by Editor-in-Chief Michael Brooks
This is the second part of a two-part series on unity. You can read the first entry here: The Missing Message: Unity in a Time of Conflict (Part 1) – Of Life, Mind, & Things
In my previous article I made the assertion that we live in an extremely divided country and culture. Even more pointedly, I claimed that we as a Church in the West are divided right now more than I can ever remember in my lifetime. This division means that very issues that divide us cannot be dealt with in a way that honors Christ, glorifies God, and brings light to the world, without us first being united. I wrote that a divided Church that values the issues more than the people will never create a solution that is valuable or effective. In this article I would like to lay out some biblical practices we must remember for the sake of unity before going out to solve issues and problems facing our world and our Church.
- Unity is Founded on Identity
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.NIV, 1 Peter 2:9-10
Peter writes to primarily Gentile Christians suffering persecution abroad for their faith in the risen Christ. In the previous section he writes about Jesus being the cornerstone of the Church and a stumbling block to those who do not believe. This unbelief, according to Peter, is what they were destined for as those who stumble over Jesus. A difficult statement to be sure but then he pivots to who these gentile Christians are, in Christ. What is their identity? Peter uses the labels God uses for the nation of Israel and applies them to gentiles united to Christ in faith.
The Church, those united to Christ by faith, are a chosen people. God has chosen them to be His. We are a royal priesthood. The Church is a messenger of the King performing the priestly duty of bringing people to God in Christ and bringing the Word and Presence of God to the world. We are God’s special possession, loved by God in a truly unique and wonderful way. This identity, which includes the wonderous variety of other names given to us in the New Testament to describe this reality (Sons and Daughters, Kingdom Members, Children, Co-Heirs with Christ), must be the prominent thing in our minds when working through conflict with the world and with brothers and sisters in Christ. Who are we first and foremost? Who is our brother and sister in Christ first a foremost? They are not a “white evangelical” first. They are not a “woke” brother or sister first. They are not a Republican, conservative, democrat, or liberal first. They are not white, black, minority, majority first (though these things matter deeply to God). These things matter to varying degrees but are not primary.
Important note, please read carefully. I am not saying race and ethnicity do not matter. Race and ethnicity do have an immense impact on the life experience and perspective of those we are relating to. Ethnic diversity is created by God and is as much a part of someone as anything else. It is a beautiful thing and yet in a broken world brings challenges that we may not understand on all sides. I am not saying that it is not a valid part of someone and that it should be ignored. Loving our brothers and sisters in Christ means we must consider these things to know them better and to love them well. It is part of who they are. The point here is that even ethnicity is not primary: Christ is.
We unite around Christ and find our identity as part of His Kingdom, members in His family, and co-heirs with Christ. Treat the Christian you disagree with accordingly.
2. Keep Friends, Don’t Make Enemies
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”Romans 12:18
The entire passage of Romans 12:9-21 should be the theme passage for directing our hearts as we pursue being salt and light in this world and encouragement to our Christian family. But, here I focus on verse 18. Paul tells the Christians in Rome to be at peace with everyone as much as it depends on them. Do everything you can to be at peace. During suffering and conflict within (and without) the Church your goal should be to be at peace with them. God brings peace, and we should be peacemakers.
This directive is getting us to think about our goals in the conversations we have. If we start with the primary goal of ending in unity (point 1) in a conversation we will be successful. Maybe we wont agree by the end, but it wont be at the cost of division. We can and should have disagreements and work through them. But, what is the kind of dialogue and conversation that regardless of the content, leads to peace and unity? A good way to do this that I have found is when ending conversations you should summarize common ground and speak to what you appreciate about their position and intent. I want to do this better and will be asking the Spirit for more wisdom in this area.
What is your goal? Is your goal to make or keep an enemy or is it to keep or make a friend?
3. Engage Tough Issues with the Right People
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.”Philippians 2:14-16
There is an important implication in the first phrase that Paul admonishes. He continues to call the Church of Philippi to be unified, love each other, and consider each other more than themselves. One way we do that is to do everything without grumbling or arguing. There is a key implication here: if you do not have a friendship or relationship that has enough trust or health to handle a difficult issue–be careful in engaging in it. Some relationships you have in the Church and with other brothers and sisters in Christ are not in a place where confrontation on tough issues is helpful or even appropriate.
Let me put it this way, we all have circles of friends. Not every friend is equally close, trusted, or relied upon. This is normal and healthy and is also true in the Church. Not every friendship you have within your Church is in a place where you can engage on difficult issues with them. What is the best way to be unified? Pick when and with whom you decide to deal with difficult issues. The ones that do not trust you in that way may not only degrade into an argument (or ignore you) but may also not hear you (nor you them) because you simply do not respect each other in that way. You are not the person to each other that is in a position to make progress on important issues.
Use wisdom and love to avoid damaging a friendship that was not ready for a difficult discussion. Social media has destroyed much of this normal appropriate deference that we normally practice. We argue with people we do not know, people we barely know, and the communicate at times in a brutal way that does not honor Christ. Show care in who you engage with as much as when. First, grow the closeness in Christ. Earn trust, show love, display support, be sacrificial toward them, help bear their burdens and then possibly over a long period of time you both can engage on important and divisive issues because your brother/sisterhood is more important and of first importance. This should be practiced regardless of the goal to have a more difficult conversation.
The message is clear biblically: love well. Truth is just as important and some issues are too important to wait but we must do these things in a way that fights for unity in Christ as the goal of every conversation.
For further reading examine closely Ephesians 2:11-4:16 which is all centered around unity in Christ. Unity is called for in the context of racial hostility, religious bigotry, sinful arrogance, and doctrinal differences were very important to Paul. A large portion of Ephesians is dedicated to this instruction.