The quote is often attributed to Mark Twain: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” The same seems destined to be true about unity as well.
My frustrations over disunity are regularly compounded whenever I contact fellow-pastors with opportunities for cooperative ministry in our area. Their response? “You know, that’s not something we’d be able to participate in.” “We can’t do it this time, but keep us on the list for anything else that comes up.” “Sorry, but if you aren’t sure that the (insert denomination or congregation here) church won’t be invited, we can’t commit to supporting that.” “Nope, that doesn’t work for us. But be sure to let us know if something else comes up—because we really believe in unity among the churches.”
Let me ask, whether you serve in Christian ministry, community development, or some other role in enhancing the lives of others: Is there a oneness between you and those you serve? Between you and others serving the same persons? I believe that you believe in unity…of some sort. But let me ask you to consider with me: which unity do we believe in?
In my June 20 post, I explored these questions as Jesus addressed them during The Last Supper (John 17). He prayed for us to “be one, even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You.” Did Jesus intend us to engage in cooperative collaboration, literally showing love for one another as we, together, showed love in our service to others? Or was He merely stating an underlying metaphysical reality? Did Jesus imagine a unity that could survive our mutual avoidance and independence? Is His a oneness that exists despite our refusal to celebrate and serve in one another’s presence?
It is nearly impossible to support some vague, insubstantial “unity” as being Jesus’ intention in John 17.
It becomes entirely impossible when the theme is addressed elsewhere. Especially dear to me, since it is the life-guiding passage on which my wife and I chose to base our marriage, is Philippians 2:1-2. It reads, “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.” In the Greek language of that day, the word we translate “if” does not suggest uncertainty. As Jesus’ disciples and the Apostle Paul’s audience would have heard it: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, and there is, if there is any consolation of love, and there is…,” then our unity is vitally necessary.
The grammatical term for the kind of sentence Paul uses is “Imperative.” That means, according to Webster & Co., that Paul is expressing “the will to influence the behavior of another.” In short, “Do something about this!” But even if we accept an intentional, and intensely personal practice instead of a merely metaphysical (some would say “non-existent”) unity, many questions remain. With whom do we pursue unity? How much diversity can we accommodate within that unity? Can we have unity not only with those embracing diversity, but whose particular diversities put them at odds with one another?
These are the questions that I want to explore over the next several weeks. The posts will be interspersed among other topics I address here. But the title will always begin with “Unity in and among Diversity,” so you’ll be able to find them. I’d welcome your questions or comments, and especially your perspectives and experiences related to applying your belief in unity to actual, real-life situations.