Sunday, 4 October 2015

What If There Really Is A Simple Cure for Disunity?

I remember leafing through an old issue of National Geographic that included a feature on the artic wolf. It told of how a pack of wolves targeted several musk oxen calves who were being guarded by a number of adults. As the wolves approached, the musk oxen bunched together in a semi-circle with their deadly rear hoofs facing out. The calves were safe during a long standoff with the enemy. But suddenly trouble happened. A skirmish developed among the adult musk oxen and a single ox broke ranks, which caused the rest of the adults to scatter into nervous little groups. Suddenly the calves were left alone to the mercy of the predators. Not a single calf survived.

The story reminded me of the Apostle Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders that after his departure wolves would come and not spare the flock (Acts 20:29). As with all generations since then, today wolves continue to attack the church. However, I cannot help but wonder, just as in the story of the wolves, if their potential damage is greatly reduced, if not outright eliminated, when unity in the church is maintained. All it takes, though, is for one member to break ranks, for one brother or sister to not stand united, and suddenly the rest of us become easy prey.

If that is true, and I think it is, I cannot help but wonder sometimes why we don't spend greater effort to guard against disunity in the body of Christ. Have you ever wondered about that? Now I don't pretend to have all the answers on this plague in the church, and I recognize that in many ways the problem can be quite complex with many variables, still I cannot help but think that there may be a much less complex answer to some of these issues than we make it out to be. Here's a few of my thoughts as I was musing over some of the things that divide us.

Unfortunately Disunity Often Happens

Disunity can be traced all the way back to Cain and Abel. In Genesis 4:5 we read that Cain was very angry. Why? He was angry because his brother Abel’s offering was accepted by God, and his offering was not. As far back as the second generation of mankind, there has already been disunity. Isn’t it amazing how fast sin grows? We all know the rest of the story, how Cain’s angry spirit got the best of him, and he ended up murdering his brother. Obviously that’s not the best way to deal with disunity!

Jesus prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23; NIV)

Disunity has reared its ugly head throughout church history. It’s obvious that Jesus recognized this, for why else would he have prayed for unity in the church? The point is, why would Jesus pray for unity if disunity were not a real issue? Even the disciples often exhibited a spirit of selfishness, competition, and disunity. Through denominationalism and other anti-Christ "dissensions and factions" (acts of the sinful nature, Paul says in Galatians 5:20), we too are capable of the same things. Ever stop to wonder what Jesus thinks when he sees his divided church today? Stop and think about that for a minute. Forget all our excuses by which we typically justify our disunity; what do you suppose Jesus thinks about it? It must break his heart! It was the Puritan preacher Thomas Brooks who commented, “Discord and division become no Christian. For wolves to worry the lambs is no wonder, but for one lamb to worry another, this is unnatural and monstrous.

When Disunity Happens, Then What?

When disunity happens it’s easy to get mad or retaliate, or even get even. I suppose one option would be to be like Cain and attack our brother, but what would that solve? It’s interesting that, while most of us would never condone such actions as Cain’s, we too still often are known for attacking our brothers with words which are just as vicious, and maybe even more so. It is interesting that Jesus seems to place anger in the same category as murder (Matthew 5: 21-22). In that case, maybe we all are already murderers like Cain. Hmm, now there’s a sobering thought!

And then there are those who choose to leave a certain fellowship because they feel they’ve been attacked and treated unfairly. I know I’ve done that; maybe you have too. Yet the one thing that we could (and should) be doing about those we don’t see eye to eye with, we usually don’t do. What is that? It’s praying for (if not with) those we don’t agree with. Stop and think about that. It’s a tough thing to do, isn’t it?

It’s easier to pray only for those closest to us. None of us would find it to be a chore to pray for our immediate family members and closest friends. We can do that without even blinking an eye, it’s that natural. I’m reminded of something else Jesus once said to his Pharisee host. He said, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite to poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14: 12-14; NIV). In the same way, it’s easier to pray for only those closest to us, because after all, there's a good chance they're praying for us in return.

Jesus’ example is that he didn’t pray for the disciples alone. Those closest to him were the disciples, and he did pray for them too, but hid didn’t pray only for them. He prayed, “My prayer is not for them alone” (John 17:20). Who else was he then praying for? It was for those who would yet believe through their message. In other words, he was praying for you and me. Ever wonder what the church might look like if we began in earnest praying for those who are not (yet) in our inner circle of close friends? Imagine getting into the habit of deliberately praying for those who we don’t necessarily see eye to eye with. I’m convinced it would transform the church. But there’s more.

I’ve discovered that it’s almost impossible to stay angry towards those that we pray for. It’s natural for us not to see eye to eye on everything, but try asking God’s blessing on that person that we disagree with, and something almost miraculous begins to happen. By praying for that person, we soon begin to see the things that divided us become less and less, and perhaps actually disappear altogether. I wonder if that is why Jesus said to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). Imagine what would happen to our little corners of this rock called Earth if we each began to do that? Hmm.

Rediscovered Unity Leads to Growth

Rediscovered unity leads first of all to individual Christian maturity. How so? I can’t help but thinking that it takes a person mature in their Christian walk to really live out Matthew 5:44. It takes a committed Christian to love their enemies and actually pray for their persecutors. Bottom line is, we each would do well to concern ourselves with our own spiritual walk before we worry too much about the spirituality (or lack thereof) of others.

Rediscovered unity also leads to growth in an evangelistic sense. In Jesus’ prayer he said, “So that the world may believe” (John 17:21). What happens if the world begins to believe the Gospel message? That’s easy; the universal church grows, and by default, our family grows. Most people aren’t stupid. Unfortunately many a non-Christian has (rightly) called Christians hypocrites. Why? Because we speak of God being love and of loving our neighbours, and then we turn around and even fight amongst ourselves, often over even petty theological issues. What does that communicate to the world? It communicates hypocrisy! Jesus said, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know” (John 17:23).

We Won’t All Think Exactly Alike, but That’s Not the Point

We will never all worship the same way, we will never all believe precisely the same things, we will never all organize our local churches the same way. But that’s also not the point of Jesus’ unity prayer. Christian unity must transcend differences and be joined in genuine and unpretentious love for one another, as opposed to simply a love for our own traditions, rituals and creeds. The point is, especially when there is disagreement, there is reason for prayer. Prayer is important at the best of times. Perhaps it’s even more important at the worst of times, however; the times when we’re confronted with our differences, and not seeing eye to eye.

Maybe I'm being utopian, but what if there really is a simple cure for disunity? Would we even want it? Maybe, as with all calls for change, it starts with you and me. May our prayers become: "Lord, give each of us a heart to pray for those that we have a hard time appreciating and that we don't see eye to eye with. Amen."

Something to think about. Peace.

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Other related posts that may be of interest to you:

The Piggy in the Middle

of Live and Let Live

Heresy Helper

1 comment:

  1. reminded how Jesus' prayer for our unity (with theirs) was not for the sake of unity per se, but rather that we (and they) may be One --- and that so with Him.
    this is also my testimony visiting among the saints. those who would be one with Him know unity; those who would set a guard for unity, hold it not for long (your opening musk oxen example).

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