August 11, 2004

"One love, we get to share it... leaves you, baby, if you don't care for it."

What if our unity, the tangible, visible one-ness of the now-body-of-Christ, isn't something we're responsible for manufacturing or creating? What if it's something we simply have to nurture, conserve, and defend? In other words, what if we're not the creators of unity, but the stewards of it?

I think there's a biblical case to be made for a stewardship concept of unity. After all, it took Christ to bring us all together; we could never have done it without him.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16 NIV)
In other words, it took divine intervention to bring people together in true unity. It took the cross to put to death our antagonism toward each other so that we could be one. In fact, the Greek word for "peace" in the first verse of that Scripture passage carries well both the idea of relational harmony and that of physical health and wholeness in a body. Christ himself is our harmony with one another; he is our wholeness. Unity is a gift from God just as surely as salvation is.

But just because our unity is a divine gift doesn't mean we can't affect it. Half of the New Testament epistles deal with the restoration of unity within the body after its members have done something to sabotage it. In Galatia it was legalism; in Philippi it was worldliness; in Colosse, heresy; in Corinth...well, in Corinth, it was almost everything they did. The New Testament teaches that we can't create unity, but we can wound it, maim it, cripple it, destroy it.

So what happens when you apply the stewardship paradigm to Christian unity? Well, for one thing, I think we're all forced to accept responsibility for our lack of it. But on another level, I think it gives much-needed guidance to those of us who would work toward a more biblical unity in the church. Perhaps we should focus our efforts not on structures or events that we imagine will foster unity among churches (like the frustrating Local Ecumenical Project that Tony blogged about a few weeks ago), but on figuring out what we have each done to undermine our God-given unity...

...and then on repenting.

This post is the latest in my series on church unity, playing off the lyrics of U2's song "One." Previous posts can be read here, here, and here.


At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So let me emphasize one of your points: Unity is an accomplished fact. Christ has done it, for he himself is our peace. Disunity can come from overt actions that disrupt Christ's peace, or merely by our failing to embrace each other and accept the unity that Christ has achieved.

Unity stewardship reminds me of the situation every married couple faces. They have to continually work to maintain unity, and that usually means honest and frequent communication, coming together to develop a set of shared experiences, trust, giving each other the benefit of the doubt when there is the potential for conflict... Simply speaking, unity flowers from the investment of time, energy and commitment to the relationship, and most of all from a serving, selfless love.

Perhaps unity is more challenging in the body of Christ because we fail to invest ourselves in it? --Charlie,

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Great points, Charlie...thanks for posting them!

I'm working this morning on Sunday's sermon on Matthew 5:21-26 (anger as murder and the preeminence of reconciliation) and one of the points I want to make is this: reconciliation has a "shelf life." In other words, the longer a relationship remains broken, the more difficult it becomes to restore it to full health. It's like a broken bone--if it's not set properly soon after breaking, it doesn't heal properly. The result is either a great deal of pain in the healing process (as the bone is rebroken and properly set) or permanent pain and loss of effectiveness.


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home