Thursday, July 21, 2011

Superficial Unity

How do we promote real unity in the Christian church? There are various approaches. We can have joint meetings or involve ourselves in joint projects. This can be helpful to see what each other is really like and to get past stereotypes we have of one another. Also, if the joint project is successful it can produce some real good in the world. But then we can all go back to our own denominational groups, and any unity that was there might to be forgotten. How we get past this temporary appearance of unity to a unity that has some permanent meaning? Ever so often we see a group that gets tired of the denominational labels. So they decide to form a church that is known for being just Christian. But they end up coming up with their own beliefs and ways of doing things and become just one more denomination. Or others would form an interdenominational group and only deal with those issues they feel comfortable with, sending people back to the churches to deal with the others. Others would throw out all teaching and try to unite people under a broad umbrella distinguished by only the name "Christian." But if "Christian" is nothing but a meaningless name, what is there to unite about?

I am convinced that we need to start from the other  end. Scripture says that there exists a unity between true Christians (Galatians 3:27,28; Ephesians 2:14-19; 4:4-6). The question then is what constitutes a true Christian. Scripturally, this is grounded in a genuine faith in Christ and his death and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Romans 3:21-26; Ephesians 2:1-9). Now there are truths implied in this that must be believed, though it is not always possible to tell what people believe in their hearts. But these truths include that Jesus Christ was God who became a human being (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9,10) in order to pay the penalty for our sins (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; Romans 5:6-8) so that He might offer us eternal life apart from anything we could do to earn it (Galatians 2:21; Titus 3:5,6; Romans 3:19,20). Further, Scripture says that if we have faith in Christ, it will result in His working in us to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Philippians 2:13; Colossians 1:29) and working through us to accomplish His purpose in the world (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6; Matthew 16:18). This makes us part of His body, which he uses to accomplish His will in this present age (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:11-15). If we accept this, then we need to recognize that God is at work in people who are not necessarily part of our group or denomination. This will undoubtedly step on some individuals' toes regarding their doctrinal convictions or prejudices. But I am convinced it is only in this direction that we can move toward true unity. It is also the way to put the other issues we might still disagree on in perspective.

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