The Value of Christian Unity

Mick Turner

I recently attended a get together with friends, mostly Christians, to celebrate the founding of the new church in our area. Among the guests were members of the new congregation, its pastoral staff, and invited guests from a wide number of congregations. When we walked in we recognized many of the faces and commented on how nice it was to see such a diverse group of believers coming together to give blessings to a new congregation, albeit a non-denominational charismatic one.

 

The cordiality lasted only a short time after the pastor of the new church completed his welcoming address. As I wandered over to the food table I could not help but overhear a heated discussion between two local pastors, one Baptist and the other Presbyterian, over some trivial issue too peripheral to even mention. The disagreement rose in both intensity and volume, with veins protruding from the Baptist clergyman’s neck and spittle flying from the rarely closed mouth of his Presbyterian counterpart. Choosing to avoid this discord, I made my way through the gathering crowded to an adjoining room. After a hectic week with many hours spent hunched over my keyboard, running household errands, and helping my wife prepare for my daughters birthday party, I only wanted a bit of peace and harmony and figured that if it wasn’t available in the first room, surely it must be in the second.

 

I was both wrong and disappointed.

 

As soon as I walked in I saw a small gaggle of people in the center of the room waving their arms about, talking loudly, and attempting to settle once and for all whether or not Christ’s second coming was to be a literal event or whether it should be viewed as allegory. I recognized a few of the folks involved. There were two members of the Methodist Church that I attend, an Episcopal priest, a few Baptist and one fellow who is a leader at one of the larger Assembly of God churches in the area. This group was even louder than the pair of combatants I had left in the first room. I would have gone to a third room, but no such room existed. Finding my wife, I suggested we leave and she was more than ready. We offered our blessings to the new pastor and his wife and, at the same time, wondered what he might be thinking about the “Christian” community he had recently moved here to become a part of.

 

After arriving home and getting Salina, our daughter, bathed and bedded, I sought out my home office and settled in for some serious prayer time. I prayed for unity among the various Christian groups in our community and especially for the identification of a serious community need that we might all come together to address. I also prayed for God’s wisdom in finding ways to foster an increased sense of unity and mutual respect when it comes to denominational conflict.

 

During the time of my prayer when I just shut up, got quiet, and let the Spirit speak, I was led to revisit the prayer offered up by Jesus in the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John. This scripture has always been one of my most treasured passages in the Bible and as I quietly let the words penetrate my heart, the Holy Spirit spoke clearly to me – not verbally but quietly, through what scripture calls that “still, small, voice.

 

In John 17 Jesus addresses his Father on the eve of his crucifixion, asking above all that his disciples may be in unity with him, just as he is in unity with the Father. He brackets this request with mention of the Father’s glory and his own glory that he had in oneness with the Father “before the world existed.” We can only imagine yet maybe never truly grasp the character of the oneness and unity that Jesus is speaking of. He is stating in no uncertain terms that he and the Father existed in perfect unity before the creation of the world. Further, throughout all his trials and tribulations while walking on earth, he and the Father maintained that unfathomable level of unity. He also makes it clear that he wants us to have the same type of unity with him that he had with the Father. Moreover, and this is vitally important to grasp, he wants and asked for something further.

 

Later on, in 17:20-22, Jesus then asks a remarkable thing – something that is directly related to our unity as Christian brothers and sisters – and something that put the arguments I had heard at that evening’s gathering into stark, not to mention dark, relief. Listen to Jesus own words:

 

I am praying not only for these disciples, but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one – as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. (NLT)

 

Do you get the importance of what Jesus is asking of the Father? Do you really get it? He is asking that the Father to grant us the same kind of intimacy that existed between Jesus and his Father. Even more incredible is Jesus’ statement that he has given to us the same glory that the Father granted him.  And why did he do this? So we can be as one just as Jesus and the Father are one!

 

Jesus also tells us that he is giving us this inexplicable level of glory so that the world will understand that God sent Jesus here. What does this all say to us as Christians in the 21st Century in relation to unity in the Body of Christ? I know what it says to me. There is no tenable explanation or rationalization for disunity. Jesus, with both focus and clarity, expresses that it is his wish that we exist together with the same harmony and unity as he has with the Father.

 

Does this mean that it is a sin to disagree with one another? No, I don’t think this passage is saying we cannot have differences. However, I do believe what Christ is telling us is that even though we may disagree at times, that disagreement can never be so extreme as to break our harmony and unity. The fact that we have hundreds, if not thousands, of denominations, sub-denominations, sects, and cults illustrates that we have not lived up to Jesus’ wishes in this regard. Chances are, if the Lord was present at the ceremony I had attended on that particular evening, he would have been deeply saddened.

