Tuesday Remix – This is a popular post from last year, updated and re-run.
I wish I had a dollar for every time a pastor or church leader has commented to me, “I’m all for unity, but at what cost?” It always makes me smile. I know what he or she means—that agreement with each other is a good thing, but not the most important thing. I can’t argue with that. But agreement and unity are not the same thing.
Unity is not about agreeing all the time, it is a state of the relationships among a group of people. Biblical unity is a right state of relationships among Christians. And this, I believe, is the highest priority in the church. I believe it is more important than any of the issues which divide us. I’ll explain below why I believe that.
What is at stake in this discussion is the value of Christian relationships. For most of the conflicts I see in the church today, the real heart of the matter is the relationships among the players. How much do these parties really value their on-going relationship? How interested are they in healing the broken relationship and what are they willing to sacrifice in order to do so? If you have ever been involved in marriage counseling, even informally, you have seen this at play. People talk about wanting reconciliation, but when it comes to making that happen, they often are not willing to do the things it requires, because (the truth is) they don’t really value that relationship that much. They would rather be right than be married. Or they would rather be free, or be any of a number of other good things, than be married. Unfortunately, that happens with relationships in the church as well. Lofty platitudes such as truth, justice, evangelism, education, or a host of others each become more important than Biblical relationships.
So now, back to the comment… “I’m all for unity, but at what cost?” If, by “unity” the person means the right state of relationships among Christians, then I think the answer is, “at pretty much any cost.” I think Jesus’ best illustration of this comes from His prayer in John 17. At a moment in time when He was envisioning the future of His church with all its problems and issues, He could have prayed to the Father for anything at all. He could have prayed for doctrinal purity. He could have prayed for hearts to be broken for the lost. He could have prayed for solid Christian education. All of those things seem important enough. But He did not pray for any of them. He prayed for unity. First and foremost, that was what was on his mind.
I interpret that as a prioritization on Jesus’ part. I think Jesus would say to us that we MUST value our relationships with one another as the highest value in the church, and we must from time to time be willing to make sacrifices of other important values in order to preserve the unity of the Spirit. I think Jesus would say, “Unity at all costs.” Not necessarily agreement. But unity.
I plan to spend the rest of my life here on earth (or as much of it as God will allow) figuring out what exactly that means.
© Blake Coffee
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