WHAT UNITY TEACHES
By Elizabeth Sand Turner
Unity has no dogmatic statement of faith with which it asks its followers to agree. Rather, we invite people to accept what they find helpful in their efforts to lift their consciousness to a higher level.
Unity offers a comprehensive teaching tot hose who are seeking a deeper knowledge of spiritual things. People may greatly benefit by a few constructive ideas, but in order to acquire the understanding that Charles Fillmore contends underlies a substantial faith, they should have a fuller grasp of the fundamental principles upon which Unity teaching is based and the reasons why these principles have been adopted. A statement concerning God or concerning humankind’s spiritual nature is valid only in proportion to its agreement with basic spiritual principles.
Spiritual principle is embodied in the sacred books of the world’s living religions. Christians hold to the Bible as the supreme exponent of spiritual principle. They believe that the Bible is the greatest and most deeply spiritual of all scriptures, though they realize that other scriptures contain spiritual truths.
Unity teachings are based on the Bible. Some of its teachings are in accord with orthodoxy; some are quite unlike it. Unity does not claim that its interpretation of biblical statements is infallible or that it is final. It holds that as our spiritual consciousness expands, we will receive ever-increasing revelations of Truth. Unity presents the interpretation that came to Charles and Myrtle Fillmore, the co-founders of Unity School of Christianity, as the result of years of study and prayer. It is Unity’s desire that its teachings may afford additional light tot hose who are seeking God and may enable them to be more receptive to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Great Teacher.
Unity believes that God is Spirit. In defining God, Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (Jn. 4:24). Spirit is the life principle, the breath of the Almighty, animating all forms of life and the universe itself. God is the sole Creator, the source of all good. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). We do no believe that anything opposed to God—evil, as it is called in the Scriptures—is enduring. Unity concedes the existence of what society calls evil but denies that it is a creation of Spirit. Evil results from humankind’s misuse of God’s laws.
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). In Unity we follow Jesus’ admonitions, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness” (Mt. 6:33), and “Do not resist one who is evil” (Mt. 5:39). Therefore, the spiritual training advocated by Unity School consists of identifying ourselves with the good. Every Unity affirmation aims at bringing the mind into harmony with God and God’s good. We believe that it is in the realization of the divine Omnipresence rather than in contending against evil that the overcoming of any adverse condition lies.
Unity holds that one’s higher self, which is the true self, is divine, spiritual. It is this self that is Divine Mind’s perfect idea, the same self that in Genesis is spoken of as the image and likeness of God. In the New Testament, this self is represented by the Christ, they only begotten Son of God.
Thus, we are all children of God, and the qualities of God are inherent in us. Humankind, of course, is not all that God is, for God is the life of all living things as well as the law governing the mighty cosmos. This truth that we are God’s highest creation and that we partake of God’s nature is one that is most important to recognize. When we recognize and acknowledge this truth, we can exercise the divine powers that assure us of peace of mind, health of body, love that inspires service, and prosperity. This higher self, this indwelling presence, is the “mystery” revealed by Paul as “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
The precious gift of Christ is born of and given of God’s love. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). It is our high privilege to know Christ; our great mission to let Christ have expression through us so that we, too, may “bear witness to the truth” (Jn. 18:37).
Unity believes in Jesus as the one person who brought into full expression His divine nature, the Christ. He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (Jn. 14:6), which we interpret to mean that the way He trod, the truth He taught, and the life He lived constitute the model for human activity. We acknowledge Jesus as the Way-Shower of the human race, and we believe that by following His commandments, we can bring into full expression our own divine nature, the Christ, and eventually regenerate the body as He did.
We believe that Jesus was spiritual man in expression and that when He said, “Follow me” (Mt. 4:19), He meant it literally. We can do this because our nature is like His. “It is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16-17). The difference between Jesus and us is not one of inherent spiritual capacity but a difference in demonstration of it. Jesus was potentially perfect, and He expressed that perfection; we are potentially perfect, but we have not expressed it. The acorn carries the seed of the oak, yet until it takes root and grows into a tree, we do not call it an oak.
Unity believes that human life is a trinity of spirit, soul, and body. Spirit is the Christ within, the true, immaculate, pure image that is our inheritance from God. We are never less than Spirit in reality, but we are often less in manifestation. Through Spirit we are capable of communion with God, and in time we shall attain the full Christ consciousness.
The soul is the self-consciousness. Both the conscious and the subconscious activities of the mind are of the soul. It is the seat of the intellect and the emotions. By means of the intellect it has the faculties of reason, will, judgment, and the like. Through the emotions the soul knows love, hate, hope, fear, zeal, and weariness. From the subconscious mind there come to the soul memories of all it has experienced, inhibitions, and seemingly unreasonable “tie-ups” in consciousness. You, as a human being, have virtues and faults and express the sum total of all that you have learned and earned in living.
The soul is of divine origin. The Lord God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Gen. 2:7 KJV). The soul is well-developed or ill-developed in proportion to its understanding or lack of understanding that God gave it life and that its life should be used to “bear witness” to God. It is pivotal in its action. It may turn to Spirit and draw upon infinite resources of peace, strength, courage, joy, and wisdom; it may turn to the outer realm and immerse itself in the worldly things. When it chooses to do the former, it is purified and serves as a vehicle through which Spirit may be expressed, becoming a blessing to itself and humankind.
