I’ve commented in a few posts about the polarities and divisions in American culture. But I was reminded today that the faith I identify with has no room to stand in judgment of the culture. I’ve been reading Mac Pier’s book, Consequential Leadership, in which he profiles fifteen influential Christian leaders. In his chapter on evangelist Luis Palau, I was struck by the observation Palau made at least twice in the chapter about his concern over the divided state of American Christianity. And so I’ve been musing today on what it would take to overcome these divisions.
1. Rather than fighting over Him or acting if He didn’t exist or was simply a vague haze around the Father and Son, unity will come when we yield ourselves to the Holy Spirit. The apostle Paul says, “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). That tells me that we actually already are one and if we were really full up with the Spirit, we might start acting like it.
2. When we decide that praying together is more important than posturing, self-promoting, programming, and building our publishing platforms, we might start living out our unity. Pier’s book talks about the impact Concerts of Prayer in New York City has had in the spiritual awakening and uniting of the church across denominational and ethnic lines.
3. Again and again I hear from people returning from missions in other parts of the world that Christians engaged in mission are not involved in lobbing potshots at each other. The needs are urgent, the mission of seeing people come to faith and caring for them is clear, and the resources and personnel are often scarce. Somehow, the stuff we argue about here just doesn’t matter there. I wonder when we will wake up to the truth that the case is no different here. Our culture is both increasingly plural and secular. Youth are walking away from the church. Perhaps the words of judgment I fear most for the American church is “you fought among yourselves for who was the purest of them all while people were dying for lack of the truth that only you could bring.”
4. So many of our divisions seem to reflect the reality that we have married divergent aspects of the culture rather than give ourselves to be the pure, spotless bride of Christ. We marry political liberalism or conservatism rather than recognizing that we are called to be our own culture as kingdom of God people. Our bridegroom Jesus must sometimes wonder why he engaged himself to us!
5. Some people think unity can only come by de-emphasizing dogma or doctrine. I’m not one of them. I think we should be deeply troubled and be crying out to God where we are doctrinally at odds with one another. The answer is not indifference! It appears that we (and God) are talking out of both (or many) sides of our mouths. Consequently, many in the world I work in just consider this so much gibberish. Only when we come with humility, repentance, mutual submission to the Lord and his teaching and a willingness to learn and be corrected by one another will we make progress in these things.
6. This also means a willingness to learn from people not like us. The Church in the global south is growing far more quickly than in North America and Europe. What might Latin American, African, and Asian Christians teach us? In our global diaspora, God has brought many to our country. Will we listen and discover that the One Church is bigger than we could have imagined? Likewise, we have much to learn from different ethnic churches and churches ministering to different social strata of our own country. And will we learn from women as well as men? It seems that if we ignore half or more of the church, we will be immeasurably poorer.
Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. Christians above all others, it seems to me, should be into unity in the midst of our diversity. We worship a God who is Three yet One. It seems that if we focused more on the One who unites us, the One who redeems us, the One who in common we all worship, the One who calls us into mission, the One who has created and redeemed us all and the One who has spoken and shown himself through the prophets and apostles, we could possibly do a bit better at this unity thing than we are at present. What do you think?