Forgive my tone today. I’ve been reading in preparation for Easter sermons, and I’m in a bit of a bad mood. Just before being arrested and crucified, Jesus prays for all the future believers in the world, and much of his prayer is for unity. But we’ve apparently opted to read his words in this way:
My prayer is not for the apostles alone. I pray also for all who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be divided and scattered among many different religious groups and denominations. Father, you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us — though not necessarily accepting that others among them are in us — so that the rest of the world may believe that you have sent me.
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may hold more firmly to their respective doctrines than to one another, and that they may be so dogmatic (and blind) in their approaches to Bible study that they use my words, intended for unity, to build fences between themselves and others who are called by my name. May they forever be involved in fruitless quarrels and vain bickering, to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
— John 17:20-23 (as we apparently read it)
A few thoughts on unity:
- Unity in the church is the work of the Holy Spirit. And it is one of the most obvious and unambiguous indications that a group has reached maturity in Christ. That’s why Paul calls us babies. (Ephesians 4)
- Unity, however, is not the goal. It is merely a symptom. We don’t love one another in order to be disciples. Rather, our love for one another is a symptom of our condition — that we are disciples of Christ. (John 13)
- Spiritual gifts are given in order to build up the body of Christ as a whole, encouraging one another towards service. And, through serving others, we reach unity. I suppose it makes sense that spiritual gifts bring unity when we consider that unity is a function of the Holy Spirit AND these gifts are given us by the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4, again)
- Unity does not seem to be based upon shared beliefs.
- The church’s greatest tool for mission and evangelism is unity. It is this unity of believers which (proves we are disciples of Christ and) is attractive to outsiders. I wonder what disunity contributes to evangelism?