Untied

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. We are moving from United to Untied.

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 the recent pandemic would have caused us to lay down our swords and turned them into plowshares 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.

Nature’s Harmony by Michelle Robertson

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

Mine! Mine!

In the Disney classic Finding Nemo we meet a group of greedy seagulls who chant “MINE! MINE!” as they forage for food. While fish and sea life are definitely their preferred diet, seagulls will also feast on human food, garbage, and refuse. Have you ever watched two seagulls tussle over a French fry in a fast food parking lot? The Disney spin that a seagull will claim anything they see as “mine” is not far from the mark. And as someone who lives near the beach, can I please make a request? DON’T FEED THE SEAGULLS. You are contributing to their behavior!

When I read today’s passage, I wondered if the early Christ-followers didn’t have a similar perspective. Jews who understood all the messianic prophecies and realized that Jesus of Nazareth was the fulfillment of all they had waited for were probably quite startled to learn that Jesus came to save everyone, including the gentiles:

Acts 10 (The Message)

44-46 No sooner were these words out of Peter’s mouth than the Holy Spirit came on the listeners. The believing Jews who had come with Peter couldn’t believe it, couldn’t believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out on “outsider” non-Jews, but there it was—they heard them speaking in tongues, heard them praising God.

The proof was in the pudding. The outsiders spoke in the tongue of the Holy Spirit, a unifying voice that proclaimed that what once was “mine” is now for everyone. The outsiders have been let in.

46-48 Then Peter said, “Do I hear any objections to baptizing these friends with water? They’ve received the Holy Spirit exactly as we did.” Hearing no objections, he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Then they asked Peter to stay on for a few days.

With the evidence of the universality of Christ right in front of them, they acted in one accord to acknowledge the work of the Holy Spirit and confirm it with baptism in the name of Jesus. The “mine” became “ours.”

If only we could adopt that same perspective! Our bitter division, our denominationalism, our thinking that “my doctrine is better than your doctrine”…all of this surely grieves the Holy Spirit, who calls us to be one in Christ.

One body. One voice. One heart.

A quote that is attributed to many sources including John Wesley helps us to keep the main thing the main thing: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. And charity in all things.” If we live in a time when we can’t agree on the essentials or the non-essentials, let us at least agree on charity in all things.*

This passage points to the main thing. The Holy Spirit is the transforming power of God and will come upon whomever God chooses to come upon. The outward and visible sign of this is found in baptism, which is a confirmation of the work that God has already done. Jesus instructs us to go into the world and teach and baptize in his name. We can all agree on this.

In the kingdom of God there is no mine or yours…only ours. Go and share him with someone today.

*Read more about this quote here.

OBX Seagull by Agatha Knab

As One

Both the Old and New Testaments have a lot to say on the subject of unity. A study of this topic reveals that it is part of God’s design for his creation that his people will live together in harmony. He designed us to need each other. When you explore spiritual gifts as outlined in Romans 12, you can see his big plan…each one of us is a part of a greater whole. Each must do his part for the entire body to function well. This requires that we work together toward the mission that God has given us.

God also made each one of us to be unique. Our diversity can be our greatest strength, yet it is often our diversity that tears us apart. Free will affords us the opportunity to think differently, read differently, interpret differently, respond differently, and form different opinions and passions than our fellow believers.

Many think that in our current culture, unity is impossible to achieve. I disagree.

My cockeyed optimism leads me to hope that we can celebrate our differences as we work toward a mutual goal. Sometimes that requires people to focus on the singular mission and lay down the differences that separate us.

Other times that requires a clean and healthy separation of groups so that different-leaning sides might each prosper toward the singular goal, in a “divide and conquer” kind of way.

Psalm 133 elevates the unity of families. Living together as one is likened to expensive oil lavished upon a leader’s head…so lavish that it drips even down to the collar.

Psalm 133 (Common English Bible)

Look at how good and pleasing it is
    when families live together as one!
It is like expensive oil poured over the head,
    running down onto the beard—
        Aaron’s beard!—
    which extended over the collar of his robes.

This ability to live together as one is as pleasing as a refreshing dew streaming on a mountain, and forecasts the blessing of eternal life.

It is like the dew on Mount Hermon
    streaming down onto the mountains of Zion,
    because it is there that the Lord has commanded the blessing:
        everlasting life.

Living together as one does not imply robotic thinking of a singular hive-mentality. It is presumed that within the camp there will be different needs, different graces, different opinions, and different abilities. But when the families commit to finding the oneness of a common goal, it is pleasing and good.

All believers share a common goal: to proclaim Christ crucified. Every camp is called to make disciples of Jesus Christ. We are all tasked with baptizing, teaching his commandments, and telling everything we know about his salvation.

God so loved the WORLD (in all of its diversity) that he gave his only Son. That is our story and our mission. May we learn to set our differences aside as we focus on the unity of our calling.

That the World Through Him Might be Saved by Michelle Robertson

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