The State of Our Unity, Part 2
Last week we discussed the importance of unity for our country. The idea we were getting at is that it is absolutely essential for America to have some semblance of unity if our government is going to function efficiently and effectively. This week we are going to continue our discussion of unity by narrowing our focus to a wholly more important subject: unity in the Church.
There are many things in the Church that we can fight over, theology, ecclesiology, eschatology, pneumatology, and even whether or not we sing the doxology. But as we are told in John 17:20-23, a unified Church is what shows the world the power of Christ. We can naturally infer that the opposite is also true. If we are not unified the world will not be as receptive to Christ’s redemptive work. Even a cursory survey of the Christian landscape shows just how fractured we are. Every day there are church-splits, people of different denominational backgrounds hold each other in animosity, and many of our leaders refuse to work together over, what seems to be, petty theological differences. Some will point to their own church or clique and say, “look how unified we are, we get along on almost everything!” But even the world gets along with people they like. For the Believer being united in Christ must mean, if it means anything at all, getting along with people we don’t like or agree with.
Let us examine for a moment what unity looks like for the Church. Unity is not about agreeing on everything. It has been said that if two people agree on everything one of them is worthless, the same is true with the Body. It is only by working with our theological differences that we can get a more robust understanding of who God is. No one denomination or theological framework has a corner on Truth, and by interacting with people that have differing views we will be able to recognize our own shortcomings. True unity comes despite our differences, not by forcing uniformity. Now, this is not to say that Truth is relative, we must always work within the bounds of Scripture. There are still right answers to our questions, answers we should be working towards, but being united means we work together for those answers, not against each other. To make true unity work we will all have to pray for humility and accept a degree of ambiguity, recognizing, as the Apostle Paul says, “we see through a glass dimly.”
As an example, consider one area in particular that brings divisiveness to the Body of Christ: politics. The Religious Right and Christian Left seem to be diametrically apposed to each other. Many of their publications spend a great deal of time demonizing the other side, coyly implying that their opponents are not true Christians, don’t read their Bible enough, and are actually hurting the Church. What does unity look like here? First of all it means recognizing that we are working towards a common goal. All Christians should agree that we need to alleviate poverty, reduce abortions, be good stewards of the planet, and promote strong families. The conflict is over how we deal with these issues, not whether or not we should deal with them. Conflicting views on the role of government are at the core of these disagreements, and most likely, we will never all agree on what the degree of governmental involvement on a particular issue will be. But we all should be able to work towards a common ground, finding areas that we can agree on, and then taking incremental steps from there. Despite our political differences, there is a lot of common ground we have simply by virtue of reading and submitting to the same Bible. If we focus on the things we do agree on we will do a much better job of presenting Christ to the world.
My grandmother and I were talking the other day about the divisiveness of our current political state. She asked if I thought that we will ever be rid or the partisanship and back bighting that is dominating our politics. My first reaction was to say no, human nature – coupled with our two-party system – will never allow our politicians to all get along. It is tempting to say the same for the Church: human nature will never let us be united. But that is the point of redemption. Christ died that He may take away our human nature, that which we inherited from Adam, and give us His nature as new creations. That is what can bring us unity, and that is why we must strive for it, because it is itself an act of redemption.
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. 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.”