by Rolf-Dieter Brown
What is happening to us Christians? In every Bible we find the words of Jesus: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Why is it so difficult for this man's followers to follow His command? Obviously, it is not easy to coexist in love and unity. Fortunately, the Bible gives us important counsel to walk the difficult path to unity.
God commanded us Christians to live in unity because He knew we needed Him. The Christian church was not invented by sociologists, nor did it arise as a result of the unification of people of the same religion who, having common interests, formed a union. Moreover, this community was conceived by the Creator Himself, Who knows the needs of His creatures, since He Himself created these needs for us as well. God even wants us to be connected and dependent on one another (1 Cor. 12:21). Therefore, interdependence among Christians is not a sign of immaturity, but something normal. It is an expression of readiness for collective service (Eph. 4:11, 12; Acts 18:26).
Hard to overcome problems
In every Christian community, no matter how small, we encounter shortcomings in terms of cohesion. What makes life difficult in our church? To what extent have we ourselves contributed to these difficulties? And are we doing anything to overcome them? These are the issues we can and must engage in as "peacemakers" (Matt. 5: 9).
We must first consider the following: Among Christian communities, the question of human relations and the healing of broken or diseased relationships is often raised. Unity in Christianity is not achieved through common organizational resolutions of the churches or on the basis of mutually signed documents, no matter how fruitful the attempts at theological agreement and organizational coordination.
Jesus had other ideas: “to be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me ”(John 17:21). Relationships between people based on love are the basic structure of Christian unity. As the Acts of the Apostles says, "And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul" (Acts 4:32). This is not a romantic idealization of a bygone age, but a concrete experience of unity: hospitality (Acts 2:46), renunciation of personal property (Acts 4:34), solidarity with the persecuted (Romans 16: 4), collecting donations for each other (2 Cor. 8: 3) and thus the important process of getting to know and coming together between different social strata, cultures and ethnic traditions (Acts 6).
Who is responsible for unity?
Who should solve the problems of divided Christianity? Church leaders and experts? But the problems of this divided Christianity are not only of a theological and confessional nature; unfortunately, they are rooted more deeply: the real difficulty is not in differences in teachings or worship, but in the approach to such differences. The question is: How do the followers of Jesus, who cannot agree on their understandings, act? And don't these differences turn into dividing trenches? If we accept these dividing trenches as a pathetic semblance of independence, if we wait for these contradictions to be resolved by the experts, then are we not looking at the current situation from its light side? The real reason for the division among Christians must always be sought in the selfishness of man and in his separation from God, therefore the real reason lies in each of us.
Paul characterized schism and hostility as "works of the flesh" (Gal. 5: 19-21) and prescribed measures as therapy, which we can summarize with the concept of "sanctification." That was his solution to the problem. Was Paul naive? Hardly; he knew best the problems that could arise in a Christian community. So he knew what he was talking about.
Unity as a result of uncomfortable opinions for us
On the way to unity, we gain experience every day, gaining experience from very specific situations in the narrow circle around us - partly with people unpleasant to us - people of flesh and blood. Some important observations along the way can be for us initially and as a bitter medicine. Sometimes it is necessary to part forever with our usual classifications and begin to think with new categories that are more in line with God's will.
If we are ready for this, we will face sobering situations that we will have to endure and in which, thinking of unity, we will not feel a trace of enthusiasm or enthusiasm. Often these are insignificant small steps, devoid of any romance.
We are all sitting in the same boat
The more steadfastly we have set foot on the foundation of our faith in Christ, namely the undeserved justifying mercy of Salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, the more we realize that we are all sitting in the same boat. We are all pardoned sinners who, without God's mercy, are hopelessly lost. Paul writes, "Therefore accept one another, even as Christ also received us to the glory of God" (Romans 15: 7).
A Christian grown up for unity
Unity between us Christians needs a quality relationship between us. How is this question with us? Are you able to build and maintain deep and lasting relationships? Our cohesion depends on it.
The following guidelines are of particular importance for maintaining Christian relations:
How long ago was the last time I asked someone for forgiveness?
Can I accept criticism? Have I already learned to criticize constructively?
Who can I still not forgive?
Do I have someone in the Church with whom I can talk about my intimate problems and with whom I can pray for them? Can I listen carefully and keep the secret of the confidant?
Do I have confidence and good attitude towards people in leadership positions? Do I pray for them?
Unexplained relationships and insurmountable sorrows are the soil on which divisions and alienation grow. Only a sociable Christian is also a cohesive Christian.
Unity in the "body of Christ" is coordinated diversity, not alignment to depersonalization.
"The gifts are different, but the Spirit is the same. The ministries are different, but the Lord is the same… Are they all apostles? Are they all prophets? Are they all teachers? Does everyone work miracles? Do they all have healing gifts? Does everyone speak languages? Does everyone interpret? ”(1 Cor. 12: 4, 5, 29, 30). Among His own, God wants to hear the polyphonic structure of a nuanced orchestra, in which each must learn to listen to the other. That is why Paul advises us how our meetings should go: “When you come together, everyone has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a foreign language, an interpretation. All things are for edification. ”(1 Cor. 14:26)
The apostle Paul himself, whose greatest desire and achievement was the creation of a Church of Christian Jews and non-Jews, uses words that clearly distinguish and distance himself from people he is not afraid to call "false brothers" (Gal. 2: 4) who preach another gospel (Gal. 1: 6-8). Where the gospel of Jesus Christ is not the basis for Christian unity, there can be no question of Christian unity. That is why Paul took his appeal very seriously: "Let everyone speak in agreement" (1 Cor. 1:10). Where the goal is not unity in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ preached in the Word, it is no longer a matter of Christian unity. But Paul's position so resolutely cannot be an excuse for a hasty and convenient distinction.
Attention! Convenient distancing!
It is easier to differentiate and distance yourself from someone than to make an effort to continue a difficult relationship with someone. But that is exactly what God expects of us. The Epistle to the Galatians clearly reveals how the Apostle Paul cared most for those churches that were affected by false teachings (Gal. 4:19). Right where people are in danger, healthy personal contacts are put to the test, which can be a reminder of or a manifestation of God's love.
What gives us reason to differentiate? Different traditions, accents, opinions and preferences, the practice of worship, ethnic, cultural or social differences? All this does not entitle us to ignore such an important question as: What does God want to teach us through brothers and sisters? Where do we have to catch up?
"By this we know the love that He gave His life for us. So we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. ”(1 John 3:16) There is a long way to go before we are ready to lay down our lives for one another. But to be obedient to our Lord is to take the first steps on this path. Even if these are small steps, they make sense and are under God's blessing. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God" (Matt. 5: 9).
(the material is published with abbreviations)
** Translated with Google Translate