January 11, 2009
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought …Is Christ divided?
Divisions happen too easily in churches, and we can excuse these matters in our own consciences with the thought that there is something wrong with my brother, in what he believes, in how he acts, or in any number of things about him. In these days of Christian denominationalism where we are able to worship with whom we want, we also easily forget the importance of the getting along with other groups of believers.
To the troubled but dynamic church at Corinth Paul wrote to them about the foundations of Christian unity and he made his first argument along the lines of their identification as believers. They had one Lord who had called them to lives of obedience, who had sanctified them with the Holy Spirit, who was faithful to them and had called them into fellowship with Christ. That factor outweighed all other factors.
The same is true with us, that the reality of the work of God in our lives outweighs other factors that would divide us. Christ is not divided and his work is singular. We are wise if we consider this factor. Every member of the local church, and every true believer in Christ is our extended family of faith and are precious to our Lord and should be precious to us. Paul urged the Corinthians to come to unity “in mind and thought,” meaning that the recognized the fact of their common identity in Christ.
Unity is a spiritual matter. We cannot say that we are walking with God if we are not seeking also to get along with our brothers and sisters in Christ. To fulfill this does not require a false acceptance that denies issues that may divide us, rather it understands the greater reality of our common identity in Christ and from that perspective puts aside these other relatively minor details. When parents call children to dinner these children come into the same home and sit at the same table and eat of the same meal, and in Christ we have each heard the same call of the Spirit, sat at the same table of grace, and shared of the life of Christ.
Our wounds may be deep, and we may even think it best to keep some distance, for none of us is perfected yet and we can too easily open old wounds again through careless words. But regardless of what we have been through we must understand the heart of God in this matter, that as John wrote,
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing to make him stumble.
1 John 2:9-10
This is a moral matter and one that we must consider the mind of God on and work to get along, to serve, to compassionately care for, and to connect with our family of faith.
Divisions between denominations have historical factors to consider, that the forced unity of the church created an abusive system and corrupted church, and muzzled the voices and perspectives of various parts of the family of faith. We do not wish to return to those days. Though some note the changes in the Catholic Church of today, I doubt we would have seen those changes were it not for the Reformation and the voices of freedom from Protestants and Separatists. Yet even here we must consider that the work of Christ is singular. He is not divided and he has prayed that we may be one, even as he and the Father are one.
Today thank God that you are not alone in your Christian life, that he has given you brothers and sisters in Christ to love you and to strengthen your faith and encourage you. Look for someone whom you can encourage, for there is someone who needs your Christian love. Look beyond your own pet projects, your own perspectives, and even your own denomination to see what God is doing in the world.
Lord, we thank you that you have called us not only to believe in you but to also follow you and to have an entire family of believers who will encourage us in our journey. Without you we are nothing, but without one another we are also weak and easily defeated and discouraged. Give us a good Christian friend and show us someone whom we can encourage as well. Help us with the relationships that are difficult for us, give us the grace to look beyond our differences and see our unity in you, to see the work you are doing in the lives of all who believe in you, to recognize your hand within them and upon them. Amen.