Sunday, May 13, 2007

Now What? Unity

As we've seen the last two weeks, growth is a necessary precondition for the accomplishment of our vision to become actively involved in church planting to reach the 100,000 people in Jackson County with no church family. Another one is unity.

The Bible is very clear about the importance of unity in the life of a church.

  • Ephesians 4:3-6--"Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all."
  • Romans 16:17-18--"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people."
  • Psalm 133:1--"How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!"
  • Titus 3:10--"Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him."

It was also the subject of Jesus' longest recorded prayer in John 17--Jesus prayed that his church would be united! Jesus gave us specific instructions about how to resolve conflict in the church (Matthew 18:15-20) so that we can maintain unity. Paul said that if there is division when the church comes together, the meetings actually do more harm than good (1 Corinthians 11:17-18).

The church simply cannot be the church of Jesus Christ unless it is united. But what is unity? How do we gauge it? First, let me start by identifying what unity is not:

  • Unity is not uniformity. If we're united as a church, that doesn't mean that everyone has to talk alike, act alike, dress alike, look alike, or even believe exactly alike. It's clear that God loves diversity--he created 100,000 different species of trees, and millions of species of insects, not to mention all the billions of people that are each completely unique in thousands of different ways. We don't have to be identical clones of each other to have unity. We can bring all our different spiritual gifts, passions, abilities, skills, knowledge, personalities, and experiences, and still have unity.
  • Unity is not unanimity. Being united doesn't mean we all agree on everything. It doesn't mean suppressing opinions that might differ from those held by others in the church. It doesn't mean we all have to march in lock-step, like some two-bit dictatorship. We can discuss, differ, question, challenge, and debate; even after all that, we might still disagree. But that's ok, we can still have unity.

True unity is making the decision that we will lay aside all the things that could separate and divide us, and instead, commit ourselves 100% to loving each other and working together to advance the common mission, vision, and values we share as a church.

In fact, we will take all the things that make us different from one another, and apply them in the same direction to accomplish the mission and vision even more effectively than any of us could alone. This is the picture of the body of Christ that Paul paints for us in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. This is what God's church is supposed to look like.

Unfortunately, many churches allow divisions to creep into their midst. Sometimes, churches are divided over the same things that divides society--race, socio-economic class, educational background, gender, etc. Other times, churches are divided over two conflicting centers of power--a pastor and a key lay leader who disagree about something, for example. Or a church might divide over preferences in worship styles.

All of this is tragic, and completely opposed to the portrait of the church we see in scripture. We need to make sure that we combat and defeat any attitudes or actions that would cause division in our church, including:

  • uncaring, unloving, "us-versus-them" attitudes
  • expressions of elitism or superiority
  • grumbling or complaining about others or groups in the church
  • an unwillingness to resolve conflict or to discuss differences of opinion

If you come across any of these problems in our church, you have my permission to address it forcefully and confidently. These are inappropriate and unacceptable in the church of Jesus Christ, and we must not tolerate or excuse them.

We are bound to one another by our mission, vision, and values. Anyone who will stand next to me in promoting these vital expressions of our church is my friend, my ally, my brother or sister in the Lord, and I will defend them to the death, no matter what other differences we may have. That is what it means to have unity, and this is the spirit we must nurture in our church.

1 comment:

Baldo said...

as the saying goes, "Anarchists, Unite!"