Unity — humanly defined or heaven-inspired?

Mar 3, 2016 by

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I read with great interest Richard Showalter’s “The Unity Jesus Meant” in the Feb. 15, 2016 issue of the Mennonite World Review.

He writes:

Though organizational union on a broad scale may indeed be a worthy end, we search in vain for New Testament instructions about how to achieve or maintain it. Rather, the focus is on our union with God, our oneness with Christ and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit. In this context, we are called to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” until we “grow up into Christ” (Eph. 4:3, 15).


Sometimes the maintenance of this unity in the Trinity may have to do with our efforts to create or maintain organizational unions. But that’s clearly not primary…

While I find the article, along with all of Showalter’s good writing, well worth reading and pondering, does a focus on a deeper-than-organizational unity mean we are free to separate into groups that will no longer celebrate the Lord’s Supper with each other on a regular basis? Or who are no longer able or willing to work with each other organizationally in our educational, missional and/or publishing efforts? In other words, does it free us to form ever more factions in an already splintered and divided body of Christ?

I agree that Christ never gave any special directions about maintaining “organizational unity.” But that is because he never even considered any alternative to having his followers remaining forever together, simply because that represented his Father’s will.

There were many times when Jesus could have determined that the dissension among the Twelve could be best resolved by forming separate groups.

Imagine him saying, “OK, some of you, cluster around Peter, James and John. We’ll call them the ‘Inner Circle’ movement. And the rest of you, why not align yourself with Nathaniel, Simon and Thomas, and call yourselves the ‘New Zealot’ movement? I will retain joint custody of both parts of the kingdom family, and will divide my visitation time equally between the two.”

By today’s reasoning, that might be considered better than having disciples constantly be at variance with each other over disputable and unresolvable differences.

But apparently Jesus didn’t see it that way. Rather, he taught his disciples to pray for the will of his Father to “be done on earth as it is in heaven.” It should be obvious to all of us that in heaven there could be no such thing as separate communion tables, segregated water-of-life drinking fountains or divided congregations and choirs.

Diversity, yes. Four-part, eight-part, multiple-part harmony in the choir, yes. Surely the kind of preview of heaven we are to portray here on earth is one made up of many tribes, multiple nationalities, and every race and shade of color imaginable.

But our undivided, common union, based on our having one Lord, one faith, one baptism — and one God and Father over all — can never be allowed to divide us.

Sadly, we already are, of course, and all the King’s horsemen and all the King’s maids can’t seem to be able to put our fragmented Humpty-Dumpty body back together again, at least not in this life.

But we can at least begin to reverse all our bruising and Babel-building efforts rather than continuing to move in the direction of ever more splintering. Especially since the apostle Paul attributes this Corinthian kind of divisiveness to carnality, pure and simple.

Let’s repent of it, and proclaim Jesus alone as head of his church, a covenant people built on one foundation, and give up our efforts to reshape it in our own image.

Yes and yes — for heaven’s sake.

Harvey Yoder is an ordained pastor and member of Family of Hope, a small Virginia Mennonite Conference house church congregation. He blogs at Harvspot, where this first appeared.

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