we’re one but we’re not the same, we’ve got to carry each other
Is how Bono puts it.
Something the church is suposed to be famous for. Something that is supposed to characterise those who follow Jesus, and indeed demonstrate to others that we are followers of Jesus because we love each other. Unity is also as Vinoth Ramachandra puts it:
a blind spot of evangelicalism due to our individualistic understandings of the gospel
It is sadly true, often Christians, not just evangelicals or protestants seem to spend more time witnessing against each other than to those who don’t know Jesus, and to whom we want to enjoy the life to the full that Jesus offers. I hold my hands up as one who is guilty, and only too aware that often my reaction to being labelled is to do the same, to define myself over and against another.
Why do we struggle with unity? Partly perhaps because we are human, tainted by the fall and we have a tendency to make a balls of things. Could it also be because we focus our unity on the wrong thing, or use the wrong means perhaps more accurately to seek to achieve unity?
Frequently protestants tend to use doctrinal consensus via theological debate as the means. I know myself I have uttered the words ‘uniting around the core truths of the gospel’ many times. ‘What is core?’ however then opens the debate, and either we see lots of groups emerging, or a watered down consensus that is virtually meaningless. Perhaps we need to listen to the Newbigin’s, Bosch’s and Ramachandra‘s of the world who suggest that our unity must come from our mission, or more correctly our shared participation in God’s mission. This becomes messy and more awkward – it is more difficult to draw neat lines. It is noticeable that when churches work together, when they unite in mission, God shows up and people come to know him. When we choose mission as the means of our unity there is less control, and maybe more room for God than when we tightly define our unity. When we focus on loving others together paradoxically we learn to love each other, and it is this that Jesus calls us to – not to judge each other on our doctrinal purity (I think it was Rene Padilla who said that). Obviously its not just as simplistic as I’m making out but i wonder if our problems of unity would look different if we had a greater focus on mission? Once again Vinoth says it better than I ever will:
It is only when we have learned to die to our own plans and projects, including our plans for world evangelisation, that we can truly love another and move forward into every dimension of life under the leading of the triune god of mission.