Unity within the church

There has been a huge push toward unity in the church over the past 40 years or so. People are tired of the numerous divisions and splits that seem to occur with increasing frequency within the church. And while some of our divisions involve important issues, such as whether or not Jesus was truly divine (He is) and whether or not God loves gays (He does, of course), a lot of church division seems to occur over stupid stuff, like what kind of music to play on Sunday morning, whether or not there should be donuts in the foyer, and what color the new carpet should be.

Personally, I don’t think all church splits are a bad thing. I don’t think that deciding to leave one group of people so that you can join with a different group is always bad. To some degree, this is just the way life is, and sometimes, these sorts of reorganizations are simply one way of keeping the peace. When we view all different denominations and types of churches as parts of the universal Body of Christ, we begin to see that we are not in competition with one another, but are simply different parts of the same Body working in unison toward a common goal. I’ve written about this before in my post: The Church is Broken? Nope.

Of course, there does not always seem to be a whole lot “unison toward a common goal.” Instead, there is a lot of name calling, finger pointing, back stabbing, and heretic burning. I fully admit that I have engaged in a fair bit of this myself over the years. And I sometimes still do. I’m guilty too.

But here is what I am trying to come to recognize: Unity is not the same thing as uniformity.

I believe we can have unity within the church without uniformity. In fact, since there can never be true uniformity in all things, the only way to achieve unity is to recognize, accept, and celebrate our diversity.

Maybe some quick definitions are in order.

Unity vs Uniformity

Unity is when we are one. We are of one mind, spirit, purpose, mission, and goal.

Uniformity is when we all believe the same thing and practice the same thing. We are uniform in our beliefs and behaviors.

I think that in general, all Christians everywhere are in unity. We have one Spirit, the Spirit of God. We have one purpose, to glorify God. We have one mission, to spread the good news about Jesus Christ. We have one goal, to lift up the name of Jesus and live like Him in this world.

Yet despite this unity, there is no uniformity whatsoever on how to do these things, what it looks like, or where and when to do these things.

Just take the “gospel” we are supposedly in unity about. Regarding the gospel, we cannot agree on the the definition and message of the gospel we are to proclaim! We cannot agree on who gets to proclaim it, or to whom it should be proclaimed, or what should happen after we proclaim it. There is even disagreement in some circles on what we should wear when we proclaim the gospel and what Bible translation we should use. Let’s be honest: It gets quite ridiculous.

Unity Without Uniformity

I think it is possible — even desirable — to have unity without uniformity. 

It is possible to have unity within the church only if we give up on uniformity. Unity is a Godly goal; uniformity is not. 

I can be happy that that certain members of my Christian family like Southern Gospel music even though it makes me want to cut my ears off. I don’t think that they should like my kind of music (which is pretty much no music at all) to be real Christians, and I hope they can extend the same grace toward me despite our lack of uniformity.

Similarly, though I am not a big fan of sitting in a pew on Sunday morning and calling that “church,” I know that for many people, this is an important part of the way they follow Jesus. Since this used to be essential for me as well, I understand where they are coming from, and can be in unity with them regardless of our differences in how we try our best to follow Jesus. I hope they can extend the same grace toward me despite our lack of uniformity.

I could go on and talk about my Calvinist friends, or those who think women should be silent in church, or those who vote democrat. I may disagree with these perspectives quite passionately, but in the end, I choose to put aside my differences and love others for the sake of unity in Christ, not expecting them to become a clone of me, and hoping that they do not expect me to fall into step behind them.

It is exactly this unity without diversity which best expressed the love of Jesus, and which paves the way for us to invite the world into our midst. The world, I believe, wants to follow Jesus, but they are not sure they want to become “Christians.” If we can open up our arms and say, “No problem! There is room among Jesus followers for all kinds of Christians,” this sort of loving unity would go a long way in glorifying God, spreading the good news about Jesus Christ, and living like Him in this world.

So do you want Christian unity? Begin by recognizing, encouraging, and celebrating our immense diversity.

