The Witness of Our Unity

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The Witness of Our Unity

The world is watching — how are we doing?

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Have you logged into Facebook recently? How did it make you feel?

Studies are beginning to emerge about the effects of social media on our wellbeing, and most of them do not conclude with a ringing endorsement for more Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. Why do you think that is?

The likelihood that you felt somewhat bad or uncomfortable when you last jumped online is probably related to all the yelling, shaming, fear, or division “out there.” What used to be a quick observation about the movie you saw last night is now a political diatribe, a theological accusation, or a rant about sports or entertainment. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone has a counterargument. But I’m not as concerned about the appropriate use of social media or the conflict of conversation as I am with our fundamental heart attitudes toward other people—and specifically toward other believers.

In John 17, Jesus says really powerful things about the role of the Body of Christ and our posture toward the world. Speaking of future Christians, He says, “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.” So the world will know that Jesus is real and that God has loved the world as a result of our unity?!

Wait a minute. But what about the Christians who differ in political views? What about the ones who have different theological interpretations of certain side issues? How could we possibly be in unity with them?

Jesus hears our angst—then He smiles and invites us into these relationships anyway. He is talking about people who He knows will differ in experience, style, culture, opinion, and desire. He knows all things, and I don’t believe He’s speaking about a pipe dream. Just like I believe His other teachings—like the Sermon on the Mount—can be extremely challenging for us to embrace, He still continually invites us to follow Him into radical love and obedience. The truth is, the unity of Christians will be evidence to the world that God is real—and that God is love.

So how are we doing with our unity? What can we do to get better? Consider these four principles:

People are not the enemy; the enemy is the enemy. I recently heard Alliance Pastor Steve Fowler share this extremely important reminder. It takes about 10 seconds on Facebook to line up our enemies and draw lines because we need to convince them our point of view is the right one; or we have a strong need to win arguments or feel validated.

We must remember that our fellow humans and believers are not the enemy. The enemy of our souls would like nothing more than to divide us and have us fight battles internally while the world burns around us searching for love and meaning.

Some battles aren’t worth it. Picking your “hill to die on” is an important principle in the unity of the Body. This is why phrases like “unity in the essentials, liberty in nonessentials” emerged early on when determining the core doctrines of the Church. Churches rarely split over essential elements of doctrine (e.g., the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth, justification by faith, etc.) but  over style preferences, political leanings, hurt feelings, or debate over doctrinal nonessentials.

As Christians, we are not gaining incredible ground in the United States. There are bright spots, but in general we are shrinking in number. Our response should not be to attack one another or even attack the “world”—but to unite in humility before our Savior, asking where our true identity lies and loving one another as Christ has loved us. Jesus said things like that too.

Unity=Humility. The first step in submitting to one another in love is to admit that we too are broken and flawed; were lost but are now found; and are just trusting Jesus for another day. It’s amazing how conflict can be diffused by authentic and vulnerable humility. I have seen it over and over when someone is willing to go beyond saying, “I’m sorry” to saying, “I was wrong, I did not treat you with love  and respect.” You don’t have to be an Enneagram expert to know that when you look in the mirror you may need some help in your life. If we start with our own brokenness, we will invite healing moments and create space for people to share theirs as well.

Family is Messy. At our recent Alliance Council, President John Stumbo quoted Alliance Women National Director Jen Vogel, saying family is messy—and he reminded us that we must stay together even when it’s tricky. After all, we are a Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family—and as such, we will always have our disagreements and differences. Even in The Alliance we have a wide range of opinions about various issues and topics, political persuasions, and style preferences. But we’re a family. Church Ministries Vice President Terry Smith recently said to me, “What makes The Alliance great is also what makes us vulnerable.” He meant that our diversity in opinions and experience is part of the richness of our movement but also makes us open to letting small things become ultimate ones. The world needs to experience kindness that leads to repentance rather than yelling that leads to division. How great would it be if our Alliance family demonstrated to the world how to disagree within the context of kindness and unity?

I’m not suggesting that we stay silent on major issues or that we sweep moral outrage under the rug. However, our approach to our sisters and brothers in Christ is as important as the arguments we are endeavoring to win. We can have all the right theology or ministry strategy—but without love we are simply an empty noise (see 1 Cor. 13).

Today when you jump on social media, head to your church’s prayer meeting, or turn on the national news, remember that our call in these divided times is to live out Jesus’s promise in John 17, as it first resides in our hearts. We are the evidence of the love and unity of the Trinity. Let’s not add fuel to the fear fire—but instead, let us lead with kindness, humility, grace, and love.

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