What cost would I pay for unity?


#1

Last night, we went to a city-wide Shabbat gathering in Nashville. Much of the vision behind this initiative is Jesus’ prayer in John 17: his prayer for the oneness of all believers. As someone was praying, they proposed this question to the group:

"How much are you willing to pay for unity?"

The reality is: if we can only have “unity” with those who agree with our own ecclesiology and eschatology, our specific traditions around baptism, predestination, whether or not you can lose your salvation, and all our other pet doctrines, then we don’t actually have unity; we have unanimity. It’s easy to have “oneness” with those who agree with us on everything. In fact, that’s where denominations come from in the first place!

But that’s not the world-changing oneness the Bible talks about or the unity that Jesus prayed for. Over and over, the Bible talks about setting aside our differences, including our theological differences, in order to have unity with our brothers and sisters in the faith; instead, we take the cowardly and convenient way out and convince ourselves that if they disagree with us, they aren’t really our brothers and sisters and therefore we aren’t obligated to have unity with them because they’re outside the faith.

(Obviously, I’m not talking about those who don’t profess Jesus, those who truly are outside the faith; I’m only talking about those who profess Jesus but don’t meet all our other criteria, who don’t agree with all our own pet doctrines.)

If that’s where we draw our lines, then I submit we are no more different than any other denomination. If “unchurching” doesn’t allow us to cross denominational lines and embrace believers outside our specific tradition, even outside our own comfort zones then we haven’t unchurched at all. So, without digressing into a long discussion or heated debate about our specific traditions and pet doctrines, I invite you to join me in pondering the question we were asked last night:

"How much are you willing to pay for unity?"

I’m not saying I have to change my personal convictions about ecclesiology, eschatology, my specific traditions around baptism, predestination, whether or not you can lose your salvation, etc. I’m just asking: am I spiritually mature enough to say, “Well, we don’t agree on x-y-and-z but we agree on Jesus, so I embrace you as a brother or sister!”

Furthermore, whenever I do differ with another believer over doctrine, do I have the wisdom to bite my tongue and take it to the Lord in prayer before I launch into my well-practiced defense of your own tradition? Or do I just assume I’m right? I mean, do I even allow for the fact that the Lord may be trying to teach me something? Or if I encounter a doctrine that’s partially true, am I able to “take the meat and spit out the bones” instead of making it my mission to correct everyone, all the time?

Going even further, do I extend other believers the same grace I extend myself? After all, I know for a fact that I’m a “work-in-progress”; my future self is probably going to think very differently about many strongly-held ideas than my current self, just as my current self would disagree with my past self on a great many things. At least, I hope I can say this. Otherwise, my faith is not maturing!

So, if my brother or sister is truly in error about something, why do I not recognize them as a “work-in-progress” too? Why do they have to be complete already if I don’t? Why is it so imperative they arrive at the correct theological conclusion, today? Why is my timetable more important than God’s? If they are truly in error, doesn’t he see this far better than I? Doesn’t he care to correct it far more than I? Isn’t he better equipped to do so than I? Or do I not trust that he is doing just that?

Or, is my love just conditional? If I can only embrace a brother or sister once God has “fixed” them, how is this any different than the Pharisees? And how well would I have fared if more mature brothers and sisters had drawn the same lines with me? “Come back to us when you get this sorted out, Richard!” Would I have even remained in the faith? If my doctrine is truly better, then isn’t this more reason they need to be in fellowship with me, not less? Won’t they be able to see their own error once they examine my life and see how much more joy and freedom in Christ I have than they do?

Ohhh… But then again, maybe that’s the rub. Maybe I can’t actually covey my doctrine by the way I live. Maybe my faith is abstract, a world of interesting ideas that don’t live up to James’ challenge to “show my faith by what I do”. Yikes! Lord, I hope not.

By the way, please don’t read anything into this post; I’m not meaning this as a rant or rebuke or anything like that. Just processing and thinking our loud, and sharing my thoughts in case they are of any use to anyone else. But feel free to chime in if any of this resonates with any of you.


#6

Wow. Great thoughts, @Richard.

Personally, I refuse to separate from other brothers and sisters in Jesus over doctrine/theology. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have my opinions, but most of what we Christians fight about and divide over isn’t essential, it’s peripheral.

What I have found is that many/most Christians lack the relational skills to work through differences together, listening to each other without an agenda to win an argument, to walk in each other’s shoes, to really hear each other out and then wrestle with matters together and be ok if the result is that we need to wrestle some more.

Instead, so many Christians forget the law to love and with great arrogance (something Jesus never had) run over each other, talk down to each other, demonize each other, and ultimately cast each other away.

This behavior (not beliefs) is why I have separated from other believers at times. Not because I don’t want to be with them, but they don’t seem to understand BASIC relationship skills, nor are they willing to listen. Being around them means another lecture where they are absolutely right, I’m wrong, and anything I say is dismissed out of hand. :man_facepalming:

Of course, I still see them as a brother or sister in Jesus, but there’s no fruit in spending time together.

The non-Christian world is miles ahead of us in relational skills overall. That’s one reason Christians have such a bad reputation to those outside the body of Christ.

