I begin this post with a concession: Christian unity is topic I don’t pretend to fully understand. But I feel I do have a few helpful suggestions I would like to present regarding the church/bride of Christ moving towards greater unity. Feedback is very welcomed.
A little bit of my own colourful context: I grew up in a Chinese Baptist church, and in high-school and the first half of my tertiary education then became heavily involved with the “conservative evangelical” Sydney Anglicans. Then I was part of an independent church and in that context, we had a move of the Spirit which thrust me into some “Pentecostal” and “Charismatic” movements including the International House of Prayer, a “New Apostolic Reformation” movement. I participated para-church activities run by heavily “Pentecostal” Zion Hill church. In Sydney I have been a part of the Vineyard movement – “Neo-Charismatics”, and now attend the Sydney House of Prayer. I have prayed with Catholics at an anti-abortion rally. I have ministered with a Seventh-Day adventist in prison-ministry. I listen regularly to the “Neo-Calvinistic” John Piper, the “Reformed-Puritan” Paul Washer.
Reading through John 17 yesterday, I was struck by the way Jesus prays for the unity of his church 3 times in 3 verses “that all of them may be one (21)…that they may be one (22)…that they may be brought to complete unity (23)“
I am convinced that a movement or a group of people that believes that they have the exclusive hold on the truth is blind to the fact that:
1. Like sheep to pasture, humans cannot lead themselves to the truth
2. God’s leadership over his flock is perfect, and his desire and ability to reveal himself (and the truth) is unhinderable.
What is important in our journey towards Christian unity and cooperation is the realisation that this tendency to be biased towards our own versions of truth and our beliefs exists in every human heart. It is an outworking of pride – a trait inherent in the deepest recesses of our hearts to the very surfaces of our haughty eyes. The pride within us causes the rejection of the differences and the diversities of the body of Christ. Pride is a deeply constrictive posture for ourselves and for the people we interact with. Internally, it a causes a narrow mind and a hard heart. Towards other people, it produces condemnation and criticism which is essentially crippling and restrictive.
And yet there must be a way forward, if Jesus prayer is to be answered, which I don’t fully understand. And just as crucial as being more accepting of others in the body, we also must be more sure of the truth that we hold and the boundary lines we draw regarding the centrality of Christ and his death and his no holds barred call to “follow me”.
A way forward is to attribute differences in doctrine, practice and history not as errors but diversities in function. Different body parts have different functions, but all are important to the wholeness and function of the one body. The basis for unity in Jesus’ prayer for his church is the Trinity – in which we see a one-ness in which there are distinct entities that vary by name, and by function.
Finally, a practical suggestion for movement towards unity is doxology. For doxology humbles. And where differences become divisive, it has been shown time and time again that doxology brings humility and unity. Also where truth becomes hazy, doxology brings clarity and revelation and direction. We see this so clearly in Isaiah 6 in Isaiah’s encounter with the throne-room of Heaven.
Only in the light of his face, in the fire of his eyes, in the beauty of the man Jesus Christ will a prideful, divisive and broken generation all around the world begin to pick up their individual instruments, from the grand piano to the cymbal to the violin to the trumpet to the triangle. And a beautiful sound shall rise. It shall rise as each player and instrument comes to know its right place and its dependence every other instrument. It shall rise as each instrument comes to play in perfect time. And it shall be a sound more beautiful than anything this world has ever heard. It shall rise from the ends of the earth, from Australia, from New Zealand, and the islands of the Pacific. It shall rise from the European nations, from the Americas and from Africa. It shall rise from the Chinese and the Asians. It shall rise from the Middle-East. And it shall arise from Jerusalem.
And to such a sound and song, our King will come.