By Peter Finch
In October, a group of 80 leaders from across the island of Ireland gathered for two days to seek God and to pray and worship. One of the dominant themes of that time was the need for unity and reconciliation. Here, one of the organisers of that gathering, Pastor Peter Finch from Westport in County Mayo, shares his thoughts on the start of a journey towards greater unity among Christians in Ireland:
It all begins for me in John 17. It was Jesus’ high priestly prayer that we may be one. His call to unity is mentioned three times. There seems to be a link here between unity and the glory of God being seen in the world.
Are we determined to go the extra mile for the sake of unity?
The second scripture is Ephesians 4, which is firstly a challenge to grow up into maturity. In the beginning of those verses there is a lot of determination required to maintain unity.
Ephesians 4:3 says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”
To me that word “effort” is important. It means, “let nothing stop you”. The Lord has been challenging me as to how much effort we really make to maintain the unity of the spirit. Are we determined to go the extra mile for the sake of unity?
A desire for change
What I noticed here in Ireland was that many people had a heart for unity. We agree it is important but many don’t know what to do.&nbsp; As I looked across the nation I saw clusters of kingdom-minded individuals but they were meeting in isolation.
It became apparent there were many barriers to unity.
1) Personalities: dominant characters often have an agenda and sometimes their own issues can be prominent rather than the kingdom of God.
2) Pride hinders reconciliation.
3) Parochialism means we are too busy focusing on our own narrow corner and have little concern for the big picture.
4) Prejudices / pre-conceived ideas can also get in the way of respectful and loving relationships.
A group of us felt we needed to call leaders together from the four corners of the island to a place where the only agenda was to seek the Lord and to hear what He had to say to us. It was a blank canvass. At first, it was a scary thought because the default is always to come prepared with an agenda.
During our weekend together, we felt a strong call to lay aside the things that hinder unity and to focus on God and His kingdom. And as we did so, four principles emerged as the fundamental building blocks.
1) Humility - This is about laying down our agendas for the sake of the body. Tangible humility is a magnet for the grace and presence of God. It is declaring that we need God desperately and, secondly, that we need each other. We can’t achieve what God wants to do without each other.
2) Honour - even Jesus said a prophet is without honour in his own town and He could not do many miracles in Nazareth. Appreciation and respect for one another is a key ingredient in building unity.
3) Holiness - I believe God wants to raise the bar. Purity, clean motives and clean hearts please God.
4) Hunger - Apathy really slows things down. Hunger, passion and desire for unity fuel us and motivate us to move forward.
Unity requires security
People are scared to make mistakes. They feel judged, measured and a need to perform in order to be accepted. This breeds insecurity and where there is insecurity, you are treading on eggshells. That does not lend itself to healthy relationships.
Where there is maturity, there is a willingness to engage and discuss respectfully.
Where there is insecurity there is fear and where there is fear, there is no love. But love casts out fear. In a climate of acceptance and love, there is a willingness to engage and to see that every person has something to contribute as well as something to receive. We can enter into whole relationships.
Unity must be intentional
It takes effort and determination. We need to understand that not everybody is going to see things the way we see things but where there is honour and dialogue there can be progress.
There needs to be leadership. We need to create an environment where some of the big issues can be discussed in a safe place. (Just as the apostles wrestled with the big issues of Acts 15). In Ireland those issues include the north-south divide as well as doctrinal differences.
Unity is a process
The starting point is important. In Ephesians 4, the starting point is not doctrine, it is unity in the spirit. This means recognising every believer as a brother and sister of Christ. Then, as we grow in maturity, we can progress towards unity in the faith (not being tossed to and fro by every wind of teaching).
Many people want to start with unity in doctrine first. I don’t think it is something you can arrive at over night. Doctrine is important but unity in these matters is something we progress towards. It is a journey.
There are many people who won’t have fellowship with me because I believe certain things, even though we are brothers in Christ. Where there is maturity, there is a willingness to engage and discuss respectfully. There is even the ability to beg to differ on certain issues.
Truth can defend itself. If somebody says to me 2 + 2 = 10, I don’t get bent out of shape over that. I don’t have to beat them over the head. I just recognise that I don’t believe what they are saying.
When a person is insecure they feel the need to accost somebody and try and bring them into line with their own way of thinking. We don’t need to do that.
Just the beginning…
We came away from the gathering with the strong sense that this is the beginning of something. We haven’t arrived. We have the table of contents but we have yet to open the book. I hope many others will engage in the process.
Peter Finch is the pastor of Amazing Grace Church in Westport. A trained social worker, he is originally from Ireland but was raised in Brazil and New Zealand. He has spent over 26 years in church ministry in Ireland and in other parts of the world.