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.
“[…] 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.