Teach Unity as if it were a doctrine
Christian summer camp was, I think, the place where I heard a sermon that changed my way of thinking. The speaker, as usual his name has been long ago forgotten, mentioned that what we generally call the Lords prayer is not really the Lord’s prayer but the real Lord’s prayer is in John chapter 17. So I had to check it out since by not making a mistake that everyone else is making I could be morally superior to them. I read John 17 and was struck by the unity part of the prayer.
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Jesus asks his father, not once but twice, that his followers be one. He also gives his reason for asking not once but twice. It is so the world will know that the Father sent Jesus. Even a child, which I was, could see that we evangelicals were not one just as the Father and Jesus are one.
Years later, in a bid to show God that I meant all those pious thoughts I had about Christian unity, I changed denominations. I went from a denomination where Acts 2:38 was a standard memory verse to one where it was ignored. I was a bit shocked because I naively thought everyone memorized the same verses. Of course each denomination would emphasize the verses that favored their own doctrinal positions. This may be a moot point. Maybe churches don’t have their kids memorize verses like we did but if your church does then get them to add John 17:20 to 23 to the list.
The laity should demand it from the leadership
I recently read a blog by a preacher where he talks about unity and how Satan is trying to cause disunity. Go to http://www.challies.com/christian-living/satans-great-desire if you are interested. I want to say this with the utmost sensitivity but I probably won’t. Everyone has a bias and preachers as much or more than anyone. When preachers talk about unity they always mean ‘don’t leave my church’. They are fine with you leaving another church and joining theirs. What we need is a leadership that willing to be united across denominational lines.
Warning – pet peeve to follow
One thing I hate that a lot of doctrinalist do is put explaining words in places where the Bible does not have words. For instance the guy at at http://www.challies.com/christian-living/satans-great-desire puts the word local in front of the word church 6 times. The Bible, as far as I know, never uses the word local in reference to a church; There is only The Church. As a rule, if someone has to add a modifier to a Bible verse to prove their point then at best their point is weak.
on the other hand – I understand why they do it and I sympathize, but understand and sympathize does not mean ‘think it is right’. I’m sure they think they are sparing the laity the boring explanation of how they came to that interpretation. It still strikes me as being dishonest. My opinion is that Caesar’s wife and preachers of the gospel must be above suspicion.
Appeal to our baser motives. We could call it ‘How to get ahead in Christ’s Kingdom without really trying’.Growing up in an evangelical family and attending an evangelical church I got the idea that what each church/denomination wanted was to be right. Unspoken (usually) was the idea that Jesus would bless the rightest. The blessing could be either in the next life or in this one but rightness would be blessed. I sort of took that idea to heart and combined it with the unity verse. Now I see campaigning for Christian unity as a way to be the rightest and therefore be the most blessed. It makes sense that those concerns that were on Jesus’ mind just before he died would be the ones that are most important to him. By focusing on his most important cares I’m in a good position to curry favor. Besides that, it is way better than all that other stuff we are supposed to do like care for the poor and love our enemy. Being a good Christian is difficult. Truly loving people whether poor or enemies is emotionally and materially draining. Even the relatively easy ‘read your Bible and pray’ Christianity seems to tax my stores of self discipline. Unity Christianity can be very easy; even easier than Rightness Christianity. In Unity Christianity you don’t even have to study the Bible much, all you have to do is think ‘I am one with all followers of Jesus’. As bonus you get to criticize Christians who argue about fine points of doctrine.
Yes the above is tongue in cheek but I do believe that it is pleasing to Jesus to make efforts to being unified.
Be truly humble.
My personal opinion is that being humble is the essence of Christianity. I believe that one measure of whether a doctrine is true or not is whether it encourages humility. That is why I believe we are saved by faith not works and why I believe in predestination. I also believe that the promise of John 10:10 is not realized until one is truly humble.
