The unity of the Church of God is very important to God, and it is an important theme of the book of Acts. Here are seven lessons about unity from Acts.
Acts records a history of the first 30 years of the Church. The Church has been under attack almost from day 1, and one of the areas Satan loves to attack is unity. He is the destroyer and the accuser. He hates God’s Church and always works to divide and—in his deluded thinking—to conquer. He never will conquer God’s Church (Matthew 16:18), but the Church must be on guard. We must pay attention to the lessons of history.
Consider seven lessons about unity that the Church learned in the first decades of its existence. They are lessons that can help us still today.
- Christian unity takes shared beliefs and practices based on Scripture.
After His death and resurrection, Jesus proved He was the Messiah and showed how the many prophecies of His first coming had been fulfilled (Luke 24:44-48). The disciples believed Him, and they continued in their shared beliefs.
So 10 days after Jesus ascended to heaven, “when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).
All of them believed in God’s festivals and saw the importance of meeting together on all of God’s Sabbaths. God teaches His Church and unifies it through remembering, observing and celebrating His festivals.
The phrase “one accord” here is from the Greek homothumadon, which means “with one mind, with unanimous consent, in one accord, all together” according to The Complete Word Study Dictionary New Testament. It’s translated “one accord” 11 times just in Acts! And it’s not always positive. A mob can be in “one accord” to persecute or riot! But we are called on to be in “one accord” in serving and loving God and our neighbor—in following all that we are taught in the Bible.
Throughout the book of Acts, we see that the Church was founded on Scripture. It turned to Scripture as the basis for making decisions, the source for sermons and the key to all speaking the same thing.
When it was time to choose someone to replace Judas Iscariot, Peter turned to Scripture for advice. You can find the story of the passages Peter applied and the process they went through to choose Matthias at the end of Acts 1.
When Peter preached to the crowds on Pentecost, he also quoted sections of Joel and the Psalms that helped convict the audience of their sins. And so it goes—the Bible was the source for “doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” as the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:16.
We are not to have itching ears, looking for new doctrines or intriguing ideas that aren’t based on the Bible. We are to be solidly grounded in the true doctrines. We must study, live and love the truth—and that will go a long way in unifying the Church.
- Christian unity takes a shared mission.
From the beginning to the end of Acts we see a group of people motivated by and diligently working at a shared mission.
They were witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection ( Acts 1:8). But not only that, they were also witnesses that He is our Lord and Savior—and soon-coming King! He had told them many times to preach repentance and the good news about the Kingdom of God.
They did this in spite of trials and persecutions. Even after the apostles were arrested and severely warned not to teach in the name of Jesus, the Church got together and prayed for God’s help to do His work (Acts 4:29-31).
And throughout the book of Acts we see the Church proclaiming the gospel—working together with a shared mission that helped unify them. The book of Acts ends with the apostle Paul continuing to preach the good news (Acts 28:30-31).
So the Church then and now is unified by our shared mission. See “What Is the Mission of the Church?”
- Christian unity requires the Holy Spirit—fellowship with God.
On the Day of Pentecost God used powerful signs to get people’s attention. Imagine the scene, with the sound of a mighty rushing wind, the appearance of tongues of fire and the apostles being heard in a wide variety of languages! Then Peter preached to them from the Word of God.
What followed was a pivotal call to action. After the people were convinced of their sins, they cried out, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter answered: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:37-38).
The Holy Spirit is one of the most incredible gifts God could give. This was a fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23.
John also wrote in his epistles about this amazing privilege to actually have fellowship with our all-powerful Creator, who loves us (1 John 1:3).
When all of our minds are directed toward God and His ways, our thinking and our fellowship will be what the Bible calls like-minded.When all of our minds are directed toward God and His ways, our thinking and our fellowship will be what the Bible calls like-minded (Philippians 2:1-2). Jesus Christ’s attitude, His mind and His character can be in us through the Holy Spirit.
We can have unity because God is in us all through that one Spirit (Ephesians 4:1-6). It’s not just a one-time thing—not just receiving the Holy Spirit after baptism. We must constantly submit to God’s leading, and we must not quench the Spirit. To have unity in the Spirit takes continual effort. According to the NKJV Study Bible note on Ephesians 4:3, “Endeavoring means to make every effort, to work hard at maintaining the unity of the Spirit.”
