Do you ever sit back and look in at the church as an observer? You should try it sometime. Instead of “going through the motions” and doing things the way they are done every week and reciting creeds, phrases, words, and other doctrines without a thought, maybe we should take time to evaluate what has become “second nature” to us.
Namely, repetition and nodding of heads to the same lines we have heard and regurgitated for years.
What I have found as someone who studies and follows Christ to the best of my belief and interpretation is that, often, the church seems to miss the mark and that means we are missing the mark as well.
What I am going to be addressing is the idea of “unity” in the church specifically. Let’s face it, “unity” is the least likely thing you’re likely to find among various churches either in the same denominations or in ones that differ. We have so many different divisions, I find it near impossible to keep count and the sad irony of it all is that if we believe Christ directed us to become the body of the church, He surely meant a body that works together as a unit.
Yet we find ourselves operating as individual ligaments trying to stretch the body in so many directions, it eventually implodes into millions of pieces scattered all over the place. We are constantly disrespecting, belittling, and humiliating one another in an effort to be the one who has the “right” or “correct” theology. Every camp of Christian thought has a majority that thinks they are the ones who have it all figured out.
I’m going to assign a label to these elements at this juncture that will be familiar and serve as a label for the remainder of this writing: Pharisees. Pharisees had their beliefs and ideologies “perfect” as well. So perfect, in fact, that they would ridicule and humiliate anyone that disagreed. I think we could talk for days, weeks, months, and years on the relationship between Jesus and the Pharisees, but not here. I do think that if Jesus were to appear bodily today in front of these people, they would challenge Him just as the Pharisees did because He just doesn’t fit their “interpretation”, “understanding”, laws, doctrines, decrees, or religious beliefs.
Perhaps Christ is bigger than any theology we could possibly fathom. Bigger than your creed, bigger than your textbook, bigger than your beliefs, bigger than your understanding and He is constantly changing the question when you think you’ve figured out the answer to the question before it.
What if Christ is eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, and all of the other beliefs we espouse? What if Christ was truly with God in the beginning and all life came into being through Him? What if Christ truly walked on water? Calmed the storms? Healed the sick?
If these are all true of Christ, perhaps He is beyond us fully understanding.
This brings me to the idea of “unity” and what it seems to mean in most cases opposed to what it should mean. I was struck the other day when I was attending a meeting for a Seminary Student Council I am involved in. We were brainstorming a Chapel service we are going to organize and one of the Scriptures suggested came from Philippians 2. The problem wasn’t the Scripture itself, Philippians is a great window in the ancient church. What struck me was the idea in verse of being of “one mind”, “like minded”, or “agreeing wholeheartedly”. It got me thinking of unity and how distorted the idea has really become.
It seems that the growing trend in defining “unity” rests wholly in the sentiments Paul expressed, but in a way that is just flat out wrong. Let me explain. My undergraduate work was done at Liberty University where I majored in Religion and graduated in the Top 5% of my class. On the surface, that looks like I excelled, answered my call, and am a serious scholar and academic.
That is, until I venture away from that institution and engage with other scholars and academics who view Liberty as nothing short of a joke. I did not agree with everything Liberty taught and I voiced my concerns and argued my beliefs. To say I’m in step with their theology on the whole is simply categorization which is the same thing we are told to avoid in conversation and debate.
Understand, this is not a commentary on my current Seminary tenure, this is a commentary on academia on the whole that needs to be named and corrected on BOTH sides of the theological aisle.
That said, I find it ironic that these are the same people who stress “unity” and “coming together”. I used to find that a bit problematic, until it dawned on me that their idea of “unity” is similar to that of the Pharisees. Namely, they stress “unity” as long as someone submits to their theology because apparently, the only way forward is to accept what they believe and “unify” under it. There is no room for dissenting opinions because they are “wrong”, “uninformed”, “ridiculous”, “silly”, or not “inclusive enough”, “too controversial”, “too blasphemous”, “too heretical”, and the list goes on.
Yet these are the same folks who are leaders in academia and in their churches. Some even preach the ills of the opposing view in the pulpit while championing “unity”. I wonder sometimes if we recognize that the words preached in the name of “unity” stay in the pulpit and never make it to the pews. More importantly, they never make it to the heart.
The heart of the matter is this: we cannot continue to split and say we desire “unity”. We cannot continue to degrade one another and call for “unity”. We cannot continue as we are and have any hope for “unity”.
Here’s what I think Paul meant when he desired for us to be of “one mind”. Perhaps we can agree that Christ died for our sins and left us teachings and actions to embody and live out. Perhaps we can agree that we all have differing views, understandings, and opinions and that is ok. Perhaps we can agree that no side has it all figured out and nor will they ever because Christ is bigger than we can ever fathom.
Perhaps we can unite in that mystery of unknowing and embrace that love, mercy, and grace are what we fail to embody the most that is the foundation we need to work on first before we can go any further.
Differences are uniting. Differences are what make the black and white of the textbook come alive. It is how we grow, acquire knowledge, and learn more about God. After all, if we are all a reflection of God, perhaps all of our beliefs have an element that is reflective of Him as well.
No two limbs are exactly alike, but they are all ordered by the mind. I am confident that if we focus more on having Christ in our minds and as the head of the church, the differences will begin to work together for the greater cause: the advancement of the Kingdom on earth.
Otherwise, we will fail.
And failure is not an option.