Growing up in the Churches of Christ, I’ve heard plenty about Christian unity. Ala… Christ only established one church, the problem with denominational divisions, etc… But that often can just be a diversion from what goes on in our own churches. You know… Divisions and conflict, most of which have nothing to do with doctrine and theology but just the typical disagreements that any community of people encounter.
Churches Are Messy…
So from where I sit, we can talk about pursuing unity among the one universal body of Christ but it seems more sensible to talk about life with our local church. This is the community we worship with, serve with, and live as witnesses of Jesus Christ with. What happens in our own churches seems far more important than whether we can attend an multi-denominational conference and affirm our common faith with each other (which is not a bad thing to do).
Or, by way of another example, when we board a flight and take our seat, we may learn that the person sitting next to us is a fellow believer. We can acknowledge their faith as a fellow Christian and give thanks to God for their faith but since we’ll likely never see each other again once we step off the plane, there’s little chance of developing the level of community requiring the hard work of loving one another. However, in our own churches where we do life together with other Christians, we have a level of community that gets difficult from time to time. And the fact is, churches are messy communities sometimes. At times we disagree with each other, other times we frustrate and even anger each other, and we all still sin which does have an effect on the entire community.
Leaning Into Our Common-Unity…
But have we read Ephesians lately? It tells us how God has reconciled Jews and Gentiles as one in Christ, the church of Jesus Christ, and what it takes to live into this new reality. Consequently, it’s so easy to read Ephesians with the question of unity among the universal church on our minds. Certainly there is merit in such a reading but it’s not the only way to read this epistle and likely not the best way when it comes to living as part of a local church.
The reality is that God has already made us one in Christ, so this unity we have is something we must receive and live into. But let’s be honest, it’s this receiving and living part that’s so difficult at times. So one of the most pragmatic instructions for receiving and living into this unity is found in Ephesians 4:31-32:
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
That is how we actually embrace our oneness in Christ, just as how God has embraced us in Christ.
The reality is that we will never fully agree with each other on every issue and circumstance that comes up. Likewise, we will do things from time to time which disrupt our community, constraining our relationship with each other. But… If we believe in the resurrection of the crucified Christ, then we must learn to love one another by showing kindness and compassion as well as continuously forgiving each other as God forgives us in Christ.
It Matters Too…
Our ability to love one another and live as a community with our local church is a reflection of how we embody the gospel as our way of life. Without this, nothing else really matters! Because it’s impossible for us to teach others the way of life in Christ if we don’t embody the way of Christ ourselves and that way means we must love one another just as Christ has loved us (cf. Jn 13:34).
So who do we need to show more kindness and compassion to? Who do we need to forgive?