Jesus prayed that we will be one as He and His Father are one. This is the often quoted Scripture for our cry for unity in the Body of Christ. However, oneness is often lost in the concept of sameness. If the Godhead is our example, we do not need to sacrifice distinct identity to obtain unity.
I’ve heard it argued that Catholicism provided unity that has since been lost in post Reformation Christianity. The idea that there was once one Church and not many churches with competing identities is a reality worth returning to for many believers. Delving into history, I find we have lost sight of the tragic costs of maintaining one Church. Heretics, who were defined as any person or group of people diverting from the established doctrine of the Church, were burned at the stake or run through with a sword or imprisoned. In eleven centuries of Christendom this was not always the reality, but it was more often than not. Regardless, the existence of one established Church did not prevent unorthodox expressions of Christianity. (see my article on the crusades)
Sameness is not the standard for oneness. Marriage demonstrates this truth most effectively. A husband is not the same as his wife, no matter how many things they have in common; they have a great many things in contrast. A man is different from a woman and a woman from a man and yet they are made one in marriage.
It’s problematic for Christians to argue for unity in the manner in which we want each group to remove what defines it as a separate group. This argument is akin to man and woman becoming the same in order to be equally valuable.
We see in the Trinity, three distinct persons which are one God. It is a mystery. It is a supernatural reality. The Church in all its diversity can be one in the same manner. We are one in Christ, not because of our shared doctrines about Christ, but in our relationship with Christ. If unity is attained by shared doctrine, practices, buildings, ethnicities, multi-culturalism, non-denominationalism, or any other method it is not unity, but conformity.
Disagreements between Christians are not signs of disunity. In fact, a community that all thinks the same way on every point is more likely evidence of cultic behavior. When there is no freedom for diversity, unity is an illusion. We can have unity in diversity because this is the eternal reality of God.
Disagreement is healthy. If you think just like me, you cannot help me grow in my thinking. But we all see in part. I need you to see the part I am missing. The city needs churches that cover the gamut of expressions of Christ in the earth. We need communities that are not afraid to be distinct. One of the reasons people refrain from joining a local church is because they desire to be a part of the Body of Christ without being defined by what separates us. But it is a misnomer to believe that distinctions separate us. If differences separate us, then it is agreement and not Christ that unites us.
Disunity then comes from not being properly connected to Christ and His Body. The things that separate us from Christ are the things that separate us from each other. Sin, strife, selfishness, pride, unbelief, etc. all tear away at our unity. The same things that separate a man from his wife are the same things that separate a believer from his or her church. It is the same things that separate one expression of the church from the one across the street. It is not the separate building or different doctrines that cause disunity; it is thinking our church is a better place for people to experience Jesus than the church across the street.
If unity were easy, Jesus would not have prayed with such earnestness for us to be one. Yet it will be even more difficult if we are trying to achieve it by removing all differences. If Jesus is our goal, unity will be our reward.
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