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How can the church be united among all of the diversities of people and culture?
The question of unity is bigger than just a religious issue.
Businesses wonder about unity with their employees as cultures and generations grow in the workforce. Government struggles with unity as political parties and diverse constituents pull in opposite directions. The pandemic has only intensified struggles in agreement.
There certainly are many things that separate us today. While politics, race and religion immediately come to mind, issues like gender or marriage, which used to be fairly simple and defined, are now complex and complicated. The Associated Press has a series of articles on its website about “Divided America,” examining over 10 issues that have gridlocked our country.
Over the next six weeks, our attention is turned to the biblical city of Ephesus and to a diverse group of Christians at a church started by Paul. The book of Ephesians was written about 10 years after the founding of the church. The apostle wrote the letter around AD 62 while he was imprisoned in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. During this time he also wrote the books of Colossians, Philippians and Philemon.
Each week, we will focus on an issue from the six chapters in the epistle to the Ephesians. If you are interested in the biblical background for each week, you can read a chapter each week. Start by reading the first chapter of Ephesians for next week.
As a prelude to the discussions, let’s think for a minute today about unity. Unity is a vital ingredient for success, whether the conversation concerns team sports like football and basketball or teams in business and industry. American poet Mattie Stepanek wrote, “Unity is strength … where there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.”
Nearly 20 years ago, The Washington Post ran a commentary by Zbigniew Brzezinski, security adviser to several presidents, on why unity in American foreign policy is essential. He argued the dangers of disarray from mixed messages to other nations and to terrorists.
On the website Succeeding in Small Business, Henry Brown speaks to why unity is so important in business. He writes, “Teamwork is the oil that lubricates the machine that is business. Of course, revenue is tied directly to this as well as other things like productivity and innovation. A lack of unity is draining upon the motivation and morale of the employees, causing them to look elsewhere.
But it is not just business. The Detox Center of Colorado speaks to why unity is so important in recovery and treatment programs. Recovery is aided by the unity and support of others with addictions coming together for the sake of sobriety. But unity is also needed as family, business and other concerned individuals rally to reach a common goal.
It is important to understand what unity is not. There is no way that everyone will agree on every decision and every issue all of the time. But how you approach disagreements is important. The natural reaction toward disagreements is to respond with anger and volume. Both hijack the communication process.
The concept of the American form of democracy is based upon communication and compromise. Working together through different perspectives and opinions to make progress toward a common goal takes faith and trust. We have to trust that we are all working for the common good. That is why the question about the validity of the last presidential election is so crucial. If we cannot trust the process, the entire house of cards will fall.
Before the official beginning of the church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2), Jesus prayed the disciples would be united (John 17: 23). Jesus held up the example of the unity among the Father, Son and Spirit for the believers to follow.
The church has not been stellar in fulfilling this prayer. The 14th edition ofThe Handbook of Denominations in the United States, published in 2018 has long been considered the gold standard for reference books about religious bodies in America. The work lists over 200 distinct Christian denominations in the United States alone. The website quora.com indicates a more realistic number is about 34,000.
Paul provides an image of unity to the Corinthian Christians when he describes the church as a body (1 Corinthians 12: 12). Unity doesn’t come from agreeing on every doctrine, but upon obedience. We are united as we obey what the Bible commands. What are those commands? Jesus speaks of loving God with all our heart, soul and strength as we love others like ourselves.
Paul emphasizes the importance of love when he writes to the Colossians. “And over all of these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3: 14). There is no other way to keep harmony and stay on task as a believer than by demonstrating the love of Christ to others.
The Psalmist captures our thoughts well. “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity” (Psalm 133:3)! He goes on to say “it is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.” Unity opens the door for God’s blessings.
At what point can Christians come together and stand united? How will that unity affect my relationships in family and in business? What impression will a united church have on the community and the culture? Are there spiritual forces at work trying to destroy that unity? These are the questions with which we will grapple over the next few weeks.
Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at [email protected]
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