How can we achieve unity? How can people dwell together and not have division or contention? Some would say that the best way to unity is toleration. In this line of thinking, if everyone were to tolerate everyone else, then eventually, there could be peace. The only flaw with the idolatry of toleration is that it cannot truly be fully tolerant. Toleration cannot tolerate those who are intolerant. Toleration says “I accept everyone, except those who don’t accept everyone.” The flaw of this view is that it excludes itself from being truly tolerant when it excludes those who are truly intolerant. Tolerance is a very weak footing on which to build unity.
Especially in a church, tolerating disagreement and those who would vehemently argue against others in the church would lead to chaos and ecclesiastical anarchy. There must be a better way to gain unity in the church. Thankfully, scripture gives us a better basis for unity – the Bible. While toleration is only as absolute as the fickle human being attempting to be tolerant, Scripture is an absolute authority that does not change. If understood, the truths found in scripture can serve as the bedrock foundation of the church and when applied, they can lead to flourishing in unity.
Those churches that would fully follow the commands of Scripture would find a common ground that surpassed their own cultural persuasions and preferences. Instead of dividing over the nuance of the religious sub-culture they had been raised in, a church that used Scripture as its final authority in all matters would find true unity. The unity that Christ desired in his disciples and in the church could be accomplished if all Christians everywhere would simply submit themselves to the authority of Scripture. There would not need to be any in-fighting or subversion. There would not be any flash-in-the-pan celebrity pastors that burnt with the fury of a Fourth of July sparkler only to fizzle out shortly thereafter in like fashion. The church would be protected from the tides of doctrine that ebb and flow throughout it and instead, when the people of God knew the word of God, they could dwell together with the unity of God.
It is to this point that Paul admonished Titus in Titus 3:10-11. Those who were unwilling to submit themselves to the truth of Scripture were to be admonished and corrected. Instead of tolerating their convoluted perspective as potentially valid, they were to be shown biblically why their words or actions were incorrect. If they held any position that was antithetical to Scripture, it was not to be tolerated, it was to be corrected.
Paul used the word “nouthesia” (translated in English as “admonish”) to explain what this should look like. We now use this word in regards to a specific type of counselling that we as Christians are to use in dealing with those who are not following the commands of Scripture – Nouthetic Counseling. This type of counselling is used to point people towards the proper understanding of Scripture, and the duty of the believer to submit to that teaching. If someone is willing to receive Nouthetic Counseling, unity can be had in the church. However, Paul tells Titus that if the person being corrected by Scripture fails to submit to Scripture, then they are to be “rejected.” The unity in the church was too important than to sacrifice the truth of Scripture. We must uphold the purity of doctrine if we are to ever have true unity in the church.
Reflect: Why is tolerance a weak base upon which to build unity?