In high school a group of us who were believers from a variety of different churches set out to change the way things were among Christians in our rural town of 7,000. We noticed that we all loved Jesus. We longed to see other people come to Christ. We wondered why there was such division among the churches, and we thought we could fix the problem….which in some ways I think we did. At least for awhile.
Then it happened. The inevitable. The matchstick that set the whole thing ablaze.
“Our people don’t really associate with your people,” he said. Did he really just say that? What the heck? I felt like I’d been kicked in the chest. Like the moment in Braveheart when he realizes that Robert the Bruce was working with the enemy the whole time. I’d invited a friend of mine (well an acquaintance of mine anyway) to a youth rally my youth group was putting on in the park. I asked him in passing, and that’s when he blurted out what he did.
I almost gave up on unity among the churches at that point…almost.
Every time I watch The Avengers I see this same scene play out. There’s a scene where these great warriors stand in a circle, meeting for the first time. They argue over who is better than who, who has what motives, and who is lying to the other, meanwhile the great deceiver gets into their heads and creates division.
They are suspicious of each other and get focused on what is different about them rather than how they can work together. Sound familiar? If you’ve been around any church circle long it’s eerily familiar. You can almost see the Methodists, Baptists, Non-denoms, Presbyterians, and others in this scene. “You mortals are so tiny,” Thor says.
Well they aren’t as focused on missions as we are. They aren’t as cool as we are. We’ve got the best worship. We’re the most theologically correct. We have the most talented people. We are the most servant-hearted. We are the most diverse. We are the most loving…
But what does it mean to “Be Unified?” What does it mean to “Be one as the Father and the Son are one,” as Jesus prayed in John 17? I had to reframe my 17-year-old expectations to understand what unity could look like in our current reality.
First, “Together” doesn’t necessarily mean that all denominations are always in the same room at the same time. It does mean that our hearts are unified.
If our hearts are unified, then we can be hundreds of miles apart and still be in unity. At the same time, if we aren’t unified in heart, we can be in the very same room and still not be “Together.”
I chuckle when ministers want to do an event together, when the ministers themselves don’t really like each other. If the leaders aren’t together, the ministries cannot be. Unity is like the oil that flows Down from the head, to the beard, and to the hem of the garment. Unity doesn’t defy gravity.
Psalms 133:1 ..How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity! v2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the hem of his robe.
So pray for your pastors, city minister’s alliance, youth pastor’s alliance if you want to see unity between the churches in your city. It has to start with them, otherwise they will be a roadblock to unity. They will be a drawbridge that can be a bridge, but can also be a wall. The ministers have to respect each other for true unity to ever happen.
So what does UNITY look like practically?
In the U.S. there are five branches of the military. It is still one military, but it expresses itself in five ways: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coastguard. All have different functions, different emphasis, probably think they are the best, etc. (not much different than the church). They all pledge to one president (churches pledge to Jesus as King). They all work for one common goal (churches work to make Disciples).
But members of these branches have to pledge to one branch or the other. It would be ridiculous to try to sign up for the Marines and the Army at the same time. This would be a big problem and everyone knows how crazy that sounds. It’s no different for the church. to give a little of yourself to everything is to give a lot of yourself to nothing. Find a church. Plant yourself. give yourself to the mission and go!
At WT, where I am the Wesley Foundation Director, I hear idealistic students say all kinds of things, that if not reframed, could lead them down a path that would neutralize everyone.
I’ll illustrate with this story.
The goal of each of the campus ministries is to “Make Disciples,” and “spread the Gospel.” We each have very different ways of going about that process. All are pretty good ways, but very different.
One year, we did a big burger bash together at the beginning of the year where we would invite all the freshmen. That party would then lead to separate “open houses” at each of the ministry buildings in an effort to get as many of the freshmen plugged into a ministry as possible.
Everything was great during the big party. But then it came time to split up and go to our open houses. We’d have a Wesley kid standing next to a Church of Christ kid, both trying to figure out how to ask the new freshman to come to their building but not wanting to step on the other’s toes. It got awkward for the freshman and in the end many of the freshmen went to neither, thus voiding our main goal of making disciples. In an effort to be unified, we ended up short-circuiting the main objective of getting students plugged into a place where they could be discipled.
If my students and I all showed up to the BSM for their free lunch on Wednesdays, there would be no place for “outsiders” to sit. We’d be taking up all of their chairs, resources, their leaders would be focused on making sure we felt at home. We may all be together in a nice “holy huddle,” and that would be great…for the enemy, because he doesn’t want any of us to reach those who don’t believe.
Instead, think about the 5 ministries on the WT campus as being on the same team, but rather than being huddled together in a circle placating each other, we are back to back, all facing outward, welcoming those who haven’t found a place in the Body of Christ yet. Every once and a while we will look over our shoulder and say, “good job guys,” then get back to work of the Gospel. That’s unity!
WE SHOULD CELEBRATE OUR DIFFERENCES. I’m glad we’re not all the Hulk, or Captain America, or Thor. We need all of us! As diverse as we are we can reach more people.
We have to understand that Unity is not uniformity. Uniformity is everybody looking alike, dressing alike, acting alike, talking with the same lingo. Even within a ministry, it can get creepy when too many people seem like clones of each other.
Think of Unity more like an orchestra. When they are tuning up it is the worst sound. There’s squawking and squeaking…it’s bad. Then the conductor with his white gloves stands up, and with his wand in hand, he starts the first beat and it instantly transforms into the most beautiful sound.
This is what we call unity in diversity. We go to concerts to enjoy their harmony—not their unison. Everybody is playing a different part, but singing the same song.
With offenses so easily sparked, there’s almost NO WAY TO BE IN UNITY—IT’S SO EASY FOR THE DEVIL TO WIN. It’s like using a laser pointer on a cat. It works EVERY TIME. Unity could work…but it will take a lot of maturity.
I’ll leave you with this scripture on unity
1Corinthians 1:10 Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.
In the end, your maturity can be measured by your ability to walk with and be unified with people who disagree with you.