For those who don’t mind discussing various topics of faith, or talking about Jesus, in a healthy, non-threatening, non-legalistic way, I love to sit and hear what others think, share my own thoughts, and see where we can get together. :handshake:


#7

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility . . . His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. Ephesians 2:14-16

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#8

Excellent additions to this thread, @jmlake42. Thank you. The thing that gives me hope is: nearly every time I turn around, it seems I find more and more saints who are starting to focus on Christ’s prayer for oneness; I think it’s because God is stirring people’s hearts to come in line with this prayer. It’s pretty exciting.


#9

As they say, “You find what you are looking for.”

I’m encouraged to be finding more folks that are realizing that Jesus is our Peace and Unity. Sharing about Jesus as a real and living person is energizing, healing, life-giving and unifying.

On the flip side, I’ve found arguing over doctrine and theology to be like death.


#10

That was an aces post Richard. So glad you got to go to that group we chatted about, and they had that question, “what price would you pay.” In fact, my oh my, what if that had been presented to me when I first came back to the Lord over 20 years ago! I heard some “what price would I pay” questions as to presenting the gospel to other believers, for sure, but, funny how if the world sees our unity, the scriptures tell us AMAZING things happen with Him being known. I am pondering just how critical, and FOUNDATIONAL, that question you just asked is.


#12

Thanks, @gunnarfalk. I sometimes wonder if we’re doing things the long way: putting so much emphasis on evangelism technique instead of pursuing the one thing that Jesus specifically told us would make the world believe.


#13

I would say that Jesus already paid the ultimate price for our Unity with/in the Godhead and with each other. Unity is already a very present, spiritual reality. Our willingness to celebrate and live out what has already been accomplished at the cross is what is really in question. The problem arises when we attempt to create unity (Babel) instead of celebrating His finished work or when we choose the path of sectarianism instead of what He has already provided.


#14

@Richard, yes, we (Christians) do many things backwards. :frowning:


#15

I don’t disagree with you @jesusguyjoe, but the way I read the question was, basically, "Would I be willing to pay not having to always have everyone agree with my doctrine, blah blah blah, etc, as the “cost” to be paid. (Which yes, should not even be considered a cost as opposed to what Jesus clearly already paid for.) I agree wholeheartedly in celebrating and living out what has already been accomplished, as you mentioned. That is what is so great about it! We just have to join Him in this! Other ways of including our cost though: always having to be right, not embracing an "us vs. them view amongst each other, the desire to stay in control, to categorize other believers (they are of Paul, they are of Appolos, etc.)


#16

Oh man bro. I think it is fair to say I am a fan of evangelism. But for quite some time, I have been wondering "Is our realized (amongst each other) unity getting actualized like, the greatest evangelism tool ever, and as the body of Christ as a whole, are we not keeping it hidden somewhere instead of having it out doing its thing? I think I can see it, but I want to actualize it more and more, and see it more and more!


#17

@gunnarfalk @Richard

I really believe that aside from separating/distracting us from God, breaking our unity in Jesus is the next highest goal of our enemy.

When we live in unity with our brothers and sisters in Jesus, it puts our enemies - all the spiritual forces against God - to shame. It’s like a spiritual nuclear bomb.


#18

I’m sort of weird and simple. Those things that you listed at the very end of your comment (after the colon) look like fruitless, aggravating, COSTLY ways to waste time when people could be enjoying abundant Life. However, I get where you’re coming from…and agree with you.


#19

I don’t have much to add to this discussion except to share my ongoing stupefaction at the gravity of our Lord’s new commandment: Love one another. It is paradoxically simple and complex. Furthermore, to my knowledge, it is the one activity that Jesus explicitly links to our identity as his community. Is it any wonder that the world, the flesh, and the devil have managed to sow seeds of categories and division amongst us?

To answer this thread’s question, “What cost would I pay for unity?” My life, my fortune, and my sacred honor.


#20

A follow up to my previous comment regarding being willing to listen to others.


#21

A little bit of kindness and humility go a long way. I quite often find myself prefacing statements with phrases like, “You may see things a bit differently than I do, and that’s OK, but here’s my take”… or “There are different takes on this, but here’s how I see it.”


#22

“Your mileage may vary.” :slightly_smiling_face:


#23

Yeah. It’s hard to believe, but not everyone likes me. :clown_face:


#24

A woman who was my assistant at work a few years before I left the organizational church was a believer who held different denominational beliefs and was polar opposite from me in her politics. Although we didn’t often discuss those topics because we were at work, and we often didn’t agree in those areas when we did talk about them, we learned to listen to one another with respect. It was the first time I really saw that we could have unity with other believers who didn’t have the same understanding in their walk of faith (not the basics of faith in Christ, but peripheral issues like many denominational stances) and with whom we might disagree in other areas like politics. She ended up being the best assistant I ever had, simply because we worked together so well, and she became a respected friend. I had once been uncompromising in the smallest things, but that was the beginning of a release for me to be able to love and embrace sisters and brothers in Christ whether or not their opinions and/or walk with Christ matched mine.


#25

Exactly!!! “They will know we are Christians by our love” for one another. And then they will want to be included in that loving community…regardless the cost.