A Response to Francis Chan’s “I Gave Up on Unity”

I read this post on Fran­cis Chan’s blog today: http://francisupdates.tumblr.com/post/8762288953/i‑gave-up-on-unity

As com­ments are dis­abled on his blog and I have no idea how to get in touch with him, I fig­ured that I might as well throw some thoughts in response up here on the blog and see if they help any­one out.

Fran­cis wrote:

[…] Until this recent study, I hadn’t noticed the deep con­nec­tion between the cross and uni­ty. Our one­ness is far more than a “nice idea” we should pur­sue if we can find the time. It was a moti­va­tion for the cross.”

I whole­heart­ed­ly agree. Uni­ty is such an inte­gral and key part of God’s plan that it was what Jesus staked his valid­i­ty in the eyes of the world on, accord­ing to his prayer in John 17:20–21:

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” [empha­sis mine]

Jesus said that the world is sup­posed to rec­og­nize the fact that He is the Son of God through see­ing the uni­ty and love of His Church. Com­par­ing the pic­ture of what that Uni­ty and love looked like in the first Church to what we see now in mod­ern Chris­tian­i­ty leaves lit­tle doubt as to why the world has such a dif­fi­cult time rec­og­niz­ing who Christ is today.

This prayer of Jesus’ in John 17 is the last record­ed inter­ces­sion for his dis­ci­ples he makes as a man on the earth. He knows that he will be put to death short­ly, and then glo­ri­fied. His prayer, and the teach­ings lead­ing up to it, are the most crit­i­cal things he wants to cram into their heads and hearts before he is crucified—important seeds that he’s plant­i­ng which will spring to life when he is resurrected.

And his last prayer for them as a man on the earth was that they would be kept, sanc­ti­fied, unit­ed, and able to be with Jesus.

Uni­ty is not just impor­tant. It’s crit­i­cal. It was crit­i­cal to Christ, to the apos­tles, and to the ear­ly church. It should be equal­ly as crit­i­cal to us.

But does the mod­ern church real­ly believe that uni­ty is so crit­i­cal? It seems that it wants to believe so, but the real­i­ty is that, in mod­ern Chris­tian­i­ty’s scale of impor­tance, doc­trine and issues of inter­pre­ta­tion trump uni­ty pret­ty much every time.

Unity of faith is a process

There’s a com­mand which every­body is famil­iar with in Eph­esians 4:3 for us to be dili­gent to pre­serve the uni­ty of the Spir­it and the bond of peace. But many Chris­tians try to go about doing that by attempt­ing to ‘work out’ their dif­fer­ences of opin­ion on doc­trines and the­ol­o­gy. It just doesn’t work that way. Look at vers­es 12–13:

…until we all attain to the uni­ty of the faith, and of the knowl­edge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the mea­sure of the stature which belongs to the full­ness of Christ.

Most peo­ple miss the “until” in that verse. Com­ing to the uni­ty of the faith is a process, not the begin­ning. As we go through that process, we are still sup­posed to be dili­gent to pre­serve the uni­ty of the Spir­it, and the apos­tles, prophets, evan­ge­lists, pas­tors and teach­ers are still sup­posed to be equip­ping the saints so they can build up the Body, so that it can grow in all aspects into Christ.

Yes, I believe that we are sup­posed to have uni­ty in our faith. But that is a result of fol­low­ing the first com­mand to pre­serve the uni­ty of the Spir­it. We can look around us and see the fruit of try­ing to be unit­ed based on doctrine—a reli­gion that is so full of dif­fer­ent denom­i­na­tions and schisms it’s appalling. It’s not uncom­mon to find mul­ti­ple con­gre­ga­tions of the same denom­i­na­tion in one city. Com­pare that to the ear­ly church, where the only thing which sep­a­rat­ed them was their loca­tion. There could be mul­ti­ple church­es in the big cities, but even then those church­es were united.

I don’t think that the issue is so much one of uni­ty, but of who you’re try­ing to have uni­ty with. With whom can you have uni­ty of the Spir­it with? You can’t have it with just anybody.

Unity is an automatic blessing of being a disciple

True dis­ci­ples are those who have received the Word, obey it, and are kept in His name (as He prayed for the Father to do). They have aban­doned all to fol­low Him. They hunger and thirst after right­eous­ness. True dis­ci­ples of Christ are part of the God’s house­hold, and thus have the right to be in His name, and they auto­mat­i­cal­ly have uni­ty. If you are a dis­ci­ple, I’m sure you’ve had expe­ri­ences where you have met a spir­i­tu­al broth­er or sis­ter and there is a join­ing of spirits—you can feel the con­nec­tion in the Spir­it which you both share.

We just had some friends of ours, the Vicks from Atlanta, come stay with us for a week. We met them two years ago, and have seen them only once or twice a year since, for short vis­its. We hard­ly knew them. I wasn’t real­ly sure how the vis­it would go, though I was opti­mistic. You know, there’s prob­a­bly some dif­fer­ences in how we believe some doc­trines, but I couldn’t tell you what those were. We nev­er tried to find out. They lived in our house for a week, and we had an amaz­ing time of fel­low­ship, encour­age­ment, and expe­ri­enc­ing that true fam­i­ly which tran­scends nat­ur­al blood rela­tions. They didn’t want to leave, we didn’t want them to go.

