Tuesday 12 July

Alain Emerson explored the vital issue of "Unity" at #Sligo16 this year.  Here VOX editor Ruth Garvey-Williams brings you a summary.

If ever there was a time when we needed to get this right, it is now! Sometimes, unity is seeing as something that is weak.  Pursuing unity in the right way is one of the most courageous things we can do.

Psalm 133 - Let the words of this Psalm permeate everything we say today.

In the Trinity, we see the greatest example of unity - unconditional, overflowing love… God is love - it is His very essence.  Even before He created mankind, He defines relationship and demonstrates love within the Trinity (three in one).  It is a beautiful doctrine even though there is mystery in that.  We need to understand the character and nature of God, if we are to really understand unity.  We are created from love and for love.

God the Trinity was always looing to invite and include mankind.  We are primarily invitational and not tribal, inclusive and not exclusive.  The challenge for those in the evangelical, Protestant tradition is that we were traditional defined by what we are against and sadly that has continued (evidenced by the multiplication of denominations within Protestantism). Doctrine is important but if our posture is fear-driven and defensive, it does not reflect the character of God.

Even in the Old Testament, where we tend to think of the separation of the people of God, Leviticus 19:34 says, “The alien who resides with you… you shall love the alien as yourself for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” God separates them in order for them to learn how to BE the people of God.

Israel saw the blessings of God as a “status” rather than a calling to serve.  God’s heart was always that they would reflect His selfless nature.  The Psalmist captures this heart in Psalm 133.  There is something invigorating and life-giving when brothers dwell in unity.  There is a deep energizing when we come together.

In the New Testament, Jesus takes it to a new level.  He sums up the whole law (513 different commandments in the Old Testament) in just two commandments - “Love God and Love your Neighbour.”  It was a hermeneutic of love - a covenant commitment.  This is the Jesus Creed.  If you are going to quote verses in the Old Testament, make sure you bring Jesus with you. Jesus summed up all the law.  He did not abolish the law but He demonstrates that the spirit of the law is a spirit of love.

When Jesus meets the Samaritan woman, He breaks all of society’s rules and shows us what it really means to love our neighbour.  He shows us the very heart of the Trinity.  In John 13, Jesus says, “Love one another, just as I have loved you.  By this shall all men know that you are my disciples if you love one another.”

Jesus' great unanswered prayer is that we might be one; that we might love one another like He loved us.  Jesus brings into focus the missional outcome of our love for one another.  The way that the world will know that the Father sent Jesus is how we love one another.

The biggest missional strategy for transforming your city with the Gospel is how the church, in all its diversity, loves one another.

When we get this right, principalities and powers come down; when we are in “one spirit and mind”.  Every other institution is breaking down.  All around us we see pride, division and independence.  We must approach in the opposite spirit - a spirit of humility, love and unity.   The most powerful act in history is the most self-sacrificial act in history.  When God wants to flex His omnipotent muscles, it looks like a cross! When the church gets this right and acts like Jesus in servant-hearted, self-sacrificial ways, things will change.  

Jesus said, every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined.  If we are all going against each other, we are not going to get anything done.  Jesus was pragmatic about it - you are not all going to do things the same but lets get on with what is important. 

We are the body of Christ.  The people in your town in different churches who you don’t necessarily agree with, they are your brothers and sisters.  When there are disputes and differences, remember this is family.  We need to create a culture of honour.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the spirit…”

Are we making every effort?  That does not mean that we all become the same.  It is not consensus leadership.  It is about learning how to understand and listen to one another.  It is leaning how to disagree with love! Once you know somebody’s story, it is hard to hate them.  Once we listen well, it is easier to love!

It is a wonderful thing to see people having grace towards one another; to see people being reconciled.  Jesus wants us to be those kind of people who humble ourselves and show courage and swallow our pride as we are transformed into the image of Jesus. 

Unity should not be a side topic. 

Here are some practical steps:

1)   Love one another - don’t jut talk about it but do it.  Start by praying for the other churches in the town.  Pray your best prayers for others .  Be generous with your prayers.   Praying in the highest form of love.  Create environments for being together.  Build friendship.  Have a barbecue.  Get to know one another.    To be Christian, to be a follower of Jesus means that as the very least we need to be friendly.  People in ministry are lonely.  If we have a worldview based on fear, tribalism or nationalism, it is not from the Lord.  We need to be really careful because patriotism can become idolatry if it takes place over and above the Lord Jesus.  If there are jealousies and insecurities, we need to get over them.  All these things in compared with the excellency of knowing Jesus Christ are just “rubbish”. 

If we know who we are and where we are going, we don’t need to worry that our faith is going to be watered down if we have a coffee with someone from another denomination.  It sounds like our faith is really weak.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  I’m not saying we don’t have to hold onto certain doctrine.  In the public discourse, there is a lot of something that is secondary.  How much within the Nicene Creed are we talking about - are we focusing on the core issues?  Too often, we are making secondary things primary.  We need lots of wisdom.  In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty and in all things charity (love).

2)   Speak well of one another - out of the abundance of the heart, our mouth speaks.  My mum used to say, “If somebody is saying something bad about somebody, you say something good.”

Tozer said, “Sometimes silence is golden, sometimes it is just yellow.”  We can listen to other people slandering our brothers and sisters and say nothing.  It is time for us to be courageous and talk well of them, even if we disagree with them.

3)   Stand together - there is something important about being seen together.  That is important because strategically it opens up doors of opportunity for the Gospel.  When Peter stood up at Pentecost (having messed up and denied Jesus) the other 11 stood with him.  What would it look like for the minister who is struggling to discover someone standing with him.  Even things that seem traditional etc. Cross walks during Holy Week, etc.

4)   Discern where we have a shared mission - trust the leading of the Holy Spirit .  Have a vision for your city not just for your church.  Stop trying to be the best show in town.  Not everybody will go with you.  There is a price to pay for this - sometimes literally or in terms of reputation. Sometimes churches are graced for certain things.  Don’t be precious about your own resources.  We are not building monuments, we are part of a movement.

Humility is the key. That is the wineskin for all of this stuff.  See the big vision.   We are here to change the world together.  We are not here to build the best church in town.  We are not here to play the numbers game.  We are here to lay our lives down for King Jesus. 

The best way to do it is together.   One day Jesus is going to come back, I’m looking forward to looking around me and seeing all the different expressions of the kingdom of God worshipping together.