Last week at during the worship gathering for the Randolph Church of Christ, I spoke on Christian Unity. I’ve been doing some preaching/teaching on the components that we have identified as being essential to pursuing our vision and mission of Living, Loving, and Leading like Jesus. Unity in Christ is one of those components.
Most Christians realize that Jesus prayed on the night before his crucifixion that his disciple would be one as He and the Father are one so that the world would believe He was sent by his Father in heaven (cf. Jn 17.20-21). However beyond that, there is (ironically) much disagreement on what is the basis for Christian Unity and how Christians practice that unity.
Some have suggested that the basis of unity must be upon the scriptures. This idea is actually a rather modern notion that apart from proof-texting the Bible in ways to make it fit one’s preconceived conclusion, has actually no basis in scripture. Scripture, and especially Ephesians where Christian unity is one of the themes, actually grounds unity in the crucifixion of Jesus. In Ephesians 2.11-18, it is the blood of Christ and the cross that brings reconciliation and peace where exclusion and hostility existed. Reconciliation is actually just part of the larger picture of redemption God is bringing about in Jesus Christ and so to ground reconciliation in anything other than God’s work in Christ is a great mistake.
Some, recognizing the logical impasse of everyone having uniform agreement on what the scriptures teach, have appealed instead to the “seven ones” listed in Ephesians 4.4-6 as a basis for unity. But again, if it is the cross of Jesus that brings such unity as Ephesians says, then it cannot be based on having uniform theological agreement on the meaning of the seven nouns listed. Further more, are the “seven ones” the only aspects of the Christian faith in which there is exclusive singularity? I am quite sure there is only one loaf and one blood from which Christians partake of gathered around the Lord’s Table (cf 1 Cor 10.16-17). And regardless of the claims made by liberal Western democracies, the scripture only knows of one freedom which is found in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 3.17; Gal 5.1, 13; Eph 3.12). It seem more plausible that Paul listing of these seven ones was for rhetorical purposes as the reason why Christians ought to be one.
If unity based upon uniform agreement of the scriptures or uniform theological agreement is not the basis of Christian unity, it leaves us with one option and that is to actually accept what the scripture does say…. That is, to accept that God has already united us (reconciliation) with him and one another and to accept it by living as one. There are practical aspects that I will mention in another post but for now, accepting that all who profess faith in Jesus are one has two implications for our times.
First, it means that whatever personal participation we play in national politics, we are not allowed to elevate our political affinities above our oneness with God and God’s people. That means we do not get to demonize a fellow believer because he or she does not share our same political opinions. Lee Camp cites the Rwandan genocide of 1994 as the failure of Western Christianity being imported into Africa because at the end of the day, tribal loyalties between the Hutus and Tutsis were greater than brotherhood in Christ (Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World, p. 16). The American Civil War is another such example. Political loyalties to North and South, Union and Confederate, allowed Christians to demonize other Christians who belonged to the wrong political tribe and then wage a deadly warfare upon each other rather than love each other as a brotherhood in Christ.
Second, our acceptance of God’s work of reconciliation means that we no longer get to decide who our brother and/or sister in Christ is based upon whether they agree with us on a particular biblical passage or ecclesiological practice. The notion of sectarianism (see my previous post here and here) argues that others are wrong and that I/we are right. It is here at this point where it is so vital to see the cross of Jesus in God’s work of bringing reconciliation where only alienation once existed. It is the cross, when properly understood, that upends whatever pride we have in thinking that we (and our church tribe) is the one true church because we’ve got certain biblical passages and ecclesiological practices understood correctly. The cross stares us right in the face and shouts “So What?” as it points out all of our other sins and misunderstandings. That is why I love the first verse to the classic hymn by Isaac Watts:When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died. My richest gain I count but loss And pour contempt on all my pride.
What we are left with is that the same grace offered for our reconciliation is offered for others despite their short-comings and our short-comings.
May all who profess the name of Jesus Christ as the Son of God accept the fellowship we have together with God and one another!