Where can we get unity?

When I taught the middle school youth group I asked them, “What’s the answer?”  That was easy.  Then I asked, “Why is that the right answer?” That was hard.  It’s hard for adults, too.  The world’s model for handling questions is to prefer your own wisdom, cling to a deluded self image, and then choose an approach known not to work.   As Christians we’re called to think clearly, and act biblically.  That means that to pursue unity we have to look at scripture, look at ourselves, reflect, and act.

So, where should Christian unity come from?


Two churches were led by able, powerful preachers who recognized that their churches needed greater unity.  To bring this about they each started a building project.  One church prospered financially; the other diminished.  Was either right?  Perhaps, although the need for a building wasn’t clear to some outside observers (including me), nor to many members.  More importantly, support for the building projects themselves was presented as the measure of whether someone should stay in the church or not.  That attitude values buildings more than unity with a brother or sister.  Sometimes new buildings are a benefit, but never as an end to themselves nor to our own glory (one lesson from the Tower of Babel).  The church survived for several hundred years without buildings and the Bible offers a different unifier.  Matthew 6:25-26, Genesis 11:4-9.  What happens when the project ends?  We need a new project.


It’s easy for a church to take this approach without realizing it.  I see far more emails from pastors about politics than about…the Gospel.  Since there are faithful Christians with a variety of political approaches, unifying around politics means rejecting many, even most other Christians.  There are some “straight line issues” such as being able to directly trace from God’s concern for human life to our own responsibility to protect and cherish human life.  Still, many issues simply don’t trace clearly and in humility we need to leave room for each other’s individual responsibility to God.  Unifying around politics can also drive away unbelievers by creating our own offense instead of the offense of the Gospel (2 Cor 2:16, 2 Cor 4:3).  Our responsibility is to cherish everyone as being made in the image of God and to seek their good.  Reject every temptation to subordinate the church to politics.  If you don’t think the Gospel reproves the “good/better/less bad” political party, you’re saying the Gospel’s renewing power bows before a greater power.  (Eph 1:21).


Many churches are unified around the personality of a pastor.  There are problems with that.  What if the pastor retires, passes away, or otherwise leaves?  Doesn’t that mean our unity leaves also?  That’s happened to many churches.  What if the pastor does something we don’t like?  Then we have to balance what we don’t like with our affection for him.  Instead, the Bible calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven and to follow as a leader follows Christ.  Centering on even the best pastor is a dangerous distortion and risks idolatry.  A faithful pastor will point us beyond himself.  If our unity is in that pastor then our regard for him hinders our following his teaching.  I Timothy 5:17 is our model and our warning is I Corinthians 1:12-13.

What’s the answer?

Of course, we know the answer.  Jesus should be the source of our unity.

Why?  How?

John 17:11  And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.

Jesus and the Father want us to be united.  United like the eternal God has always been united.  That’s a lot more than a building project or a political rally or a pretty good pastor can pull off.  Infinitely more.

John 17:19–23  And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

We are invited to intimate friendship with the infinitely creative, all powerful, perfectly holy, all knowing, all wise God.  Why would he bother with us?  A love beyond human understanding.

How could he reconcile imperfect, rebellious humans to their holy creator and perfect judge?  Jesus makes us one with each other and with God by the same means.  Jesus’ suffering pays the penalty for all our sin.  Our acceptance by faith in Jesus having made that payment is counted for righteousness.  No longer rebellious enemies of God but forgiven, beloved, sought for children are welcomed into the presence of God.   Only as the family of God can we be united as Jesus prayed we would be.  Only Jesus can bring us into the family of God.