For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. (New International Version)
We are all on spaceship earth together. Everyone has the similar experiences of birth, life, death, and the joys and sorrows of it all.
But what we don’t all share is our individual responses to all those events. Some folks do better than others with the ups and downs of life in this world.
So there are two pledges that are most helpful to make to God and to each other, especially when it comes to Christ’s Church:
- I will be a unifying person.
- I will not make everything about my personal preferences.
Christians need to get along and work together; and that cannot happen if all we want is what we want.
“Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” Jesus (John 13:34-35, NIV)
Unity, forgiveness, reconciliation, love, and communicating the gospel message of forgiveness happens by people being gracious to each other so that a watching world can see the validity of Christ within us.
Followers of Jesus have a responsibility to be a source of unity, not division.
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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. (Ephesians 4:3-6, NIV)
Unity doesn’t merely happen; it must be pursued and be a common value of all.
As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14, NIV)
We are to be like-minded, having the same love for one another that we have for Jesus, being united in spirit and purpose.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4, NIV)
The specific problem in the Corinthian Church was their allegiance to different individuals; each person and clique had their favorite preacher. And they grouped themselves around how that particular pastor taught and ministered.
The situation was a classic case of church folk saying to each other, “That’s not how so-and-so did it!” But that approach of following pet preachers ends up in division – the focus becomes on the methods of ministry rather than the substance of the ministry itself.
Christians must keep in mind that the heart of all Christian ministry is the cross of Christ that saves us from our pettiness and transforms us into forgiven people who spread forgiveness and healing. Therefore, our primary loyalty is to Christ and the message of the cross, and not to particular personalities or programs.
The sin of the Corinthians was misguided loyalties; and the answer to wrong priorities is to have Jesus and the cross as our central and guiding allegiance.
The Corinthian believers were emotionally tied to the leader who baptized them and who was a significant force for good in their lives. Its more than understandable to have a special relationship with someone who was there for you. However, what’s not okay is following that person as if they’re Jesus himself, and then insisting that everything be done the way my favorite does it.
Christian unity means to agree with one another about the good news of Christ, and let everything else be a matter of lesser importance. Can you live with that?
A sobering reality is this: Not everyone in every church is there to follow Jesus. And as long as that’s a reality, there will be schisms, factions, cliques, divisions and disunity. The visible church always has a mix of righteous and unrighteous people within it, concerned more about power politics than humbly following Jesus and spreading the gospel.
At the same time, yet another reality is that the church has taken unity and purity seriously throughout its history and sought to preserve the collective integrity of its fellowship. Sin was discerned as the community’s responsibility to address. It’s only been in the past 300 years that sin has been viewed as something which is only a matter between the individual and God.
In the early centuries of the Church, believers desiring to repent of their sins would typically spend a period of time fasting and praying, then appearing before the entire church to make a public confession.
Don’t freak out. I’m not necessarily endorsing that method for us, but nevertheless, the message remains essential: Agree with one another, make peace, and bring spiritual healing to all. The power of Christianity is in the blood of Jesus to forgive sins, and not by trying to ensure things get done, the way we think they ought to get done, in the way our favorite people do them.
Maybe you recognize or can relate to some of these common behavior patterns in many churches:
- Worship wars. One or more factions in the church want the music and the liturgy just the way they like it. Any deviation is met with anger and complaining.
- Preservation of the church building as of the highest priority (above spiritual growth and maturity).
- Protection of programs and ministries held in such high regard that, even if they are not effective, the church keeps doing them.
- Attitudes of entitlement. A sense of deserving special treatment and attention.
- Concerns about changing things, and yet, no real concern about changing lives.
- Apathy and avarice. A lack of motivation and energy to build relationships with outsiders and share the gospel; and hoarding spiritual resources for the insiders.
There is to be unity around the things most important to God.
Christian unity isn’t about keeping everyone happy; it’s about the good news of Jesus and being anchored to the Rock of our salvation, Christ. All the practical and important stuff of human life must be shaped and governed by the cross of Jesus, because that’s where God’s power saved the world, and where hope is found.
Lord Jesus, you prayed that we might all be one. We pray for the unity of Christians everywhere, according to your will and your methods. May your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, to see our sin for what it is, and to hope beyond all hope. Amen.