This past month I’ve been reminded again of the diversity and beauty of the body of Christ. A roomful of guys from different backgrounds sharing their dreams about reaching a broken world. A group of students at LSU attempting to decipher their role in the Kingdom. A couple with three children—two adopted from China and one biological—who have taken a foreign exchange student into their home and are open to moving overseas to make God famous among the unreached. All seeking the heart of God, all pursuing His higher purposes for their lives. Though not like me, all are Christ-followers with whom I experienced a oneness and joy.
I’ve taught numerous times on the issue of God’s greatest glory being reached when He unites all the diversity on the planet under the one umbrella of Jesus Christ. I’ve seen my vision of God expand each time I worship Him with people from differing perspectives and cultures. I’ve also been enriched in my Christian walk by learning from people of varying colors and Christian backgrounds.
Unity is good, pleasant, and refreshing, David points out in his 133rd Psalm. It is there that “the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore” (vs. 3). Unity is also a major theme in the New Testament. Jesus prays for it three times in His classic prayer found in John 17. Paul mentions it over and over again. Yet we still don’t seem to really get it. As one of my friends recently commented, “It is unfortunate that we take time out of our busy schedule fighting the devil to fight each other.”
To keep things in perspective, John Trapp reminds us that, “Unity without verity [truth] is no better than conspiracy. In fact, many folks excuse themselves from the pursuit of unity for this very reason. And while that may be noble in certain situations, I believe that most of the time many Christians are misguided by their unperceived arrogance. Their feelings of superiority based on their belief that they have greater insights and revelation than other believers makes them prime candidates for opposition. Not opposition from the enemy however. The Apostle James makes it very clear that “God resists the proud” (4:6).
I have no doubt that true unity cannot occur apart from a commitment to truth. Yet why do we tend to fight over the 10 percent or less of nuance and application rather than unite on the 90+ percent of essentials we all agree on? The old ecumenism put little emphasis on truth…a new ecumenism must move forward on the essentials of the Gospel. It must grow in the context of relationship as we mutually influence each other to become more like Christ. In other words, what’s strong or beneficial in someone else’s faith tradition becomes a learning point for us, and what’s useful and valuable in our faith tradition becomes a learning point for them.
Frederick Coutts once said that, “Few things make a mockery of Christianity more than disunity among believers.” The present day fragmentation of the church must end. Not necessarily an end to all denominations and groupings, but rather an end to the isolation, turf wars and posturing these barriers have created.
Jesus saw unity in terms of missional impact. “By this will all men know that you are My disciples,” He stated, “by your love for one another.” What are you currently doing to fulfill His vision for unity in the body?