Unity, the Church, and the Ultimate Goal

It has been said by many people that if any two people completely agree, someone is not being honest. Among my closest friends, I have significant disagreement when it comes to their politics, social preferences and even their theology. In CCW, I am thankful for the diversity of thought and conviction that is represented in our campus community. Maybe it is because of Facebook and a lot of international travel, but being in community and ministry with people who see the world differently does not bother me. In fact, it makes me love it all the more. Being centered on Jesus and His Kingdom seem to be enough. No need to major in the minors.

But we all know that one person’s peripheral issue is another’s central doctrine.

True unity in the global Church of Jesus is hard to come by. Once upon a time, dynamics such as history, location, culture and/or basic theology were the boundaries that formed our communities. It was easy to assume that we all agreed on the things that mattered to those like us. Today, significant divisions exists within denominations and even in local churches. These divisions dishearten some and disillusion others. It has even been said that those outside of the Church see our disunity as a flaw that keeps them from exploring Jesus. There has been a lot of work done to make good on Jesus’ prayer in John 17, that we (the Church) would be one as the Father and Son are one. Prayers prayed, dialogue facilitated, and change encouraged…all with the hope that ‘those people’ would just see it the way we do. (Ever notice how it is always ‘those people’ who keep the Church from being one.)

I believe in the unity of the Body, but I no longer see it as a utopian vision where we are all singing ‘Kumbaya’ with candles in one hand and Coca-Cola bottles in the other (somebody out there remembers that corny commercial from the 80s). I am skeptical of the notion that human beings can achieve the kind of unity where we all agree on what is truly important and what is relatively trivial. Gone are the days where we can agree to disagree. In today’s church culture, we are all experts, theologians and prophets and everyone else just needs to catch up.

So what hope is there for the dream of one, unified Church?

I do not have any answers on this one, though I personally look forward to the day when Revelation 7 will be a reality for the Church. In the meantime, maybe the goal should not be unity as we have understood it. As I look through the scriptures, I see moment after moment when God’s people were not on the same page, yet His message was preached and His kingdom advanced. I think of the struggle Paul went through in bringing the gospel to non-Jews. For all of the dialogue and discussion with the Christian leaders of the day, it seems to me that Paul was the only person who really believed that God wanted Gentiles to be a part of the movement of Jesus. It would be a stretch to say that Paul and the Jerusalem council were truly unified. He even parted ways with Barnabas, his friend and mentor over ministry disputes that we would probably view as trivial. And yet, the kingdom of God was greatly advanced through the life and ministry of Paul even though Christian unity was the hill he was gonna die on.

Ultimately, unity in the Church must be on Jesus’ terms. It will come in His timing, in His way, and for nothing else than His glory. Maybe the best thing that we can do for Christian unity is back off and let people follow the call of God on their lives. Maybe that means we simply cheer them on in another ministry or bless them as they transition to a new church. Over time, it could even look like fellow believers parting ways and denominations splitting. One thing is for sure…unity cannot be our goal. As great as it is, it is not big enough to transform the world or the human heart. Ultimately, the message and sacrifice of Jesus has to be the main goal of our lives and our churches.

In Revelation 7, when all of the redeemed (from every nation and tribe) are standing before the throne singing one song (in many different languages), we will not be singing about how the Church found a way to become one unified Body. We will be singing to the Lamb that was slain. On that day, unity will not be the focus of our song…it will be Jesus.

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