Three obstacles to unity.

August 16, 2014.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
(John 17:20-23)

There is a subject that has been on my mind lately. I look out into the religious world and I see all but unity. Even in my own fellowship we are heavily divided. I’m in groups of biblical discussion takes places and there are arguments daily. What are we doing? Why are we so divisive? Do we not know that a house divided against itself will fall? I am convinced that what the world needs to see in order to truly see the glory of God is a unified Christian front. Is this possible? I honestly don’t know, at least at for right now. Actually, and it is sad to ultimately come to this conclusion, right now, I would go ahead and say that it is not possible. And that is scary.

In what is sometimes referred to as the high priestly prayer by Jesus in the passage above, Jesus prays specifically for unity, unity as Jesus and God the Father display. That prayer is a difficult one to answer, or at least it would be today. But that didn’t matter to Jesus. That is what he calls us to be. United. You don’t have to look much further to see Paul echoing the same idea to the Corinthians. In his first letter to them, the first thing he scolds them for is that they are already being divisive, just a short time after accepting the gospel. Division is not new, and that is sad to know. But it also gives me hope. Knowing that it is almost human nature to divide, this tells me that it can be overcome. Do you believe that? I do. I believe that the power of God can work in us to overcome division and let unity shine through. But we have to let God work in us. Much of our problem comes from ourselves! I have come up with three obsticals that stand in the way of unity. Perhaps by studying these, we can start to build that common bond that once existed with all believers (see Acts 2 for reference).

1. Essential beliefs.

The opening passage is not how Jesus begins the prayer that he makes to the Father. There is something interesting he says right before he prays for unity:

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”
(John 17:15-19)

Jesus is praying for his disciples and he asks the Father to sanctify them, or set them apart, by the word, for it is truth. We should be sanctified by the word of God. This is what should set us apart. Unfortunate as it is, this is the first obstacle that stands in our way. Not the word of God, but our sanctification by it.

“What do you mean?” You might ask. One of the main things that divide us is our view on certain essential beliefs that a Christian must hold. I do believe unity itself would be defined, at least in part, as believing the same way. Put it this way, if someone did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God, would you fellowship with them? Would you call them a Christian? It is easy to see that there are core essential beliefs that every Christian must hold to truly have unity. They do not stop at believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Peter puts it this way:

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
(1 Peter 3:8)

To achieve unity of mind, we must all throw off our biases (as hard as this is) and get back to the word, though mindful prayer. If the bible teaches something point blank, then we just need to believe it. I don’t think this is asking too much. Too many times have I picked up a commentary just to get extremely annoyed at how the author takes so much time to explain why a passage doesn’t mean what it says. No. Stop. Read the word, and accept it. Just because we don’t like a concept that is taught does not mean we can just explain it away. If we could just accept the clear teachings, unity would be so much easier to obtain. So much. I cannot express how much this frustrates me. But I digress.

2. Non-essential beliefs.

This is the other side of that coin. Believe it or not, there are very difficult things in the bible that are hard to understand. And there are even things that are left to silence. One of my friends once said that if everything in the bible was able to be understood by man, than we would be serving a very small God.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth,so are my ways higher than your waysand my thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Isaiah 55:8-9)

Thus there are bound to be some things that we disagree on about the meaning of a passage. Let it be known that the passage certainly doesn’t actually mean two different things, and one or both of the parties involved is wrong. But on these issues, we need to respect the other Christian’s belief. Again, I am not referencing point blank teachings in the bible, that was in the point above. Here I am talking about the things that we might bind or loose that are never bound or loosed in Scripture. And if you think that you never do that, I would tend to disagree. I think we all do. We all think we are right, right? If you thought you were wrong about something, would you still continue to do it? Probably not, and if so, I think we have a deeper issue.

A good study of Romans 14 I think is in order here. Paul talks about the differing beliefs that even the early Christians had.

“As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
(Romans 14:1-4)

I am not going to quote the whole chapter here, but I do encourage you to read and study it. Paul goes into detail of what he means by how we are to treat one another, even if we believe a little different on things that don’t matter in the long run. This brings me to my final point.

3. Our attitude.

This is probably the biggest obstacle we have that gets in the way of unity. Our attitude towards those who believe differently than us. And this is true of every group, not just one or two in particular. Even those who persecute “conservatives” have the same attitude, or they would not say anything against conservatives and form their own group. We all do this from time to time, and it makes unity a difficult thing to obtain. As Paul is giving his discourse on unity to the Romans, he says something that I think is the key element that we miss, from both sides:

“Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”
(Romans 14:3)

Neither side is to pass judgment on the other. That’s both parties involved. So many times have I seen an argument where the “enlightened” side, or the one who would call themselves more mature in the faith, is just pointing out how the other side is just wrong and won’t consider any one else’s point of view. I think this is just as wrong as the other side who indeed won’t consider another point of view. Paul said that if meat offended his brother, he would never eat meat again! Now that’s the love of Christ. But we all have this “I’m right and your wrong” attitude from time to time. I have learned over the years that this is no way to gain a brother or sister, even if they are wrong. Our attitude with people goes a long way, much more than we know probably.

We have to get over ourselves. We are not God. Yes, there are clear teachings that we should hold to, and yes, the bible teaches that we cannot just go along with any doctrine if it does not come from the word of God. Again, see point one. But there are many beliefs that divide us that are not clearly taught in the bible, or might not even be in there at all! What are we doing? Why are we so arrogant? Notice I am including myself in all of this. I’m learning too. I’m growing. And I want to seek unity. It is my prayer that we achieve it and bring many souls to Christ though it. May God grant unity to us.

Suggested Daily Reading: John 16-17, Romans 14, I Corinthians 1, 3.

May we all come to the unity of the Faith.

-Walter

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