That didn’t hap­pen because we’re easy to get along with or because our per­son­al­i­ties didn’t clash. No, there was a tan­gi­ble, spir­i­tu­al love we had for each oth­er that cov­ered all the oth­er nat­ur­al issues which might come up (Colos­sians 3:14). We were bond­ed by a super­nat­ur­al love for each oth­er which was put in our hearts by the Holy Spir­it. We share that gift of love because we fol­low the same King, and He is more impor­tant to us than keep­ing our own lives.

Real­ly, it’s pret­ty sim­ple: you can’t have uni­ty with peo­ple who want to keep their own lives.

The Church is made up of disciples

Dis­ci­ples are the peo­ple who make up the Body of Christ. Those who have giv­en their lives up to par­take in His life.

I usu­al­ly like using the word dis­ci­ple more than believ­er, or even Chris­t­ian. I am all those things, but, as it’s been said, when some­thing comes to mean every­thing, than it means noth­ing. “Chris­t­ian” and “believ­er” have been applied to so many things that aren’t that they almost don’t mean any­thing anymore—their mean­ings have become very watered down. I want to make a dis­tinc­tion between what is com­mon­ly known as believ­ers now, and what the ear­ly Church called believ­ers. They believed with their very lives. Does your belief reflect in your life?

I want to remind myself con­stant­ly that I’m sup­posed to be a dis­ci­ple, and not just some­body who mere­ly believes (in a mod­ern Amer­i­can sort of way). Jesus made some very clear and hard state­ments about what it means to be a dis­ci­ple. Read Luke 14:25–33, for exam­ple. I don’t want to some­how excuse away those hard things. We have to wres­tle with them and find out what God is speak­ing to us. We have to hear His voice and obey.

Jesus is our uni­ty. Doc­trines are not. But as we con­form our lives around Jesus, allow­ing Him to work with us and fash­ion us into new wine­skins, we find that we are more and more unit­ed with those who are doing like­wise. We have become con­tain­ers of the mar­velous Word of God, new wine­skins to hold the new wine, the Holy Spir­it that unites us. We have to be con­tain­ers of Him. The Church is the dwelling place of God. Only those who are part of that dwelling place can have unity.

A fundamental problem

Church­es nowa­days have a seri­ous issue: they have cre­at­ed an envi­ron­ment (often in an effort to reach out to folks) where peo­ple who are true dis­ci­ples, try­ing to live their lives pas­sion­ate­ly for Jesus, are try­ing to fel­low­ship with oth­er peo­ple who aren’t real­ly that inter­est­ed in being dis­ci­ples. Try­ing to have uni­ty in that sit­u­a­tion is impos­si­ble. The true dis­ci­ples can get togeth­er and prob­a­bly expe­ri­ence it, but not the others.

Am I say­ing kick ’em all out? No, not real­ly. I’m say­ing that we need to preach the Gospel, not some watered down mes­sage which we call the gospel but which doesn’t have any pow­er to bring peo­ple to Christ. It is the Good News that the Mes­si­ah has come, and has brought His King­dom, and that He has made a way for us to enter into that King­dom. It is a life for a life.

We need to call peo­ple to the same com­mit­ment that Jesus and the apos­tles called them to; if they’re going to say that they’re Chris­tians and that they’re part of the Church, then they need to live like they’re dis­ci­ples, or at least try (God loves those who try, and comes to them and empow­ers them). If that com­mit­ment lev­el was being upheld, not just on Sun­days, but in the peo­ple of God being in each oth­ers’ lives, exhort­ing, speak­ing the truth in love, band­ing togeth­er to pro­tect the uni­ty of the Spir­it in what­ev­er mea­sure they have so that it can grow, then it would quick­ly become appar­ent whom the peo­ple are who are not inter­est­ed in being dis­ci­ples. And, yes, there should be an obvi­ous dif­fer­ence between the sheep and the goats—it’s prob­a­bly the only way most goats will even fig­ure out that they are goats! Then they’d have a chance to become sheep! Right now, it’s just okay to be a goat and to be mere­ly called a sheep.

Uni­ty exists. It can hap­pen. It is a sweet, won­der­ful, good and pleas­ant thing. So fol­low Christ! Be a true dis­ci­ple. Find oth­er true dis­ci­ples. Join togeth­er, and believe that 1 John 2:27 is true. Those are plur­al “you’s” in that verse; the lead­ing of the Holy Spir­it in you (a cor­po­rate you) will teach you the truth. It is why the Church is the pil­lar and sup­port of the truth, not an individual.


  1. David, that is great. Your heart and mind are devel­op­ing so rapid­ly. Your post is good and full of the fruit that sur­ren­dered life of a dis­ci­ple pro­duces. I love and miss you great­ly. Know that you and the wil­low fairy that has con­sent­ed to live with you are an won­der­ful inspi­ra­tion to the Land of Gold and her ‘Sim­ba’. We can­not wait to be with you all at the Great Feast. Bara­ka Yake Bwana; Rafi­ki yongu Yesu ni Bwana. … abba

  2. Great post! These things seem to be for­eign to so many try­ing to fol­low God. I pray the ones look­ing for more than what they have would have these things revealed to their heart. Miss you. Love to hear how faith is being solid­i­fied in you as it is here also.

  3. Thank you for your post.

    May the Lord grant us His favor by join­ing those led by His Spir­it into one body. There is such joy in the fel­low­ship of the saints. May the Lord be mag­ni­fied and glo­ri­fied as He does. May the world see His light as we walk in His paths. 

    May God bless you as you walk in the cen­ter of His will.

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