 

In this unity that the Lord so clearly wants us to exemplify lies perhaps the most profound and fundamental aspect of God’s character – love. We are to love one another enough to disagree in harmony and to place that harmony above insisting that someone march according to our particular drummer or sing our particular anthem. This is the essence of agape, the selfless love of God and of his Son, Jesus.

 

Godly love exudes a pleasant fragrance, a delicate but undeniable scent of unity and oneness. And for what purpose are we to have this abiding oneness? After telling us that we are to exist in this heavenly unity so that the world will know that Jesus was sent by God, the Lord mentions an equally important reason. We are to exhibit a genuine, brotherly unity so that, in the words of Jesus:

 

…the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. (John 17:23 NLT)

 

Nothing further need be said.

 

© L.D. Turner 2008/ All Rights Reserved

 

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7 thoughts on “The Value of Christian Unity

  1. I heartily agree. I came across your blog somewhat randomly, and I appreciate your remarks. I’m a college pastor in Southern California, and I too have been deeply saddened by the venomous tone theological “conversations” can often take. That sadness has often taken me back to those beautiful words of John 17. Disagreement is fine, but if we cannot discuss our disagreements “in love” (1 Cor. 16:14), then are we really being the church? And more than that, what kind of a message are we sending to the outside world? Thank you for this post, it was a pleasure to read, and may it be used by God to promote unity within his church. Grace and peace to you.

  2. Mick,

    I wanted to find an opportunity to mark my visit to your blog and to thank you for visiting mine. What better time to say hello. This is exactly the crux of our situation in the churches of America, the Bible believing churches and it is directly affecting our ability to be the instrument of Christ for healing in todays broken world around us.

    I won’t dwell on the problem, you have described it all too well, just as I have encountered it for some 45 years of adult ministry. It seems that you have a similiar ministry, one that is dedicated to doing something about helping individuals develop their spiritual life where they will be able to make meaningful contributions to the building up of the Body of Christ. This is an excellent post of going to Christ and his purpose for us that required his own sacrifice in fulfilling the will of his Father. The situation you describe simply means that for a number of complex reasons, the majority in the churches, including the pastors, really don’t understand either the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice or the purpose of it- a new humanity with his own kind of life(perfect love).

    May Christ be our ever increasing delight of delights and that includes being wholly absorbed by His Father’s will to glorify himself on earth as He is worshipped in heaven. His richest blessing upon your life and ministry.

    John Paul Todd
    e4unity.wordpress.com

  3. John Paul:

    Thanks for your kind and gracious words. I, too, suspect the two of us share a common vision of the potential of the Body of Christ. I enjoyed visiting your site and have done so several times now. My prayer is that God use you in ways both great and small, mighty and meek, to help all of us who take on the honored title of “Christian.” In unity of purpose and spirit there is not limit to what the 21st Century Church can accomplish. The enemy has a vested interest in keeping us divided and I am sure he and his sidekicks tremble at the thought of a church bonded together in common purpose: the establishment of God’s kingdom here on earth – here right now.

    Blessings to you and your ministry,

    Mick

  4. Dearly beloved n Christ
    Greetings to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
    We are very happy to approach you through these few lines for your kind co-operation and tin involvement and also we wish to inform to you about our ministry.
    I have been working as individually through established RELIEF organization. It was registered under societies registration Act. Our main Aim is to UN reached Gospel service to UN reached areas. Beside gospel service I have some social welfare activities
    We earnestly wish for your leadership and guidance and we really wish to see a lot of harvest in the coming days. We need your kind co-operation. If Lord enables you would you please take a step to encourage us in our ministry.
    Your precious fellowship which can greatly strengthened us for the Glory of God.
    Please extend your hand if you are inspired by our lord Jesus.
    I wait for your kind reply with prayerfully.
    Yours brother in Christ
    Pastor BabuRao.
    RELIEF

  5. Pastor BabuRao

    Our prayers are with you in your efforts to manifest the kingdom reality in your sphere of influence. May God be with you and yours.

    Mick

  6. I just read an article on CNN.com regarding unity in the Catholic Church without cultural uniformity (i.e., as Anglican congregations join while retaining their rites). I then wrote a post about the relationship of unity and doctrinal uniformity. In general terms, does unity require uniformity?

    • Thanks for your comment and question. It is an interesting question and one that most likely raises differing opinions. From my perspective, limited as it might be, I don’t think unity requires uniformity of doctrine. In fact, although many folks make much of doctrine and doctrinal purity, I am of the belief that doctrine should come way down in the pecking order of priorities when it comes to unity within the church. At best, we “see through a glass darkly” and more often than not, we cling to doctrine as a means of security, rather than a quest for truth. In fact, doctrine can blind us to truth. These are just my thoughts mind you, and in no way are they to be seen as “doctrine.”

      Blessings,

      Mick

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