July 21, 2014

Ways to promote church unity

Almost a month ago, I posed a question, which began a lively discussion that needs to be more than just highlighted on the Christian Poets & Writers blog. The insightful comments of many members of our Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook need to be retained for future recollection and ongoing inspiration and also passed on to Bible teachers, pastors, clerics, and other leaders in the church Body of Christ. May these words continue to be a blessing in Jesus’ Name.

QUESTION: In what ways can we promote church unity? To clarify: Unity does NOT mean uniform! We're not meant to be exactly alike, but to be part of the one Body of Christ. So, maybe the real question is: How can we help each other and our readers to see this Oneness and the power it brings to bear in Jesus' Name?

Brian: Meeting other Christians, working together on a project, forming natural relationships is a start. Reaching out may be needed, and we all need prayer support from friends.

Tracy: Yes! Coming to the understanding that, like our physical bodies, the body of Christ consists of many members with different functions. All serve an important purpose. And all rely on each other's gifts and purpose in order to function at the fullness of God's Will for His body! (1 Cor. 12)

Christine: As one pastor I had said, "Keep the main thing the main thing." Don't major on the minors.

Valerie: I see it as God is a God of unity and regular prayer taps us into the heartbeat of encouragement and exhortation Christ exemplified when on earth. We set aside TIME for prayer so we can better reflect His nature. We are often too busy to do this and as a result a critical spirit can wedge into our outlook.

Susan: Oneness is shown by patience (for difficult ones or seekers), acceptance (for those with a different viewpoint), joy in the success of others, sorrow in their pain, and gentle words at all times.

Mary: What wonderful responses! Christine, your comment would make a good motto. Valerie and Susan, you describe being a Christian! Yes! If we would BE like Christ, we wouldn't need to focus on coming together as one Body. It would just happen.

Nellie: It all comes back to love. That is the greatest command. The denomination doesn't matter; through love we recognize the spirit in others. Tolerance is necessary if we are to pull together in the name of Jesus Christ. We all believe in the resurrection and that God loved us first. Everything else is minor.

Dawn: Respecting each other's right to share a point of view, whether we agree with it or not.... We come together as the body of Christ with different gifts, talents, backgrounds, and cultures. Instead of dismissing someone who doesn't believe exactly the way we believe, (we can) be willing and open to hear them out. They might have something valuable to share that we never thought of; diversity is healthy.

Jean: We have a monthly meeting here with up to 12 church bodies represented. It's great to listen to different speakers share their testimonies, have ministry time, and then eat together!

Kathy: I find the three circles help. In the innermost circle are those tenets that are absolutely essential to Christianity. Without them, there can be no true unity because without them we are not one in Christ. In the second circle are traditions that are not essential to salvation but are sufficiently disparate that folks from one tradition would be uncomfortable with folks of another. And then there are the things in the third circle, which ironically often cause the greatest disputes among believers but have no bearing whatsoever on the essentials of the faith such as music styles or the color of the carpet. The things of the first circle I must insist on for fellowship (not for friendship or acquaintance - those are different.) All the rest I can let go.

David: While each of us is different, we should pray and allow the Holy Spirit to use those unique gifts and talents in such a way that when people see us or read our words, they see Jesus. Getting people to agree with me is unimportant. Getting people to become my brothers and sisters, that is important (1 John 4:7,8.)

Mary: Amen, amen, and amen to all of your responses!

Linda: Have an artists’ showcase and invite all to sing, play, dance, read, and show their art work!

David: Lack of love can destroy this in the church. Yet it's more than what we call love that's central. It's how God created us and being obedient to that. There are lots of theological things I could say, but even they aren't worth as much as (the fact that) God made each of us in a particular manner. To snub someone who isn't like us is snubbing Jesus, because they really don't get it. God is love (1 John 4:8.) How can any person be like Him perfectly, even though we are commanded to? We can't. We can only approach that as each of us allows God to manifest Himself in us in our uniqueness. Sure there are certain absolutes, but that's only part of it.