The soul can be like the prodigal son who “squandered his property in loose living” (Lk. 15:13) and knew lack and deprivation in the “far country,” but who one day “came to himself” and resolved, “I will arise and go to my father” (Lk. 15:18). We should always remember this parable, for it tells us that “while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion” (Lk. 15:20). We, too, are journeying to the Father’s house, and even though we are “yet at a distance,” God forgives and welcomes us.
The Christ in us never changes; it always has been and always will be the perfection that God created. The soul, on the other hand, is in a constant state of change, unfolding and progressing. When negative emotions dominate it, it is pulling against its own inevitable evolution. Eventually it must turn to God.
The body is the vehicle through which Spirit and soul are expressed on the earthly plane. It is the faithful reflector of the soul consciousness, being healthy or unhealthy in accordance with the kind of beliefs and feelings that are entertained by the soul. It should be a “temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16), not the prison house it often becomes. As the soul makes its conscious at-one-ment with Spirit, the body takes on new life and strength. Every prayer for healing given by Unity is for the purpose of bringing to our consciousness the realization that spirit, soul, and body are one, and that the body should and can express the wholeness of the divine self.
Unity believes in the creative power of thoughts and words. “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Prov. 23:7 KJV). We begin the formation of conditions by thought, and if the prevailing conditions are not to our liking, there is no possibility of a change unless we are willing to change our thoughts. All progress has its birth in an enlightened idea. Manifestation is the result of a triune action of mind, idea, and expression. We have a mind, God-given. It is constantly producing constructive or destructive thoughts, depending on the direction of our attention. When our attention is directed toward the spiritual realm, our thoughts partake of the nature of the divine and are constructive, making for healthful and happy conditions. When our attention is focused on the world, or when we permit ourselves to enter into the negative beliefs and opinions of others or even those arising in our own minds, our thoughts are of a destructive nature and result in distressing, troublesome conditions. To improve the quality of our thoughts is to begin a process that results in better physical and environmental conditions. “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious . . . think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Thoughts find expression in words. They may be audible or inaudible, written or spoken. Our words may heal and bless, or they may wound and blight. God gave us free will. We can think and speak what we choose, but by the law of the Almighty, over which we have no control, what we think and speak takes form and dwells among us.
There is always a close connection between the thoughts of the mind or feelings of the heart and the words we utter. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34). However, there are times when our consciousness is negative, and we should be careful lest we intensify the undesirable by speaking of it. We may feel discouraged, but when we speak words of courage, hope, and faith, the words will act to lift the consciousness to a higher level.
“The world was created by the word of God” (Heb. 11:3), and surely our world is “created” by our words. When we learn to think the God-thought and say words of truth and love, our world will become a happier and better one in which to live.
Unity believes that evil is the result of our disobedience to divine law. It does not exist as an entity in and of itself. The basis for our belief that disobedience gives rise to evil is to be found in the allegory of the fall of man. The Lord God told Adam that he might “eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat” (Gen. 2:16-17). We all know why Adam disobeyed God; the arguments of Eve (the feeling nature) were too strong for him! Metaphysically interpreted, this signifies that everyone’s human inclination is to yield to temptation. The command is “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve” (Mt. 4:10). When Adam and Eve disregarded this, they were driven from the Garden and thenceforth knew hardship and sorrow. Their fate has been shared by humanity throughout the ages. In his book Mysteries of Genesis, Charles Fillmore writes:
“Man fell because he did not keep his mind on the source of life. He departed from spiritual consciousness and saw both good and evil. If he had held to the one good, good is the only thing that he could have manifested.”
We are prone to think of the “fall of man” as something that happened long ago, in the infancy of the race, told as indeed it is, in allegorical form. Instead we should realize that the scene depicted in the Garden of Eden is being re-enacted in our own lives every day. Whenever we accept a restricting condition as having reality or finality, it proves that we have eaten of the “forbidden fruit” and our eyes are open to evil. We are hearing its voice instead of the Lord’s. Otherwise we should not worry, for God tells us to trust; we should not condemn, for God bids us love; we should not envy, for God commands, “You shall not covet” (Ex. 20:17). The punishment for such disobedience to God’s expressed will is that we “die” to health and joy and plenty. To one and all God says:
“Turn to me and be saved …! For I am God, and there is no other.” –Isaiah 45:22
Unity affirms, however, that as we turn to the Lord in thought, word, and deed, evil—in the form of distressing circumstances for the individual, in the form of social and economic difficulties for nations, and in the form of world problems for the race—will depart as Satan did when overcome by Jesus in the wilderness.
Unity believes that the prayer of faith is all powerful. “Whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith” (Mt. 21:22).
Prayer is as necessary to happy and successful living as breathing is to physical living. We are apt to pray when we are in trouble and need help that we cannot secure through human channels. Unity stresses the necessity of daily prayer and the importance of not merely asking God for the fulfillment of our desires but of communing with God so that we may know how to do God’s will. Contrary to the prevailing view, prayer is not primarily for the purpose of receiving. Its highest aim is to enable us to give of ourselves to God in complete surrender. “Into thy hands I commit my spirit!” (Lk. 23:46) Through prayer we invite God to take charge of us, knowing full well that God will lead us in the way of holiness—wholeness.
Above all Unity believes in the love of God for all people. It is God’s love that never fails, no matter what we have done or have not done. It is steadfast, constant, everlasting, and in it now “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).