way is to influence believers with a religious spirit. A religious spirit is an attitude that brings division within the Body of Christ.
Jesus was clear with the Pharisees that their attitude was of the Devil (John 8:44). Their focus was on outward appearance rather than on the attitude of the heart. Jesus spoke sharply against them and said,
"Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." Matthew 23:27,28
The religious attitude is more concerned with outward appearance than with what is on the heart. Paul says the same to the Corinthian church,
"We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart." 2 Cor. 5:12
Form and essence
That which is outward is form whilst that which is on the heart is essence. When there is a form or appearance of righteousness but the heart is wicked, the person is essentially wicked. It is what Paul calls "A form of godliness without power" (2 Tim. 3:5).
Focused on appearance
The religious attitude seeks to look good on the outside but ignores the true nature of his heart. His focus is on external appearance. In the Church the religious attitude criticises the appearance (form) of others such as the way people dress, the way people worship, the way people pray and the way people behave. The religious spirit does not look at the heart of others and immediately judges others based on outward appearance rather than seeking and appreciating the sincerity or heart (essence) of another.
Unity of form?
The religious spirit insists that their way is the correct way and any other form is simply wrong. This demonic attitude is full of pride and extremely divisive. When the church begins to expose the religious spirit and learns to accept one another's essence and not insist on unity of form, she will live in the unity Christ purchased with His blood.
Unity in diversity
Being in an international church, we have people from all over the world with many different cultures and forms. As we value one another because of our essential unity in Christ, we bear with one another and seek to focus on the essence rather than the form of lives in Christ. As we do so, we reveal the unity of our faith that reveals the wisdom, the love and the purpose of God.
The primary reason churches split is because people think that unity of the Church is unity of form. Groups split up because each insist that their way is the correct way, rather than appreciating the diversity in the Body without comprimising the essence. Our church is committed to being uncomprimising in essence but flexible in form. That way we learn to value one another's different ways (form) and still enjoy what unites us (essence).
Make every effort!
Understanding what is at stake and what the enemy is up to should cause us to "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" because "there is one body and one Spirit" (Eph. 4:3,4).
Church, be alert to the works of the enemy and don't allow a religious spirit to dominate your attitude toward your brothers and sisters in Christ. Learn to appreciate the different forms and value your unity in Christ. Don't be responsible for veiling what God has accomplished in Christ. Make every effort to keep the unity that has been bought with Christ's blood through the bond of peace. Then the spirit realm will see the fullness of God's wisdom and the world will know that the Father sent Jesus and loves the Church as He loves His Son!
"The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Sam. 16:7