Unity and Being Better Together
It is interesting how God often weaves together things in unexpected ways to place certain ideas or thoughts in our minds. I had that experience in the past week in my reading and some meetings as I have been reminded and challenged in two very different places about the importance of unity and that the church is better together.
The Sin of Division
I recently decided to re-read the book Showing the Spirit: A Theological Exposition of 1 Corinthians 12-14 by D.A. Carson. I have had some recent conversations on spiritual gifts and the church and thought it would be good to take this book off the shelf to guide me as I explore again these pivotal chapters in terms of gifts in the church. I first read the book when I was in college exploring the topic of the gift of prophecy which I was considering as the subject for my senior thesis (however, I decided to use a different subject).This time around, I was able to see what my 20-year old self underlined (mostly good points!); it was also interesting since I first read the book before I had met the author and had classes with him (he was my academic advisor in seminary) -- this time I read it with his voice in my head the whole time.
While I gained many insights into the topics from the book and continue to ponder many of them, the quotation that stood out had little to do with the reason I picked up the book. Dr. Carson noted that church discipline, as seen in the New Testament, stems from three areas: a “a flagrantly immoral life, major doctrinal aberration, and a loveless, fundamentally divisive spirit” (p. 187). Immorality and false doctrine are things that church leaders typically discuss and think about when it comes to watching over the flock, but the third category of a divisive spirit is something that stood out as one I had not really thought about before. This may be in a person who sparks debate and controversy wherever he or she goes, but I also wondered if this could be someone who is too independent of others -- always trying to do things without the help of others because they think that their way is better; someone who cannot look past minor differences but has to go their own way all the time (like the 2-year old wanting to do everything l by themselves). It also gave me a further check on my life -- am I watching over my life and doctrine to avoid immorality, heresy, and divisiveness?
The Need for Collaboration
A few days after reading this section of Carson’s book, I went to a gathering of the New Thing Network, a movement of churches that Faith Church belongs to as we seek to multiply and reproduce disciples. Pastor Dave Ferguson’s opening talk at the gathering focused on the fact that we are better together, Jesus calls his disciples to live out the Great Commission (to make disciples) and the Great Commandment (to love God and others), and to do so in what he labeled the “Great Collaboration” -- having the unity that Jesus prays for among his followers in John 17. While I had never made that connection before, it made much sense when I heard it: we don’t really love God and others and we will not make disciples if we are not in connection with each other. This does not necessarily mean organizational unity (as New Thing features a variety of denominations and church backgrounds) nor uniformity (as there are different styles and approaches in the movement), but rather, working together for the sake of the kingdom of God. When we work together, we are more effective as Christians -- and Christ, not ourselves, gets the glory. This vision allows us to send leaders to new places to start new things and reach new people; this vision allows us to encourage and bless others who are different from us but have the same purpose. This vision and perspective allows us to get behind what someone else is doing (even if it might be a little different than how I would do it) and seek to leverage those opportunities rather than create competition or confusion by doing something slightly different.
I am still wrestling with what to do with these strands other than check my heart and keep my eyes open towards others and what God is doing through them (and what we can do together), but I sense a theme that God is wanting me to walk towards and into here.
Putting It Together
These thoughts may not resonate with you the way they did with me, but I would encourage you to think about what you are reading (hopefully you are reading something!) and what you are hearing at church, in your smaller gathering of other believers, and among your close Christian friends. Look back at your journals, prayer list, or Bible reading plan. Is there a theme or a key topic that God may be seeking to imprint upon your heart? Are you listening to it? And not just that, but are you going to seek to live it out what you are learning, as the goal is not just to know and think, but to put God’s truth into action?
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