Does unity have its limits?
During the Rally to Restore Unity, I loved reading the blogs by people from backgrounds that often conflict as they stood together and called for the church to come together. There is a real need for this message in today’s church, and I was happy to be a part of the call.
I found, however, that a question kept rising in my mind about the limits of unity in the church.
Is there a point where we cannot extend open arms in the name of unity?
The question raises a problem immediately because part of the divisiveness within the church today is that we’ve drawn this sort of line to varying degrees of distance from Christ. Some draw the line at baptism, others at the inclusion of women clergy, and still some churches seem to draw their lines based on what they believe to be the proper timing of the end this age. It seems to me that these lines are arbitrarily drawn and all miss the central point of what God has done in Jesus, and yet I have also witnessed churches who draw no lines at all. Any person, with any understanding of God, or god, or spiritual things are welcome to enter and call themselves a part of the church. Both perspectives seem to miss the mark and I wonder what we’re called to as the church.
I went to Ephesians 4 to consider what Paul had to say about unity. The passage points me in a direction that begins to clear the way. How might the following points bring us to a more constructive understanding of unity in the church?
- We are called to be humble, gentle, patient, and loving (4:2). Paul never imagines this to be an easy task – in fact it will likely take time as the church in Ephesus works things out. However we approach unity, we must do so with the assumption that we are part of the problem and our views may well be wrong.
- Our unity orbits a very important selection of things: Jesus and faith in him, the emersion into his resurrection and his body the church, and the realization that we all serve one God who is Father of all of us(4:5-6). Anything that stands in opposition to the collection of these beliefs cannot be embraced in the arms of unity, but outside of these core few we need to see point #1 and return to humility.
- Our diversity is for the service of the kingdom of God and maturation of the church(4:12).
- We are to be building up toward a deeper unity in the faith as we work toward the fullness of Christ(4:13). This is the kicker. We are moving somewhere. It cannot be ok to simply be divided about every little issue under the sun and call it unity. Unity in the church must come with confrontation and loving conflict as we work to better understand Christ. This means that we mustn’t look down our noses at those we disagree and only assume they will change. Returning again to point #1 we must be willing to ask, “What if I’m wrong here, am I willing to back away from what I’ve held so strongly to?” I believe more often than not, if both sides of the line will approach our differences with this heart, we will see our lines converge toward a third way that will likely help us to better understand who we should have been all along.
Have you ever had to let of a conviction because you were open enough to let someone else’s view challenge your beliefs? What was your experience like?