Talk is cheap. Complaints and hand-wringing over disunity is one thing, finding practical ways to overcome it is another. In this third and final post about unity in the church, here are some ideas I had to help us move past a culture of accepted disunity and into a culture that actively seeks fellowship among believers in spite of denominations and doctrines.
Number one, change our understanding of the church. Our view of the church has a direct impact on our acceptance of disunity. When we reduce the church to a strictly local gathering that erects barriers based on secondary doctrines and views itself as distinct from every other local church, disunity is sure to follow. Some of the notions that go along with that include the unspoken belief that if you attend a different group than the one you usually attend, you are somehow being unfaithful to your “home” church. We need to jettison this view of the church as a bowl of marbles and start seeing it as a single loaf of bread, made up of lots of different kinds of believers but all part of one united Body.
Number two, actively seek opportunities to meet even while recognizing (as has been pointed out) that you are going to have to meet people where they are. Waiting for others to come to you so you can be unified is not going to work. Unity is important and requires work and it requires sacrifice. We have hundreds of years of tradition that go back to the founding of this country, traditions that see nothing unhealthy about our division even though it runs in clear contrast to the teachings of Christ. The cultural church landscape most of us grew up with must not be allowed to continue driving our understanding of the church. We must instead take our cues from Scripture.
Number three, be willing to place unity at the same level as other doctrines. In other words, unity in the Body is something that needs to be given priority even when it runs up against traditionally divisive doctrines like baptism, church government, soteriology and eschatology. More often than not, unity takes a back seat. It is something that just happens by default after we have sufficiently divided ourselves from every other Christian who fails to adhere to our list of distinctives. Unity cannot be something relegated to the back bench because when we do that, disunity is always the result. How important we consider a doctrine will often drive our actions and as the church has demonstrated by its indifference for hundreds of years, we just don’t consider unity to be all that important and our witness has suffered immensely for it.
Number four, stop the name calling. I am not talking here about ignoring wolves among us or not calling out those who proclaim a different Gospel. I am thinking here about charges of heresy when what we are discussing fails to rise to that level. A prime example is found in the Calvinism-Arminianism debate. It is common, and I will admit to having engaged in this as well, for Calvinists to imply or outright claim that Arminianism is a heresy. I have also heard the opposite be claimed by Arminians. Many Calvinists seem to have a permanent sneer when speaking of Arminians and I have seen more than a few books and tapes being hawked that claim to debunk the “heresy” of Calvinism. As an unapologetic Calvinist I have to ask “Is the Arminian my brother?”. If he is a believer, he absolutely is my brother even if I think he is wrong on this crucial issue and I am his brother, even if he disagrees with me about Calvinism. In fact it is precisely because I am a Calvinist that I must recognize that I no more choose who is my brother than I chose who is my Savior!
Number five, and perhaps most importantly, stop being afraid of other Christians and other churches! We seem so afraid of other Christians and the churches they attend. Maybe if people from our church go to their church they will like the preaching or the music better. They may go and not come back! It is fear that drives much of our disunity, fear of one another caused by a belief that churches are called to compete with one another. If someone goes from church A to church B to serve, praise God! Find out what the other group is doing, see how you can be in fellowship with one another and encourage each other. How often do you pray for your church versus how often you pray for the other churches in town? They might not meet as you do and they may not have any interest in being in fellowship with you but many of them are brothers and sisters in Christ, no different than the people you see every Sunday or the believers we pray for overseas.
What are some other thoughts? I know I have raised this same topic in the past but it is on my mind again. The splintering of the church is simply unacceptable and every Christian, one believer at a time, needs to take concrete steps to rectify this wrong and pray for the unity of God’s people.