Untied

My denomination is in the process of moving from “united” to “untied.” We are a large and global church that has reached a point of considering schism because we can’t agree on major points of practical theology. All of us are grieving. Nobody wanted this to be the result of our decades of conversations. When we entered life in our local churches, few of us imagined that this would happen in our lifetime, yet here we are. In preparing for what inevitably will come, we try to soothe ourselves with the notion that two strong denominations will emerge from this separation There may be some truth to that, God willing. But this divorce will be costly, exhausting, and worst of all, it has taken our eyes off of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our infighting is a poor witness to the world Jesus came to save.

What does the Bible say about unity? Should people, churches, and entire denominations try to stay together in deep disagreement for the sake of remaining intact?

We look to Paul for answers:

1 Corinthians 1 (Common English Bible)

10 Now I encourage you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: Agree with each other and don’t be divided into rival groups. Instead, be restored with the same mind and the same purpose. 11 My brothers and sisters, Chloe’s people gave me some information about you, that you’re fighting with each other. 12 What I mean is this: that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” “I belong to Apollos,” “I belong to Cephas,” “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you, or were you baptized in Paul’s name? 14 Thank God that I didn’t baptize any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that nobody can say that you were baptized in my name! 16 Oh, I baptized the house of Stephanas too. Otherwise, I don’t know if I baptized anyone else. 17 Christ didn’t send me to baptize but to preach the good news. And Christ didn’t send me to preach the good news with clever words so that Christ’s cross won’t be emptied of its meaning.

Paul could not have anticipated the many fractions of Christian expression that we have today. Where he encouraged preaching the good news, we have encouraged dogmas, doctrines, and disciplines that ended up drawing so many lines in the sand, we have neutered the message of “Christ-crucified.” Shame on us.

Human wisdom versus the cross

18 The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. 19 It is written in scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent.20 Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? 

As denominations debate their individual positions regarding social justice and the practice of ministry as each one sees it, God’s wisdom is lost in a sea of cacophonous dialogue. Those of us who have no other choice but to wait for the results are exhausted, overcome, and ready for it to be over. Paul reminds us that our one and only job is to preach “Christ-crucified.” Unfortunately, much of the foolish preaching that goes on in our churches has strayed far from this mandate.

21 In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. 22 Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.24 But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. 25 This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

Paul went on to say that God’s plan for the conversion of the world was through those who were not considered wise or powerful, and were not from the upper class. Instead, the Gospel message would be carried out by those whom the world considers weak, low-class, and low-life:

26 Look at your situation when you were called, brothers and sisters! By ordinary human standards not many were wise, not many were powerful, not many were from the upper class. 27 But God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise. God chose what the world considers weak to shame the strong. 28 And God chose what the world considers low-class and low-life—what is considered to be nothing—to reduce what is considered to be something to nothing. 29 So no human being can brag in God’s presence. 

What does this say to all of the many top-heavy denominations? In creating hierarchies among people, have we completely lost sight of the mission?

30 It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us. 31 This is consistent with what was written: The one who brags should brag in the Lord!

As we move forward, may we take comfort in being part of the denomination of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone. That is the only place where our “membership” should reside. The rest of our structures and man-made institutions will all fade away someday, and rightfully so.

Let us brag only in the Lord, even if that means walking away from something we have loved for too long.

Walking Away by Kathy Schumacher

Singular Vision

Can you name a time in your life when you were part of a group that had a single purpose or goal? Even in the most highly trained sports team, the most gifted singing group, or the greatest work division the company ever put together, it is hard to find a group that doesn’t have some element of individualism, ego need, or competitiveness that ruins the unity.

Such it is with life.

The disunity that plagues the church in this season comes after many such moments in its history. Issues over slavery, racism, property rights, women’s rights (including ordination), ecclesial structure, hierarchy, and issues surrounding human sexuality have been present in most denominations since the first day they were formed. In my denomination these disputes have caused schisms, mergers, closures, and the re-writing of our Book of Discipline every four years. And there is more to come.

What does scripture say about unity in the body of believers?

Paul wrote a letter to the church at Philippi in anticipation of a visit there. But in the meantime, he had words of instruction for the people:

Philippians 1 (The Message)

27-30 Meanwhile, live in such a way that you are a credit to the Message of Christ. Let nothing in your conduct hang on whether I come or not. Your conduct must be the same whether I show up to see things for myself or hear of it from a distance.

Stand united, singular in vision, contending for people’s trust in the Message, the good news, not flinching or dodging in the slightest before the opposition.

Your courage and unity will show them what they’re up against: defeat for them, victory for you—and both because of God. There’s far more to this life than trusting in Christ. There’s also suffering for him. And the suffering is as much a gift as the trusting.

We would do well to heed Paul’s words. The issues that divide us cannot be stronger than the message that unites us. We are called to make a witness to the world and contend for their TRUST in the message we are sent to deliver. It is a message of hope. It is a message of the good news of the resurrection. It is a message of peace. It is a message of God’s singular vision for the world…that all who believe in Jesus shall not perish, but have everlasting life. That is our singular vision.

It is worth setting aside our individual goals, ego needs, and competitiveness so that we might win the world for Christ. It will take our courage and our unity. Most of all it will take humility.

We are suffering right now, but if we focus on the singular vision of winning the world to Jesus, we can gain the trust of the people as we put our trust in God.

Meanwhile, live your life in such a way that you will be a credit to the cause of Christ. The world is watching.

Focused by Sharon Tinucci

Dis Unity

Our families are suffering from a lack of unity. Discussions on politics and national events have made any kind of family gathering (even by ZOOM) filled with polarized positioning, often expressed very loudly.

Our churches are suffering from a lack of unity. My denomination is on the precipice of a historic split that will forever change who we are, and I am heartbroken over that.

Our nation is suffering from a lack of unity. We have become the Un-United States. The disunity on our streets, in our media, in the national government, and in our towns is destroying us.

Can there ever be unity in the world again? One would think that a global crisis such as a pandemic would have caused us to lay down our swords and turned them into ploughshares for the sake of humanity.

But no.

When evil raises its ugly head and godly people are silent, the enemy comes to kill, steal, and destroy us by targeting our unity first. Knowing that there is strength in numbers, disunity is the goal of every evil force around us. When the righteous scatter, the enemy prowls around looking for weaknesses.

As people of God, unity should be our goal. Jesus‘ most fervent prayer was that we would be ONE. We are called to be the body of Christ for the world, working together in harmony to bring the kingdom of peace to the earth.

Let’s look at our psalm today and see what it teaches us about unity.

Psalm 133 (New Revised Standard Version)

How very good and pleasant it is
    when kindred live together in unity!

Unity is good. Unity is pleasant. Unity is a blessing. Like a fine and precious oil, God’s gift of unity should flow down the chins of his people.

It is like the precious oil on the head,
    running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
    running down over the collar of his robes.

Just as the dew on the mountains comes after the refreshing rain, unity is a sign of what life-forevermore will be in the kingdom.

It is like the dew of Hermon,
    which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,
    life forevermore.

Where in your circle of friends, family, community, or world can you be the voice of unity today? Where can you offer a sign of reconciliation to someone “across the aisle” that would bring a moment of peace? Where can you lay down your right to express your opinion so someone else might voice theirs, and then listen with the goal of mutual understanding?

We can’t fix the world overnight. But you can change your attitude. Make peace with someone today and pass on a blessing of kindred living that is calm, respectful, and peaceful. One day, when Christ returns, we will all take a knee….in unity.

Every Knee Shall Bow by Kathy Schumacher