the blessedness of unity and the kind of unity that is blessed

How good and pleasant it is
    when God’s people live together in unity!

It is like precious oil poured on the head,
    running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
    down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
    were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the Lord bestows his blessing,
    even life forevermore.

Psalm 133

God seems to put a priority on unity. In Jesus’s high priestly prayer of John 17, that is front and center in his petition for all believers, that God’s people would be one and be perfectly united, even as he and the Father are.

This begs the question just what kind of unity we’re talking about, the answer being self evident already, and especially so when we consider our Lord’s prayer in John 17, along with the context of Psalm 133. Unity is not merely for unity’s sake, as good as that may be. That can definitely be dangerous as well, in a world in which deception and following the crowd, or simply keeping in step with custom is either sacrosanct, or else expected, or at the very least what helps a person fit in and not stand out like a sore thumb.

There is a unity that God brings his people into through Christ, and which God blesses, and is indeed delighted in, and in which we should delight. But it’s not a unity of this world, let’s say some political unity, whether Democratic or Republican, or whatever it might be. Probably many of us are united in things like that, maybe not. But that’s not the unity referred to here. In fact many of the unions of this world are broken down, and shown to be suspect, I think now of such things as reactions to evil which may not be good, and may even end up evil themselves. We have to beware of the human tendency to unite in a way that ends up being in opposition to God, not in harmony with the unity of God, and what God is bringing about in and through Christ.

Only through the gospel, the good news in Jesus, can we enter into this blessed unity of God. This is a Jesus thing. But just because we have entered into it, doesn’t mean that it’s automatic, and we can coast from there. Ephesians 4 makes it clear that our oneness is evident and rooted in a number of ways: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. But we’re told in that exact same passage to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. We are one body already. We’re to live out what we already are in Christ. And scripture makes it clear that this is an important and even vital part of our witness to the world.

We are already one in Christ. We’re to live that out, through all the complexitites and different circumstances and perspectives we find ourselves in. We each have our part in this in working toward a harmonious whole, which is both a witness to the world of the truth of the gospel, but is also central to who we are and what God is making us to be in and through Jesus.

the gospel breaks the color barrier

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3

Maybe my biggest disappointment with the church as I’ve seen it for the most part, with notable exceptions, is just how monochrome, or segregated most churches are on any given Sunday. It is understandable, yet sad at the same time, in my view. God’s grace covers us, and there’s a history behind it. And it’s not like churches who are white or black want to be segregated. There are different cultures involved, and people are at home in different places.

But the gospel is meant to bring together those who likely would never do so apart from it. What is true concerning Jews and Gentiles being reconciled to God as one body (Ephesians 2:11-22) is also true of all peoples, bringing for example Palestinians and Jews together through the cross, through Jesus’s death, along with blacks and whites, Protestants and Catholics, everyone. The reconciliation to God extends no less to each other through the good news in Jesus, and the Spirit who makes us one in him.

As a witness to the gospel, and the saving power it brings, we need to show the world how we can work through the barriers, whatever they may be. How our unity in God through Jesus by the Spirit in the love of God in Jesus supercedes all distinctions, breaks down all animosities and hostilities, through Christ’s death, and our repentance and faith, and brings the promised healing and shalom. This new world is now present through Christ in his body the church. As a witness to the world, and as part of the salvation we ourselves need, in and through Jesus.

one church

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Having churches that differ according to the cultures which they inhabit is one thing, and actually surely quite alright and even necessary. And even back in New Testament times there appears to be churches which were quite Jewish in their orientation, going out of their way not to offend the sensibility of fellow Jews, while proclaiming the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. While other churches apparently had no such orientation. So churches have been different from the outset.

But in spite of all the differences, the fact remained and remains that in Christ we are all one body. There is actually one church, and its headquarters is not in Rome, or in any other location on earth, for that matter. Its headquarters are in heaven in Jesus. He is the head, and his body continues on earth by the Spirit.

Does that mean we should get rid of all denominations, and just call all our churches Christian, period? Not necessarily, though it’s a nice dream. What is true is that we are all one body, regardless of all our differences. So that means the Baptists, Pentecostals, nondenominational, Reformed, Mennonites, Presbyterians, Anglicans, Methodists, Lutherans,  Catholics, Orthodox, etc., etc., are all actually one body in Christ. That does not mean we shouldn’t take seriously our doctrinal differences. It does mean we should be united as much as we possibly can in this world. Not easy, but if we remember where our unity lies, then we can begin to practice this, even if it seems an exercise of naked faith at times.

No denomination is perfect, or the one, but I appreciate the Evangelical Covenant Church of which we are a part, and for this very reason (among other reasons). I think the way we are church, and the way we do it is more oriented to a responsible witness of the unity we have with the body of Christ in the world, with all churches and denominations. For example, while the pastor has to know where they stand on these issues from scripture, they baptize infants (after all, our roots are Lutheran) and dedicate other infants, waiting to baptize them upon profession of their faith. We have the tradition of both just war and pacifist adherents. We love good liturgy, and practice something of a sacramental understanding of the faith, while also practicing something of the concrete, down to earth nature of the body, or what we’re called to be for each other now in Jesus by the Spirit.

And so by an act of faith, let’s seek to put aside our differences. Not an easy task at times, but let’s look beyond our differences to the essence of our faith which is found in Jesus. That by our united witness in love, the world might see Jesus.