I Dream of Unity

I have a dream. It’s a very biblical dream. Jesus desired this to be a reality as well. Therefore, call me a prophet–or don’t. It’s not like i received new revelation in this dream. This revelation is already 2,000 years old.

But i do have a dream. The dream is that the church would be so unified that the world would be drawn to love and adore and worship and know Jesus Christ.

However, as it currently stands, this dream is impossible.

And it’s sad. In fact, sad isn’t a strong enough word. It’s actually detestable. Look at Jesus’ words in John 17:21,

May they all be one,
as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.
May they also be one in Us,
so the world may believe You sent Me.

The text is clear. Christian unity–further elucidated in John 13:34-35 as loving one another–is the means God uses to give power to the Gospel proclamation.

John Chrysostom explained:

As He said in the beginning, “By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye love one another,” And how should they hence believe? “Because,” He saith, “Thou art a God of peace.” If therefore they observe the same as those of whom they have learnt, their hearers shall know the teacher by the disciples, but if they quarrel, men shall deny that they are the disciples of a God of peace, and will not allow that I, not being peaceable, have been sent from Thee. Seest thou how, unto the end, He proveth His unanimity with the Father?1

But the history of the church is a history of quarrels. As such, it’s no surprise that outsiders are confused by denominational labels. And it’s been this way for 1600 years; Augustine is proof that this didn’t start at the Protestant Reformation:

[Our enemies from without] bring discredit upon the Christian and Catholic name—a name so dear to ‘all who want to live piously in Christ Jesus’—that they grieve bitterly to see their own brethren love it less than pious people should. There is that other heartache of seeing heretics, too, using the name and sacraments, the Scriptures and the Creed of genuine Christians. They realize how many would-be converts are driven into perplexed hesitancy because of heretical dissension, while the foulmouthed find in heretics further pretext for cursing the Christian name, since these heretics at least call themselves Christian.2

Granted, for our purposes here, the title heretic might be strong, but it doesn’t change the fact that denominational labels do more to hinder unity than promote it. The Church is bigger than your denomination of choice. You–as a Baptist–might have great unity with fellow Baptists, but the question of unity is tested when it comes to Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Roman Catholics, etc. To say you don’t need unity with them is to pridefully declare that your denomination is the only True Church–which it’s not!

And to make matters worse, the Protestant Reformation has promoted the attitude that when unity isn’t occurring in a local church, the answer is to break away and form your own church, instead of enduring and persevering in love with those brothers and sisters for whom Christ died. (And we justify these decisions by convincing ourselves that the church we left is apostate. You might as well be named Joseph Smith.3) As Matthew Levering explains, “If we leave the Church because we have been offended by our brethren, we have failed in love.”4

And if we’ve failed in love, how can we believe that we ourselves are even believers? John’s words in 1 John 3:14 are clear:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death.

But unity is hard. Our no-fault divorce culture has spread into the church. “He offended me. I’ll go to a different church.” “The pastor’s theology is wrong; I’ll start my own church where the theology will be right.”

But Jesus’ words are clear.

May they all be one,
as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You.
May they also be one in Us,
so the world may believe You sent Me.

John 17:21

This must become a mandatory pursuit in churches (in the Church). We can’t content ourselves with striving to reach the “7,000 unreached people groups of the world” in an attempt to fulfill Matthew 24:14, when the Word is clear that they won’t believe as they should if those who already believe are not unified.

We must again emphasize the means, and not merely the ends.

Love one another!

Back to my dream.

What if you sought reconciliation with the church from which you walked away? What if you sought reconciliation with the church from which your church split? What if you helped to start a chain reaction that ultimately led to reconciliation between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church (who’ve been in an ugly schism since 1054)?

The humility and love required for this to become a reality would have to be a work of God. And if God worked in the world in this sort of way–which is exactly what Jesus prayed for in John 17:21–just think about the witness that would be to unbelievers. This is my dream!

Maranatha!

In conclusion, let the words of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage encourage you to be part of something bigger than yourself:

He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member. He felt that something of which he was a part–a regiment, an army, a cause, or a country–was in a crisis. He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire. For some moments he could not flee, no more than a little finger can commit a revolution from a hand.

If he thought the regiment was about to be annihilated perhaps he could have amputated himself from it. But its noise gave him assurance. The regiment was like a firework that, once ignited, proceeds superior to circumstances until its glazing vitality fades. It wheezed and banged with a mighty power. He pictured the ground before it as strewn with the discomfited.

There was a consciousness always of the presence of his comrades about him. He felt the subtle battle brotherhood more potent even than the cause for which they were fighting. It was a mysterious fraternity born of the smoke and danger of death.5

In this with you.6

Soli Deo Gloria
Sola Scriptura
Solus Christus
Sola Fide
Sola Gratia
Pro Ecclesia

Thanks for reading

References

  1. John Chrysostom, “Homily LXXXII,” in Saint Chrysostom: Homilies on the Gospel of St. John and Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. G. T. Stupart, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, vol. 14 (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1889), 304.
  2. Augustine of Hippo, The City of God, Books XVII–XXII, ed. Hermigild Dressler, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Daniel J. Honan, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 24 (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1954), 18.51, page 173.
  3. Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson, The Pastor Theologian: Resurrecting an Ancient Vision (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 49. They write, “This anticlericalism was especially acute during the Second Great Awakening and in its aftermath. A myriad of Christian sects and denominations exploded during this time. Populist (and popular) preachers such as Lorenzo Dow, Francis Asbury, Alexander Campbell, and Joseph Smith founded new churches while decrying the dead learning of of the established clergy; they insisted on a return to a more pristine, apostolic age of direct access to the divine, unemcumbered by the distracting speculations of the theologians.” (Emphasis added.)
  4. Matthew Levering, The Theology of Augustine: An Introductory Guide to His Most Important Works (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 52.
  5. Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage (New York: Pocket Books, 1996), “Chapter Five,” page 40.
  6. You might (like me) be all gung ho about unity on first setting out on this journey, but just as Henry Fleming runs scared shortly after the battle narrated above, the temptation to throw in the towel on unity is always strong. And just as he justifies his cowardice (“Chapter Seven,” pages 54-55) by making his brave comrades out to be fools, we could try to justify church splits by calling those we abandon “unlearned,” “unorthodox,” or “unChristian,” but we would be wrong for doing so. We must keep pursuing unity, as hard as it gets. Want to join me?

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