Michele: Simplest way to keep unity in Christ: emulate Jesus in humility, yet be bold in faith in Him. We can encourage unity by reaching out and letting others into our comfortable circle. I think some are afraid or uncomfortable with our differences and don't know how to be peaceable and kind to all brothers and sisters in the faith. Paul exhorts us to embrace and support others' spiritual gifts. What are yours? (1 Corinthians 12) A spiritual gift will always glorify the Lord, never ourselves.

David: Michele, I agree. What I have a problem with is when some people say they are emulating Jesus and are not.

Christopher: Weekly community-wide prayer groups with local pastors is a great way to start. If the pastors become united, it gives their people an easy doorway to walk through for greater unity.

Mary: Excellent ideas! Christopher, your response reminds us to ask our pastors their thoughts on this and pray for all pastors too.

Matt: We must stop the "other churches" mentality. We are all the church and ought to spend time with each other and support one another… uplift each other, not tear down or pick apart doctrine.

Mary: Matt, when you put it like that, I realize, there are no other churches! WE ARE the church, and each of us is part of the Body of Christ. The more I take that metaphor literally, the more I get the larger picture. (Eph. 3:6)

Brian: But are we all "the ekklesia"? I wish we all were, but some sects/ groups deny the fundamentals of our faith. Do we need some clear thinking to avoid unity at any cost?

Mary: Brian, the point is not agreeing any more than I need my right hand to agree with my left. The idea is to realize we all have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, so we're all part of the Body of Christ. Taking that literally helped me to understand how we can be together and work together even though we have very different perspectives.

David: The apostle Paul stated, "We preach Christ, and Christ crucified," (1 Cor. 1:23.) He later went on to explain that he preached that because Jesus rose from the dead. I'm fairly certain if you stick to this and leave your heart open to the teaching of the Holy Spirit there will be unity.

Mary: Yes! My devotional reading this morning focused on Romans 8:1, "Therefore, there is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." So if we're IN Christ Jesus, we have Who and what's most important in common. Now to get that message across in our poems and other writings! May God heal and guide.

Jaime: I agree. That is also my thought. Sometimes we look at minor doctrinal differences and forget that Jesus is still Jesus, and if churches and people are preaching the gospel all the rest is our personal interpretations, and we as humans are not inerrant. What matters is Jesus.

Gerald: AMEN!

David: Jaime, you understood what I meant, but I guess that's the point. You DO NOT have to get what I mean, but we should all strive to understand what God means, and often that's different for all of us.

Jaime: To be honest David I didn't even read your comment. What I do know is the Bible is a living word, which means that certain scriptures speak to our hearts at one point in our lives (but) may speak something different later.

Laura: The fruits of the spirit and the definition of love develop us in a way that allows us to make allowances for others. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Mary: Amen! May God fill us with love until we spill it everywhere!

John: The stronger our relationship is with the Lord the more we become like him and the more we walk in the unity of the Spirit. We become one – One body, One spirit, One mind.

Mary: Yes, true, and amen! Thanks, John.

Stony: The Holy Spirit initiated this. This is exactly what I was pondering deeply on before coming on Facebook to see this!

David: Welcome, Stony. Jamie, isn't that neat that you could reply to my message before even reading it? This is the Holy Spirit working through us – making us ONE. And you are absolutely correct. You can read a passage of Scripture, and it says one thing to us, but when we read it later on it says something different. It is the LIVING Word of God, not something stagnant with only one understanding. (Heb. 4:12)

Lillian: I think we all need to be more accepting of others. More mercy – less judgment!

Stony: You are right, Lillian. We are so quick to call other preachers false teachers and heretics even when our theologies are not so far off. I have a dream for the unity of the body of Christ for only then will we have another awakening.

Mary: Oh, I'm so glad to see your comments, Lillian and Stony. May the love and mercy of Christ abound in us and bring unity in Jesus' Name.

Jeannie: I think my latest post is going in that direction, Mary. Being a people without division, we LOVE! If we are IN Christ, our denomination is not important. It is the choice we make to love the Lord and our neighbor!

