About 8 years ago this passage of John 17:20-23 got me going on a journey. This is the only recorded prayer from Jesus for us, those who believe in Him through the testimony of the first disciples. Yet here we are now with over 30,000 denominations, sects, and divisions. Unity can seem hard to imagine. Over the past 8 years I have enjoyed studying some Church history, the reasons behind some of the divisions, and we have tried to visit and dialogue with Christians from a number of different denominations.
Here are some of the things I have discovered:
- Unity is an essential of the faith. Some people create different lists of essential beliefs, and then find a level of unity with people who agree to the same items on their lists. However we can not ignore the volume of Scripture on the topic of unity (see link for some verses). Unity with all Christians should be near the top of those lists, even if there is disagreement around some of the other items.
- Before creating or maintaining a division on a specific topic we should ask this question: "is there more clear Scriptural teaching backing my position than there is clear Scriptural teaching on unity and love?"
- We can respond to disagreements with love and humility.
- Unity doesn't always mean we agree on everything, but it may mean we bear with one another in love. Consider how family dynamics often work. Being part of a family doesn't usually hinge on agreement on everything.
- Pushing conformity often results in the opposite of unity. Some people may conform to your way of thinking, but divisions and walls will be created with others.
- Insisting you are right can be wrong if it is not done in love.
- I find recognizing church unity easiest when I recognize that church is people gathering together. We don't have to pray that denominations all merge into one. We can recognize and live out church unity whenever we get together with other believers.
- There is one church, and it meets in many different places and times.
Unity isn't achieved with our own effort:
"so that the love you have loved me with may be in them, and I may be in them.”
I'd love to hear your thoughts.