Monday, April 4, 2016

Unity Within the Body of Christ

Division can be a nasty thing.  It seems that as much as ever, we live in a divided world.  In the US, we’re not just divided by political parties, we’re divided within political parties.  One has to be careful when discussing politics amongst one's fellow citizens, as honest disagreements and friendly debates can turn ugly in a hurry.  I find politics to be so divisive that I generally do my best to avoid political discussions if at all possible.  I don't mind discussing societal issues, but I don't root for political parties like I root for college sports teams or soccer clubs.  When partisanship enters into the fray, it sometimes becomes personal and I would rather discover what unifies me with others rather than what divides or separates me from them.  Some people I've met have expressed their frustration with the two main political parties lack of genuine dialogue and refusal to work together for the greater good of the country, while simultaneously refusing to interact with people of radically different political persuasions.  Irony comes in many forms. 
Political division is nothing new though.  As early as the 10th century BC, God’s people became divided when Jeroboam and the northern tribes of Israel broke away from Rehoboam and Judah in the south.  For the remainder of what we call the Old Testament, God’s people were divided politically, if not theologically. 

Sadly, division is all too common within the church.  Not only are we drawn and redrawn amongst denominational lines, even within denominations, God’s people are often divided.  To be sure, there are moments when different religious communities are forced to go their separate ways for the greater good.  We cannot strip away all of our distinctives and continue to function.  And there are some religious bodies that I cannot be a part of in good conscience.  But there's a fine line between taking a stand born from conviction and stubborn and willful divisiveness. 
Though we sometimes forget it, the Restoration Movement from where Churches of Christ emerged, initially began as a unity movement.  We had a slogan – “We’re Christians only, but not the only Christians.”  Somewhere along the way, a few of us removed the second, third, fourth, and fifth words of the slogan.  And we not only became divisive without, we became increasingly divisive within.  The danger in withdrawing fellowship over practical and theological differences is that before too long, we might find ourselves in a fellowship of one.  A more healthy approach is to continue to humbly kneel alongside our fellow flawed brothers and sisters at the foot of the cross where we all find grace in our time of need.  We don't have to agree with our brothers and sisters to continue to love them and to try to see their point of view.  Another slogan that the Restoration fathers embraced, though didn't invent was, "In essentials, unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things, charity."  May we within the Restoration tradition put this slogan into practice and may we recapture the essence of our movement and actively work for unity within the body of Christ. - Shay

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