David: In Matthew 25 Jesus is the one who separates, and He does so on this premise, "For whatsoever you do to the least of these My brethren, you do so unto Me." If that brother or sister needs your help, would you help them? If Jesus asked to stay at your home, would you let Him? If a brother or sister has asked, and you are able, then Jesus has already asked.

TR: Not having this all worked out, I am supposing Ephesians 4:3-6 would give us an outline of what is needed or helpful for unity: “(Be) eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Some of the difficult parts are identified in the phrase, "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." These three are where many differences exist. Christendom has many different ideas of who the Lord Jesus is, many different confessions of the faith, and a handful of different baptisms. Lacking unity in those three areas, general unity becomes something of a challenge. This suggests that to advance towards unity, we need conversations about these three things.

Linda: The lyrics (of “The Church’s One Foundation”) started playing in my head: "her charter of salvation, one Lord, one faith, one birth; one holy name she blesses…." Indeed we are all part of the body of Christ, we are not eyelashes all or fingernails or the heart. Each of these parts works together in unison with the others and usually doesn't war with the other parts (although there are exceptions on occasion.) Often it is too easy to look at another part and not appreciate its role in the body, but if we acknowledge the Head, it becomes an easier task. So, when I encounter a body part I don't understand, I try to take a step back, and appreciate the function, but more importantly who that part works for: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Col. 1:18)

Mary: I love these responses! Are any of you blogging on what we can do to heal the Body of Christ? If so, let me know. Those posts will certainly need highlighting on the Christian Poets & Writers blog.

Jean: In the words of Jesus: LOVE. Live a life of loving Christ foremost, then loving each other. Genuine, Christ-like love is the answer. (John 13:34-35)

Patti: Love one another as Jesus loves us. (John 15:12) And be ye kind ‘cause it's just not all about YOU or ME! And now, let's all go out for ice cream and share!

Mary: Actually, Patti, that might be the place to start! Eating together brings us together, and I'm sure Jesus enjoys the laughter and levity that usually accompanies ice cream.

Mamie: We all have different gifts and talents, and of course, we all can't be alike. So, I have to say what the Word says concerning oneness: "For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12)

David: Instead of denominations I think of the church as family. At my boyhood home I would always use the side door to come in. I still do when I visit my parents. Why? Because I'm family. There have been a few churches that I felt the same way when I walked in. Yeah, praise God, it's family.

Cherrilynn: Promote Unity by agreeing to disagree on the non-essentials. Hold fast to the unchangeable truth that Jesus is God, was born of a virgin, died on the cross for sin, and now sits at the right hand of God. Salvation by Grace alone…. I am not a Theologian, but I believe you understand what I am saying. Maybe someone else could word it better.

Mary: Actually, Cherrilynn, you not only said it just fine, you came to the same conclusions the major denominations have voiced!

David: If you want to find out what Jesus' will for us is, read His prayer in John 17. We've been settling for scraps when God has a 7-course meal prepared for us.

Cherrilynn: David, I love that passage: "Sanctify us with the Truth; the Word is Truth," (John 17:17.)

David: Yes, and Jesus is that Living Word. He is that Truth. I also like what Paul wrote in Ephesians 2. The Jews were a people of the promise, but we were separated by the written Law. In Christ's death God broke down the wall of separation and made the two one. Isn't this what we're talking about?

Bill: I had forgotten you had posed this question and just happened to write about the same issue just this morning. I think we often forget that, without love, our opinions on other matters are annoying at best.

Anne: Church unity is promoted by us working through the very things that could divide. It is seeing Him (Christ) bigger than the differences that pepper our lives. (Ephesians 4) Church unity is accomplished when Christ is bigger than everything else. When our eyes are on the Master, the wind and waves are irrelevant as He reminds us He is over even them.

Mary: Oh, I pray each one of you lets your response flow into a poem, an article, a book, a Post-A-Note…! Also, I want to thank you and praise God for letting these good words on unity in Christ flow into this blog post. May the blessing continue in Jesus’ Name.

© 2014 Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, author of the Christian Writer's Guide e-book, and founder of the Christian Poets & Writers group on Facebook

[Note: Bible references were researched and cited through Bible Gateway.]

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