Church Unity

unity

With one friend of mine, our conversations always circle back to this: church unity. It’s become a running joke, but the issue is no joking matter.

We’re passionate and helpless about church unity. We want an end to the bickering, miscommunication, and pride, and a beginning of understanding among Christians all confessing one Lord, one Savior, one baptism. We don’t know what else to do except lament about it every time we call each other.

It frustrates me to hear people say, “Oh, don’t the Orthodox believe mostly in works?”, or to see sites dedicated to evangelizing Catholics, or to sense “maybe she’s converting to our side!” during theological conversations. I’m tired of running into statements of faith that purposefully isolate themselves from other denominations or traditions. And if I hear one more person equate historic expressions of the Christian faith with Mormonism, Islam, or a run-of-the-mill cult….

Mostly, it bothers me because I, not so long ago, was very interested in who was in and who was out, in drawing gaping lines in the sand that cut me off from the church catholic and violated Jesus’ deepest wish.

I could go on and on and on about how church disunity ticks me off, breaks my heart, and makes me want to punch something, but really, I just wanted to share Sarah Bessey’s words that set off this rant:

Sometimes I joke that I’m too conservative for the liberals and too liberal for the conservatives in matters of both politics and theology. I don’t know if that’s entirely true anymore but I do know that I have friends across all that divides us.

And that has changed me for the better. It’s opened my eyes, given me compassion, helped me learn to shut up a bit more, deepened my love for our world. …

We aren’t meant to be dislocated and divided from one another. We are meant to have friendships – publicly and privately – with people who are different than us, people who think differently, who experience God differently, who go through the world differently. The only way to unity – which is not the same thing as conformity – is through friendship, through listening, through claiming each other. This is a good thing. I think it’s important for us to publicly claim each other and say, we’re in this thing together even if everyone thinks we shouldn’t be doing anything together.

If our friendships aren’t making people uncomfortable, I wonder if our world is too small.

I’d like to publicly claim that I stand by my Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Protestant, liberal, conservative, whatever brothers and sisters in Christ who confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the trinity, one in essence and undivided, and the death, resurrection, and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

As much as our differences are real and our flaws awful and annoying, I still hope for the kingdom on earth to look like the kingdom in heaven — fully united with all the people we were so eager to convert in this life.

How do you feel about church unity (or the lack thereof)?

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8 thoughts on “Church Unity

  1. Daniel Abbott

    Sarah Bessey: “The only way to unity – which is not the same thing as conformity[…]”

    What is conformity? How is unity possible without conformity? While not the same, I wonder why the insertion of that statement without any explanation. Perhaps it was in the original text, only not in the quote?

    The Christ said, “Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: And if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then shall his kingdom stand?”

    Matthew12:25-26

    And our Christ says, also, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: And no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: And ye shall find rest unto your souls.”

    Matthew 11:27-29

    Paul writes to the saints in Philippi, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in likeness of men: And being found in fashion of man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

    Philippians 2:5-8

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    • Bailey Steger

      I quoted the comment as is. Conformity means everybody looking the same way, doing the same thing, walking in mindless lockstep. God is gathering all manner of people, nationalities, backgrounds, genders, social classes, etc. to form his precious people. We become united not by holding all the same preferences and convictions, being the same personality, viewing the world through one specific cultural lens, or whatever, but by having the mind of Christ, as you quoted.

      I’m not sure how the verses you quoted are relevant to this discussion. Of course the house of Satan and the house of Christ are divided, because of that exact reason: the house of Satan does NOT have the mind of Christ. Uniting them is an impossibility. But this post isn’t talking about uniting the house of Satan with the house of Christ. It’s talking about reconciling God’s church who has so often demonized each other.

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      • Daniel Abbott

        I was under the impression that conformity is holding to the same standard. In Christianity that standard is God, in the person of Jesus Christ, our redeemer. As we conform to Christ we are united, not just with other Christians, but more importantly we are united with God.

        Our “looking the same way, doing the same thing, walking in mindless lockstep” with Christ is what Christians do. Although, I don’t think of it as “mindless,” but “mindful;” I will leave your words as they are.

        “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: For without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered, and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned. If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask whatever ye will, and it shall be done unto you. Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.”

        John 15:5-8

        We, and everyone else, are able to recognize other Christians, because they are conforming to Christ. A Christian cannot hide. No matter where they are or what they are doing, people say, “Art not thou also one of his disciples?”

        John 18:25

        The Christ said, “Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set upon a hill cannot be hid.”

        Matthew 5.14

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  2. Rebekah

    Thanks for sharing that quote!! And I’d love to stand with you in “publicly claim[ing] that I stand by my Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Protestant, liberal, conservative, whatever brothers and sisters in Christ who confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the trinity, one in essence and undivided, and the death, resurrection, and Lordship of Jesus Christ.” Amen!

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  3. korie

    I think much disunity within Christianity is rooted in fear… Fear of being wrong. Fear that you didn’t do it right. Fear that your beliefs are off. Fear that God is displeased. Many Christians take solace in their beliefs rather than in Jesus and what He purchased for us on the cross. But I don’t really notice disunity the way that I used to. I think certain environments tend to emphasize it, particularly Christian colleges… A melding of people from different backgrounds, many of whom are studying God. And the Internet, ha. Because Internet loves conflict.

    This is a parallel comment… I’ve noticed that the emphasis on teaching- the fact that the sermon, a lecture given weekly by one single man, is the backbone of many church services- is a design that breeds disunity. (And I know that some denominations claim that it isn’t the backbone of the service, but the fact that the most time is spent on it indicated that, yes, it is important.) I’ve spent the past 6 years or so participating in Church outside of Sunday morning services, and it has been so freeing to me.

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