This post was part of the April Synchroblog, where various bloggers all write on the same topic. Below is a list of the other contributors this month:

  • The Virtual Abbess – Abi and April’s Synchroblog – Bridging the Divides 
  • Caris Adel – Emotional Pacifism: Laying Down My Weapons 
  • Ty Grigg – Speak Truth 
  • Jon Huckins – Gay Marriage, World Vision, and a Unified Church? 
  • Mark Votava – Faith Presence in the Parish 
  • Mary at Lifeinthedport – let us meet in the borderlands
  • Michael Donahoe – Healing Divisions in the Body of Christ  
  • Juliet at Still Learning – A Catholics Love Letter to Evangelical Women 
  • Dago at Scripture Insights – Jesus the Divider 
  • Glenn Hager – The Lowest Common Denominator 
  • Sarah Quezada – Standing on Church Bridges 
  • Doug Webster – Truth Is Not a Process, Belief Is
  • Michelle Van Loon – Bridging the Divide 
  • Happy at Simple Felicity – are we there yet? 
  • Travis Klassen – The Church: Coming, Going, or Being 
  • Bec Cranford – Biblical Interpretation and Inerrancy: Moving beyond myopia to a grander vision of unity
  • Teresa Pasquale – Bridging the Divide: Translating Between Dialects, Culture Contexts, and Heart Stirring 
  • Miguel Labrador – I might be willing to reconsider church hierarchies, if…
  • Paul Meier – Healing the Divides Begins Within 
  • Liz Dyer – You Can’t Get There From Here 
  • K.W. Leslie – Humility 
  • Kathy Escobar – 10 ways we can build bridges instead of bomb them 
  • Loveday Anyim – The “non-Gospelized Rituals” of Pentacostalism 
  • Caedmon Michael – Bridging the Divides
  • Carly Gelsinger – “Church Shopping” at the Wrong “Mall”: A Story of Easter Sundays
  • Mallory Pickering – A Splintered People
  • Pastor Edwin Fedex – Tearing Down Fences and Building Sidewalks

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October 12, 2014

Morning Worship

Text: Ephesians 4:1-16

Subject: Ephesians Part 8

Subject: Unity Within the Body

As we continue our series through Ephesians let me touch on the things Paul has taught us thus far. 1). What it means to be “In Christ”. The blessings and power and authority that comes with being born again. 2) The cross of Christ has brought together Jews and Gentiles. There is no longer a dividing wall but all are equal in Christ. 3) You are part of God’s family… 4) God’s mystery has been revealed and is being revealed to the church. 5) The power that is operating in you opens the door for God’s great power to come alive within the church…

Along with the benefits of being “In Christ” also comes great responsibility. And Paul addresses that in our passage today. There should be unity in the church. You know that there can be union without having unity. You can have a union within a church by your attendance and support. You can tie two cats together by their tails and have union, but I guarantee you when you throw them over a clothesline there is no unity.

There must be unity within the body.

Ephesians 4:1-16,

1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

7But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8This is why it says:

“When he ascended on high,

he led captives in his train

and gave gifts to men.”

9(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? 10He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

I believe this is God’s word…

I believe it is for me…

I accept it as mine…

I appropriate it to my life today…

Let’s look at what God’s word says about unity.

I. A Life Worthy of the Calling… In verse one Paul addresses one of the responsibilities you have as a believer… I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Now, obviously Paul would not have written this unless he had received some report that there was some dysfunction in the church. Now the calling that he is talking about is not a call to ministry, but simply the call to come to Christ. If Christ has called you (and He has) and you have accepted that call, now you are responsible to live up to the excellence of that very call. And he lays it out beginning in verse 2, 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV2011) 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. If you are a Christian then these fruit (singular) are already in you. The only thing that prevents them from being manifest in your life is you. It is in the expression of the fruit of the Spirit that you begin to live the life worthy of your calling. The last part of verse 2 is really important… bearing with one another in love. The early church fathers understood this as having the right to seek revenge over a wrong done to you but choosing to never do so. It is the characteristic of a loving heart. I can only express to you what has happened in my life of ministry in this respect. People have come and gone. They have said things about me and about the church. They have tried to stir others up against me and the church and in some cases continue to do so. But… because of who I am “in Christ” and my position as pastor, I choose not to retaliate. Rather I try to keep peace bearing with one another in love. In reality there is no other option. In the flesh we always want to get even or to clear our reputation. It almost always ends badly. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. Where does this unity originate? It is from the Spirit. You can’t create it. You can only be obedient to the Spirit in regard to it. It is the same unity that you experience, when in talking to a stranger you find out that they are a Christian. And now Paul describes that unity. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—How many different bodies are there in Christ? How many Spirits? How many hopes associated with the calling? 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; Is there One Lord? Deuteronomy 6:4 (NIV2011) 4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. How many faiths? Only one that counts. It is by grace you have been saved through faith… faith in God and His word. One baptism – referring to water baptism – the expression of faith in Christ. 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

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