As Charles Spurgeon once said, "Satan always hates Christian fellowship; it is his policy to keep Christians apart. Anything which can divide saints from one another he delights in. Since union is strength, he does his best to promote separation."
The rise of social media and the pollicization of everything in our culture has deepened the us-versus-them divides. I have been troubled and have spoken out about the divisions in the church over race, sexual orientation, politics, response to COVID (masks no masks, vaccinations, no vaccinations, on and on. We fight about things both inside and outside of our churches.
Like what’s going on in society we, in the church, are encouraged to take sides. We consume cable television news that fits our preferred narrative, making us angrier at others by the minute. We endlessly scroll through our social media feeds and post comments we'd never say to someone in person. Often, people who share a love of Jesus find themselves bitter with each other.
Division over unimportant things which don’t affect our salvation is not new. Since sin entered the world, man has experienced disunity. And we can rest in knowing that one day, we will be united in Christ with each other. As followers of Christ, we have redemption through His blood.
Ephesians 1:7-10 NIV In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
We know that we will all be united in Christ when “the times reach their fulfillment”, but what about the meantime, what about today?
Jesus’ prayer was for the church, His believers, to be united today.
John 17:20-23 NIV “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Has that prayer been answered? The key lies in the Holy Spirit working in the heart and life of each believer.
Before we can be united with each other, we must deal with our connection to Jesus. Are we walking close with Jesus? Is our life producing fruit?
John 15:5-8 NIV “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. (emphasis mine)
There is an enormous difference between unity and uniformity. There's beauty in the diversity of the body of Christ.
Galatians 3:26-29 NIV So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6 NIV There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.
Romans 12:4-8 NIV For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully. (emphasis mine)
Ephesians 4:11-13 NIV So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (emphasis mine)
We don’t have the giftings or the Apostle Paul, Billy Graham, or Charles Stanly but each of us has our own gift(s). God has equipped each one of us to meet specific needs in our circles of influence. There are people only you can reach. We each have a unique role to play, and we can be united in our mission, if not our individual function.
I am not advocating that we stop caring about theology. What I am advocating however is that our love of theology never exceeds our love of real people, so we must learn to love people despite our theological disagreements. Disagreements over even relatively minor doctrines can cause tremendous harm when we approach them with an attitude of entitlement.
Too many of us have made secondary issues "hills to die on." when our focus should be on the fact that Jesus already died on a hill. Our mission is to tell others about Him, not to argue others into our viewpoints on other topics that don't have the same eternal consequences.
Our divisions may seem insurmountable but must start small. You can’t change a church or a community in a day, but you can work to live peaceably with everybody.
Romans 12:17-18 NIV Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
What is the one action you can take today to encourage unity? It's choosing not to do something, such as posting on Facebook about a controversial topic. Or maybe you could reach out to an old friend you've lost touch with over disagreements. Before you start to think about unity of the church you need to focus on you and what you do.
Romans 12:1-2 NIV Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.