Is Unity an Illusion?
We are living in a sinful world. Will we ever have perfect unity in our church? Some would agree with the experience of King Charles V:
Charles V was determined to compel all his subjects to adopt his way of thinking about religion. Thousands died rather than conform. Weary of a long reign, Charles abdicated in 1556, and retired to a monastery, where he amused himself by trying to make a dozen clocks run absolutely together.
When he failed, he exclaimed: “How foolish I have been to think that I could make all men believe alike about religion when I cannot even make two clocks run together.”
Someone said to me the other day, “We don’t have unity in our church.” Well, this made me think, because I thought that there was a good spirit of cooperation in our church. I realized that even if one person perceives that we do not have unity, then it obviously indicates an unfulfilled need. So, what is your opinion? Do we have unity or don’t we?
Some may say that a lack of doing everything together is a sign of disunity. There are many groupings or cliques in our church, and they all do their own thing. There are the parents with young children, there are the older folk, the singles, the shut-ins, the family groups, the RV group, the fishing group, the hunters, the hikers and mountain climbers, the campers, the workaholics, and many more.
Others feel that there needs to be more uniformity in everything we do and say. Our values, and the way we express them, should be the same. We should dress alike, sing alike, talk alike, act alike, etc. Others would appeal to a healthy unity in diversity.
What does the Bible say about unity in the church? Paul writes to the Ephesian Church in Ephesians 4 about this unity. He emphasizes the horizontal graces of humility, gentleness, patience, and love with each other and then says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3 NIV). This is the “one body” experience (cf. Eph. 4:4). He then mentions the vertical graces that make us one, namely one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all (cf. Eph. 4:4-6).
After this Paul continues to speak of the diversity of gifts that God bestows on us, and he gives a very good reason what they are for. He says that the gifts are “to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until 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” (Eph. 4:12-13 NIV).
So Scripture indicates that there are vertical and horizontal graces that bind us together and diverse gifts that bring a beautiful God-ordained diversity to God’s Church. So what often brings disunity to the family of God? The next verses in Eph. 4:14-15 gives us a hint by saying that “we will no longer be infants,” but “we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” And if this is the case, then Paul concludes that “From Him [Christ] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16).
Is this what our church needs? I see beautiful commitment and a wonderful spirit of cooperation in our church, but maybe I am prejudiced, like a dad watching his son’s first ball game. Is it possible that we have the desire to experience unity, but that we are frustrated in our achievement simply because we are still “infants” in need of a maturing process, as Paul says about the Ephesian church?
So where can we start? Eph. 4:17-24 suggests that we change from the way we have always been in the past. That is not easy to do. Change always brings pain before growth takes place. How? By putting off your “old self” and putting on the “new self” (Eph. 4:2223). How do you do this? By having a “new attitude of your mind” (v. 23). And how do we practically do this? Wuest, in his Word Studies in the New Testament, summarizes it as follows:
How are we taught to live together in Christ? Putting off the former way of life (vv. 20–32), we are to live with a totally new attitude: a new self that is like God in true righteousness and holiness. How does righteousness find expression in human relationships?
- By putting off falsehood and speaking truthfully. This involves more than not lying. It involves an open sharing of ourselves with one another, rejecting deceit (v. 25).
- By rejecting the sinful actions anger drives us toward. Anger is not given a place. Before evening comes, we are to move toward reconciliation (vv. 26-28).
- By rejecting gossip and unwholesome talk. In our conversation we seek to build others up, not tear them down (vv. 29-30).
- By ridding ourselves of bitterness, rage, slander, and every form of malice. In their place, we are to express kindness and compassion, forgiving each other as God has forgiven us (vv. 31-32).
I am so glad and relieved that the task of unity does not rest solely on my shoulders; it is the work of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 4:2-3 says, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”
We as a church have met at our recent Church Family Council meetings, and narrowed our needs to three focal points – loving relationships, mentoring and training, and thirdly, witnessing or outreach. We seem to have a consensus that these are our first and foremost needs for right now. All three will need to be rooted in our love for Jesus and empowered by the Holy Spirit, or we will surely fail. My prayer is that you will join me as we walk this journey together in pursuit of what God wants for McMinnville Adventist Church. Won’t it be wonderful if we could all bring our diversified talents and gifts to Him in worship and praise, with no comparing or judging, but with a spirit of acceptance, gratitude and love. Wow, that has the ring of unity to me!