In addition to having fellowship with God, we are given another powerful way to grow in unity.
- Christian unity takes fellowship and sharing with each other.
Acts 2:41-47 shows the results of that amazing Day of Pentecost that launched the Church of God. Their fellowship, togetherness and eating meals together bonded these people who came from different areas of the Roman Empire into a unified body.
- Christian unity can take problem solving.
When challenges arise, especially if something happens that seems unfair, it can take tact, gentleness, wisdom and creativity to solve the problem.
Acts 6:1-6 gives an example of an unintentional problem that caused some widows to be neglected. The apostles were too busy to take care of everything, and so they looked for a solution that would involve more people in service. They began delegating this work of service to a group who became the first deacons.
When problems come up—and they always do!—we can engage in problem solving rather than grumbling and complaining. We can look for ways we can help. We can suggest some possible ideas to the leadership. The goal is, of course, to solve the problem and serve those who have needs. It’s not to take credit for the solution or to complain if your solution isn’t chosen.
It’s not like a math or engineering problem. Problem solving can be a lot harder when people are involved! It can take forbearance and humility and forgiveness. It can take having the mind and attitude of Christ.
- Christian unity can take courage and faith.
Acts describes a terrible persecution on the Church, and especially one particular persecutor: Saul! God fixed the problem by converting Saul (who became the apostle Paul). While he was on the road to Damascus to arrest Christians, Jesus blinded Saul and told him a man named Ananias would put his hands on him so that Saul might be able to see again.
Then God told faithful Ananias to go see this man who had been viciously persecuting Christians (Acts 9:13-16, 19, 25).
It took courage and faith for Ananias to help Saul and for the disciples in Damascus to accept him. After all, he had been coming there specifically to get them!
And it took courage for Saul to completely turn his life around and be baptized.
Today we still need courage and faith. It can start small, with the courage to meet new people, to break out of our comfort zone and get to know people of other backgrounds and age groups. We may not meet anyone quite as scary as Saul of Tarsus, but whoever we do meet, God can bless our efforts to unify His Church.
Then the book of Acts addresses one of the most significant steps taken in the early New Testament Church. It was perhaps the greatest challenge to the Church at the time, and it threatened to divide the Church.
- Christian unity can take humility and overcoming prejudices.
God started to open the door for the gentiles to enter the Church by giving Peter a very unusual vision. It was about noon, and Peter was getting hungry, and while he was waiting for lunch, he was praying. God gave Peter a vision of a huge sheet with all kinds of wild animals and birds. Then he heard a voice saying, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.”
Peter was aghast, perhaps thinking it was a test. In essence he said, “No way! I’ve never eaten anything common or unclean.”
The voice then told him, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” This happened three times! Peter was wondering what it all meant, when some men came to the house. They had been sent by Cornelius, an important Roman officer who feared God. God had told Cornelius to send for Peter.
Normally Peter wouldn’t have gone. He told Cornelius, “You know how unlawful it is for a Jewish man to keep company with or go to one of another nation. But God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (Acts 10:28).
Peter preached to them and watched God give the Holy Spirit to them, and so Peter commanded them to be baptized and stayed with them a few days. But that wasn’t the end of the story. You can read more about how gentiles were accepted into the Church in Acts 11:15-18; 15:5-12, 24-26.
God worked through the Church and His ministry to come to unity of teaching on this issue. It took humility and overcoming of prejudices for the Church to move forward in the kind of unity that God intended and that the culture of their world rejected.
Here’s a summary of this great change from the article “Acts of the Apostles”:
“One of the great themes of the Acts of the Apostles is how God, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, changed His elect to understand that all people are really God’s chosen people. Those who were called to Jesus Christ—both Jews and gentiles—had to completely change the way they viewed one another.
“The Church that began on Pentecost in Acts 2 was an entirely Jewish church, but the Church that was strong and stable at the end of the book of Acts is made up of Jews and gentiles alike, with gentiles fulfilling many of the important responsibilities.
“In a world like ours, where ethnic and racial differences often explode into mindless violence, the story of how God used His Holy Spirit to transform the hearts of both Jews and gentiles so that they could be unified and loving in His Church is an inspiring and worthwhile example.”
These seven points aren’t everything we need to know about unity and being like-minded. But they are a big start.
Learn more about the Church founded by Jesus Christ in the booklet Where Is the Church Jesus Built?