The following post is something I had published in The Witness, the monthly Victorian Baptist magazine, published by the Baptist Union of Victoria, in 2009.
Unity seems to be something which is hard to find in the church today. Well, maybe it’s always been hard to find, church history seems to suggest so too. It’s surprising isn’t it; one would think that the church would be the one place that is united.
If we look outside the church there are plenty of things that unite people. Football unites supporters like nothing else here in Melbourne, but sport in general does that in almost every nation. Community events show a united people, look no further than Black Saturday and the out-pouring of unity that came from that. But we could also think of book clubs, favourite cafes, the RSL, the local lawn bowls club, and the like. Being part of a community, being part of a family, brings unity and commonality.
In recent months I have been pondering unity within the church.
It’s been hard to nail, and hard to find.
If we are honest with ourselves we must recognise that there is a wealth of disagreement that occurs within the church. These may be things like where the pulpit should be placed when one is preaching, to the ways in which we reach our community with the Gospel, to the various theological positions church members have. Differences occur, they are bound to, but quite often they cause disunity rather than mutual encouragement and respect.
While on holiday a couple of months ago I read volume one of Arnold Dallimore’s biography of George Whitefield. Whitefield was a preacher who spread the Gospel throughout the UK and America in the 18th century. He was one of the first to preach outdoors, outside the church building, and for his day this was radical. Instead of avoiding such “corner preaching” like the plague, which we tend to do, Whitefield was able to preach to tens of thousands at a time. What impressed me most about his character was the way in which he tried to be unified with other believers. Wherever he went he would first stop by the local church or parish, and in his theological disputes with John Wesley he continued to pray and hold him up as a brother in Christ.
Whitefield modelled, what I believe many in the church today miss, unity.
Paul speaks no better about unity than in 1 Corinthians 12 and 13. Beginning with the illustration of the church being one body with many parts he moves on to the most crucial point regarding unity–love. While one may be particularly enamoured by the passage regarding love in 1 Corinthians 13 it actually stems out of Paul’s thinking regarding unity and the body of Christ.
It is love which is most central to unity, it is love which is most central to Paul, and it is love which is most central to our faith. It is the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). Christians are to be marked by love and to be unified by love.
That love is best expressed when we head to the cross. That sacrificial, God-exalting, sinner-redeeming love is most clearly seen through Jesus’ death and unifies all believers to love others rather than themselves.
Why is it that churches split, that conflict occurs, that disunity abounds?
It is because there is no Christ-like love.
Why does a supporter of a footy team actively go to all the matches and buy the team scarf? Why does a community rally in the face of adversity? Why does unity occur?
It is because there is love.
“Unity through diversity” seems to be a current catch-cry but perhaps “unity through love” might be a better way to put it.
Through the cross of Christ and the love of Christ unity is at its peak.