Unity!

How do you picture this creature?

Is it niceness in a soft coat with twinkling eyes?

Is it a little coy in demeanour, sweet and reluctant to challenge?

What should unity look like in the church?

Unity

PICTURE: BSK/www.freeimages.com

 

"Experience tells us unity can be a fragile creature. It fractures easily when divisiveness and enmity are at work and it goes lame with ineffective leadership....But when life is breathed into unity it is a beast of legendary awe with a virile and robust driving force in any season of life. " 

Is unity too fantastic a creature to be nothing more than a dragon or mermaid of mythology?

Experience tells us unity can be a fragile creature. It fractures easily when divisiveness and enmity are at work and it goes lame with ineffective leadership.

Sometimes its lifespan is all too short. 

But when life is breathed into unity, it is a beast of legendary awe with a virile and robust driving force in any season of life.  

So how do we address unity’s creatureliness, its' shortcomings, its’ fragility?

Unity (henotace: oneness; from the root hen meaning one; figuratively unity or unanimity) is only spoken of twice in the Bible with both references addressed to the Ephesians.

Paul told the Ephesian Christians to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace”.

The unity he speaks of is a conjoining of parts into a whole by a Christian’s connection with the Holy Spirit. Every Christian has an opportunity to personally communicate with the Holy Spirit. It is this connection which enables the Holy Spirit to be the church's life force. (Part one in dealing with unity’s creatureliness.)

Paul says “make every effort” to keep this creature (a unified church) alive. The Holy Spirit is the source of life and our efforts are the church-breathing. We inhale and exhale, taking in what is vital for life and expunging the rest.

Effort means effort. There is no free ride for a single Christian. Every Christian is to work at and for unity. God stirs the desire and calls on a person’s willingness to make the effort. (Part two in dealing with unity’s creatureliness.)

The essence of Paul’s instruction for the Ephesians, and the church in general, is make the effort, do what you have to do to breathe life into your church, to build, to heal, to restore, to encourage, to bolster, to unruffle, to placate, to temper, to instil, to defuse, to infuse, to enthuse and to refuse to be a passive consumer of God’s love.

Christians are to inhale and exhale in-sync with the Holy Spirit who resources, enables, empowers, breathes into and sustains the church. The flow-on of the Spirit's work in a church is to build a “bond of peace”. (Part three in dealing with unity’s creatureliness.)

It’s a bond. It’s a bond. It’s a bond of peace.

Paul recognises God’s Spirit as the one who puts an end to enmity, selfish ambition, envy, divisiveness, and so on.

Christians are so disparate, so diverse, so idiosyncratic, so creaturely that God has to build a "bond".

Our creatureliness scratches, claws and bites at the "bond of peace", but if we will stand facing the Spirit rather than locking eyes with our anger, frustrations or disappointments then we will be Christians who make every effort at unity.

Will we always succeed? No!

Should we ditch having a go? No!

God intended there should be a functionality and a symmetry between the parts of His creature, the church. He requires us to live our lives facing Him. Disunity emerges when we turn side on to God with one eye on Him and one eye on other things.

To face God is to have Him show us who we are to work with and who we are to work closely with in the "bond of peace".

Jesus’ disciples always worked with at least one other person. To do so focusses purpose, intent and action.

James and John were at one stage in their lives described as 'Sons of Thunder', an image which does not sit well with the men who wrote their respective letters in the New Testament.

Their earlier selves appear to be judgemental in the tradition of pulpit thumping proclaimers. Could you have worked with them? What about the older James and John?

Could you work alongside the ear-lopping-take-three-steps-on-water impetuous Peter?

Paul and Barnabas worked well for a time until a sharp falling out over Mark’s youthfulness and therefore usefulness.

There was a parting of ways but there was still unity in Christ.

Even in disagreement there was a unity of intent, purpose, commitment and love.

Barnabas takes on the young Mark and Paul takes on a young Timothy. Each partnership had a significant age gap, which brings its own joys and challenges.

Later Paul acknowledges Mark’s usefulness to the Gospel’s spread.

The disciples struggled with, wrestled and debated how to manage all of the non-Jews who were coming to faith in Jesus. There were visions, words of wisdom and all sorts of God stuff in the picture but they still had to “make every effort” for unity. They had to do what helps to make complete God’s purposes for mankind.

"Unity is more about purpose, about why the church exists, than everyone agreeing on everything - even non-spiritual or non-moral matters. The everyone-has-to-agree-cloak is heavy with the law and a legalistic approach to life. It trusses people when Jesus came to offer freedom. It is a misunderstanding of the Bible’s two references to unity and the New Testament model for leadership."

This begs the question how do we deal with the stresses and strains, which coexist with joy, in our church?

How do you link with others to establish and maintain focus, direction and purpose?

Unity is more about purpose, about why the church exists, than everyone agreeing on everything - even non-spiritual or non-moral matters. The everyone-has-to-agree-cloak is heavy with the law and a legalistic approach to life. It trusses people when Jesus came to offer freedom. It is a misunderstanding of the Bible’s two references to unity and the New Testament model for leadership.

God’s creature, the church, exists not to offer up one satisfying spiritual experience after another but for Christians to bond together in following Him. We are to link with someone who loves Jesus.  

The second use of henotace in Ephesians 4 comes after the word 'one' is used seven times. These references stress what Christians have in common and what should be an aid to unity when dealing with difference.

Paul speaks of a “unity (henotace) in the faith”. This is as much about a common recognition of who Jesus is, something we will all ultimately come to with Jesus’ second coming, as it is about growing into the faith together, bound in His purposes in the 'bond of peace'.

Again, this second reference to unity is not about church structures and governance and everyone agreeing on everything. When you start out from this understanding of unity you soon help to create religious despots.

Our creatureliness has the power to disfigure God’s shape and form of unity in His church. Consequently, it is critical to emphasise Christians are given everything required to live unified, as defined by the Bible.

Niceness, a sweet demeanour, twinkling eyes and a reluctance to confront may at times find expression in “the unity of the Spirit” and “a unity in the faith” but these traits are hardly Paul’s, and God’s, focus.

God’s unity amidst His people is Spirit and faith-centred, diverse and liberating, intent and sharply-focussed on His purpose.

And this is a marvellous creature.

Aside: Who does God want you to work with and who does God want you to work closely with this year?