by Chris Surber
If it is true that the Church is the visible witness to the glory of God in this world then it must surely follow that God is schizophrenic; at least, if I were an unbeliever, that’s what I’d think. In John 17:11 Jesus prayed to the Father for His disciples saying, “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” (ESV)
If God is one and Jesus prayed that His disciples would be united as one, why is the Church so utterly replete with divisions of every kind? Some people say that God desires variety and that’s why we have so many different denominations. Others say that the division we see in the Body in the Christ is healthy as people live out different expressions of Christianity.
We may attempt to redeem the division in the Church by resorting to labeling division diversity but that doesn’t really solve the basic reality that the Body of Christ is divided. We are not at all reflective of Jesus prayer in John 17:11.
Commenting on broad divisions among the brethren, Puritan Pastor John Anderson wrote,
“Immanent lights have arisen and shone forth among Independents and Episcopalians, but yet their defenses of Gospel truths, and their distinguished piety, do not make these different forms of religion any more agreeable to the word, but only show that we know in part, and prophesy in part; and that we ought to call no man master, nor follow any man, no matter how learned or pious, any farther than he follows Christ.” (Overcoming Division and Unifying the Visible Church: A Rebuke Against the Sin of Occasional Hearing 1794)
God is one in Himself. He is unified in principle, personality and purpose. He is not at war with Himself, though His followers are often at war with one another. This should not be so, and we should fight against division by engaging in intentional acts of unification. The world is on the offensive against the Body of Christ.
To varying extents, persecution is commonplace in most of the world. Meanwhile, we make of ourselves a soft target for the enemy because we are like a soldier with an auto-immune disease: We are busy attacking our self. There are practical ways to fight against division and that’s what it’s going to take to bring about unity.
Here are three really practical ways you can seek unity in the Body of Christ:
- Start thinking more in terms of the Body of Christ in your community and less of the Body of Christ in terms of the denomination your individual church belongs to. I’ve seen God do miracles for unity by being a part of the local community of followers of Christ and letting go of denominational anxiety to protect the “brand.”
- Actively seek out fellowship with multi-denominational Bible Studies, benevolent societies, men’s and women’s groups, and Christian awareness projects. I’m not implying you abandon biblical truth to fellowship with folks who are Christian in name only, only that you start to see the Body of Christ a broader than your “clan.”
- Do your part to create a culture of reconciliation healing in your local fellowship. If a local church doesn’t seek unity within, members of that church are very unlikely to seek unity with other believers without.
God isn’t divided. We shouldn’t be either. We won’t see pure unity among the faithful until Jesus returns for His bride. But in the meantime we can’t let religion of a denominational and divisive sort define the nature of our interaction with one another as followers of the master of mercy.