“If there was ever a time for a unified voice from the Body of Jesus, It’s now.”
That was the thought I had as I read a passage that I’ve read maybe hundreds of times. This time, however, it moved me to tears.
In John 17:15-21 Jesus prays,
“I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.
20 I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
We have been sent into the world as a united witness to Christ. Our unity is a witness to the Tri-Unity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I cried because I realized the extent to which this prayer and call from Jesus is unheeded by his church.
Unheeded by me …
I started to imagine … what if?
I’m a visionary. Some would call me a dreamer. That’s okay with me.
One of my dreams is for the community of people that identify themselves as followers of Jesus Christ to recognize and respond to the need we have for unity.
Unity, not uniformity. I understand that each Christian has ideals, preferences, interests, and experiences that are widely diverse. The scriptures don’t even expect uniformity, since Paul uses the diversity of a human body in 1 Corinthians 12 as a way to explain the various functions, methods, approaches, and roles everyone has as part of the Body of Christ. Yet, Paul goes on to explain that the various parts are brought together and called one Body under the Headship of Jesus.
One Body, many parts, all united in Jesus. Pretty clear, right?
Easier said than done … then and now.
In my theological education, I deliberately studied among people who had different beliefs than me. As a result, I have friends that are Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, Quakers, Pentecostals, non-denominationals, Mennonites, Lutherans, Episcopal, and others. Even these categories have their own internal variations. In our studies, we disagreed on many non-essentials, but were surprisingly united on the essentials of Evangelical faith.
I’m a Baptist. I have been my whole life. Studying with all the people mentioned above made me an even stronger Baptist. I love my Baptist heritage and remain committed to the distinctives of the Baptist identity within which I was raised, although that doesn’t mean that I agree with everything I see, hear, and read coming out of the national offices in Nashville. In fact, my Baptist tribe is splintered in many directions as evidenced by the church I pastor – Southern Baptists worship, work, and witness alongside Heartland Baptists, as well folks from the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. It gets tricky, since Baptists aren’t always known for their ability to agree … the old joke is that if you have three Baptists in a room you’ll end up with five opinions! Still, we have made it work at my church because of a commitment to lean into the unity we find in the essentials of our common faith in Jesus Christ. The same is true of Christians from other denominations with whom we minister. But this did not happen easily, nor is it natural. It is an intentional and daily practice.
Unfortunately, it is so much easier to emphasize the points of disagreement and lose sight of where we are unified. Unity is hard work for the Body today, just as it was for those that Jesus prayed would be one (John 17:1-26), and for the warring factions of the Corinthian Church (1 Cor. 12:13-27). Still, Jesus prayed for oneness, and Paul called for unity, so I will keep praying and envisioning a diversely unified Body of Christ.
I have a friend who is a very talented mosaic artist. Much of her work is in finding the right kind of diversity of color, texture, shape, and size in the individual pieces. She tells me that a mosaic’s unique beauty is in proportion to the difficulty of its assembly. She says her best works are stained with blood from her fingers. Her mosaics come to mind as I think about this problem.
The difficulty with the Body of Christ is its diverse population of broken humanity brought together through the grace of Jesus.
In contrast, the beauty of the Body of Christ is its diverse population of broken humanity brought together through the grace of Jesus.
On one hand, the broken pieces are sharp, rough and differ from one another, drawing blood from the hands working to create an image of unified diversity. The Body is a problematic project, “susceptible to division and fragmentation,” as John Stott observed. On the other hand, the broken lives redeemed by Jesus create a mosaic of grace that reflects the creative unity of our Master Artisan. That’s where I am hopeful. I pray the various broken pieces of humanity that are redeemed by Christ can come together in a manner that reflects his likeness to a world in need of his grace and truth.
What if we as followers of Jesus took seriously the call to become one Body? What would it take? I’d like to offer a few suggestions over the next several posts. I hope you will find them helpful.
- Does unity and civility require us to abandon a strong stance on conviction?
- What if we lost our fear of being “wrong?” Not morally wrong, but wrong in a “teachability” sense.
- What if we realized how wide a platform for unity we have?
- What if we recognize the strength of our unity is the sum of our diversity?