King David sang of its sweetness. Paul pleaded for it from a Roman prison cell.
Unity among Christians is a theme the Bible does not take lightly. Jesus himself prayed for it in the Garden of Gethsemane as he neared his own death. He prayed intimately to his Father “… for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you…” (John 17:20-21). On Jesus’ mind as he faced the cross, was unity among his followers. He prayed that they may be one, just as the Trinity is one.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians that they should be of the “same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Eph 2:2). He grounded the need for this unity in believers being like “lights in the world” (Eph 2:15). Jesus provided the same explanation for the importance of unity as he prayed, “…that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). If one single believer is a candlelight in a dark world, a robust body of believers acting in one accord and in love must be like a beacon of light to the lost. The greater the unity and oneness believers practice, the brighter the light.
Unity in the Local Church
This concept plays out in the localized body of Christ, or the local church, as members care for one another in seasons of need, esteem and honor one another, and pray regularly for one another. Putting the needs of others above our own may mean singing songs or accepting styles of music that are not our personal preference in order to serve others. It may mean graciously accepting others who do not dress the same way we would for a worship service. It may mean freely offering forgiveness to a brother or sister who has wronged you, or supporting a family that does not parent the same way you do. It most certainly means we love fellow heirs because they love and are loved by the same Savior we are.
Scripture commands Christians to be unified with one another because it is difficult and contrary to our natures. We are commanded to do what goes against our natural selves, but Christ Jesus pleads for us and unites us through his blood.
Unity With Little in Common
But what about instances where there is little in common other than the gospel? What about instances where unity is truly difficult to achieve and differences become overwhelming? Human nature is to split off into distinct people groups because unity among diversity is so difficult. We say things like, “I need a church that has more ________ (young families, singles, contemporary music, hipsters, etc.)”. We are tempted to join a church that best suits our personal style and has people who look like we do.
But the light shining in the dark world surely shines even brighter when unity is practiced in the midst of diversity.
What if we intentionally sought diversity in our congregations in order to attract a gospel presence in our communities? What if the local church truly were the most diverse organization in the world, as the only body that claims people from every tribe, tongue, and nation? What if we sought out people with whom we had nothing other than Christ in common to be a part of our church because we knew it would glorify God by making him known in the world?
What if as Christian women, we intentionally sought out friendships with women with whom we had little in common? If we crossed racial, economic, and other dividing lines with the explicit intention of diversifying our churches and our relationships, we would inevitably find ourselves in circumstances that are messy, hard, and glorious.
I live in the Middle East, where my husband pastors a church plant made up of people who hold citizenship on six continents. We are from different countries and cultures. We range in socio-economic status, have various church backgrounds, and differ on a host of second tier theological issues. I well understand the difficulties that can come from trying to organize a church with little in common other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. We regularly submit to one another in music styles, dress, and cultural references. It can at times be difficult to be of one mind with so much about us that is not in common. But we seek unity in the midst of diversity because we want to be a beacon of light to a world in darkness. We want the world to know although we have nothing worldly in common, we do have an other-worldly gospel in common, and that is more than enough. We want our earthly congregation to look as much as possible like the eternal congregation that will worship Christ forever—from every tongue, tribe, and nation.
For more reading on unity and diversity in the church check out Trillia Newbell’s book, United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity
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