Whenever I think of the greatest obstacles to evangelization, I always think of the lack of unity among Christians. For whatever reasons, Christians seem to enjoy drawing lines between their group and others that don’t naturally exist. We scrutinize the gospel down to the dots over the ‘i’s and rage against each other over the smallest differences. We find a minor flaw in an individual’s personality and we call it fatal. We get our feelings hurt inadvertently and vow to never forgive.
Call me naive, but I just don’t get it. Given the size of the task at hand and the fact that the harvest is plenty and the workers are few, doesn’t it make sense that we would all strive to work together for the spirit of the Great Commission? Wouldn’t we be wise to set aside the criticism of any differences that are not crucial to the gospel message and work together for the task the Lord has asked us to do? Could we be a little more graceful when dealing with the shortcomings of our brothers and sisters in Christ?
I have had the privilege of working with ministries where minor differences are set aside for the sake of the gospel and I have had the shame of participating on a mission where neither my group nor the group we were conflicted with could get past our differences and thus created a very uncomfortable experience for everyone involved. I have seen how hard feelings have grown out of simple misunderstandings and have a profoundly negative effect on the credibility of the gospel. If Christians can’t love one another with the love of Jesus, then how are we any different than the world?
And yet as I consider the simplicity of the problem, I realize the magnitude of the solution. We are all unique, and uniquely broken, individuals. Jesus doesn’t always fix what’s wrong with us; in many cases He just loves us for who we are and asks us to do the same for each other. The trouble is we rarely do this as well as the example He set for us.
I know when someone has a personality or a habit that annoys me, I can be very judgmental about them. Not in front of them, of course, but behind their backs, gossiping with other people who share my annoyance. But what we may view as innocent talk in secret often leads to hurt feelings, and hurt feelings lead to divisions between groups and divisions between groups create disunity in the church. And when we are responsible for creating disunity in the church, what we are really doing is tearing the body of Christ limb from limb. I’m sorry that isn’t a pleasant image, but it is what it is.
As I was skimming through Francis Chan’s blog recently, I found that he was considering the same issue of unity in the body of Christ. And I was surprised and slightly disheartened to learn that he had found no solution for the problem either. But what did give me a glimmer of hope was the Scripture that Francis found that convicted him this was not a problem we could simply dismiss:
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. -Ephesians 2:14-22
This passage makes it clear that Jesus died on the cross not just for the sake of our sins, but for the sake of unifying people of different nationalities, cultures, languages, and personalities as one body of Christ. Unity isn’t supposed to be pleasant side effect of Jesus’s sacrifice; it is a motivation for His sacrifice.
I believe if we understand the importance Christ placed on unity in the church in full, we would not be so flippant about the things we say about others behind their backs or so casual about rolling our eyes when someone makes a comment we don’t agree with. We would treat each other with much more grace and sincerity. And that would at least be a start, wouldn’t it? We may not conquer the problem of disunity in the body of Christ, but we can certainly stop contributing to it.