This is pertinent to Christian unity because it is pride that keeps us from admitting that it is possible that we may be wrong. I understand this all to well. I too read the Bible and make an opinion. And I truly, deeply, profoundly believe that my opinions are correct. Admitting that I may be mistaken almost feels like lying since I in no way believe that I am mistaken. But then another part of my brain kicks in, the voice of reason part. As I explained to by daughter, it is possible that out of all the people who have existed from the beginning of time until now I’m the one whom God picked to be right about everything. It’s possible…..
Be truly empathetic.
Christianity is an empathetic religion and a reciprocal religion. Think of these well known statements, ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and ‘Judge not lest ye be judged’. Christ is encouraging us to be empathetic and warning us of reciprocity. I remember what a revelation it was to me to understand that all those doctrinaire people whom I thought were idiots believed that they were right just as much as I believed that I was right and that while some of them were stupid or of bad character many of them were people just like me. Fortunately Christianity is also a forgiveness religion else I would be due some serious reciprocity for the things I have said. (and will say)
Be truly polite.
Jesus would often spur is followers on by comparing them to the pagans. He says for instance ‘so you greet those who greet you, even the pagans do that’. I would say it this way ‘even the pagans can be polite for the sake of looking good’. I live in Canada, and we have a tradition of politeness for all debates that take place in the legislature. Outside of the legislature politicians can be as rude as they think they can get away with but inside the legislature there are certain rules that are to be followed. For instance, a member of parliament (sort of like an American congressman) is always referred to by his title; also a member of parliament (MP for short) is not allowed to call another MP a liar. Even euphistic language is discouraged so parliamentry exchanges will proceed thusly.
MP from Grey-Bruce: Mr. Speaker it is clear that the honorable member from Calgary Center has misled the house.
MP from Calgary Center: Mr. Speaker please ask the Honorable member from Grey-Bruce to withdraw that statement.
MP from Grey-Bruce: Mr. Speaker I withdraw the statement.
Translation, the MP from Grey-Bruce called the MP from Calgary Centre a liar and then took it back to keep from being asked to leave.
Being hypocritical is almost a prerequisite for being a politician so of course they are just pretending to be nice. They will be as rude as the speaker will allow and sometimes they will be deliberately rude so they can get thrown out of the house and get their names in the paper. I know this is a low bar but I suggest that we evangelicals speak about each other in terms that are more polite than those used by Canadian Politicians when they are using their best parliamentry language. Since we are Christians why can’t we really mean it, especially when speaking to other Christians?
Be truly humble
I know I mentioned this one already but it is important. I think the crux of the problem is that we don’t believe that these people with whom we disagree are really Christians. We believe that they are sons of Satan scything souls for Hell. This is where humility comes in; None of us is God. It is God who will separate the wheat from the tares. Trying to do it now just causes more damage. Further, none of us can speak for God. Unless you are the Pope, the New Testament is closed. No more additions allowed. If you think that God speaks to you directly then you have my sympathies and please speak to your physician about it. (I’m not being sarcastic by the way)
Being humble is hard. Let’s be honest here, we are among friends. None of us ever will be truly humble, the best we can do is ACT humble. Here is a thought that may make it easier. I know that it is a thought that appeals to your pride but work with me. Many of us Christians have secret sins and we intend to keep them secret because we are embarrassed by them. Arrogance is a very public sin.
Be truly polite
I know I mentioned this one already but I like politeness. I watch those Jane Austin movies with my wife and daughter just because I love to see everyone speaking with those 19th century manners. Did you notice that in the book of Job God speaks to Satan politely and even calls him a son. Do you think that maybe that was put there as an example to us?
Jesus has specifically forbidden his followers from calling each other fools and has even said that those as would use that term are in danger of hell fire. We are not legalists. Is there any serious Christian who would say that fool is bad but stupid or idiot is okay?
Be truly aware
If your website displays the word truth prominently, as if you have it or if it displays the word error as if you are going to point out other people’s or if you like using the word heresy this blog is aimed at you.