Sunday, September 6, 2009

Community and Unity

Yesterday, I wrote about wish-dreams and how we need to let them die and be open to the dream that God has for us. Many times in churches those wish-dreams revolve around building community and unity within the church.

Community is seen as something that can be created. Things such as home groups, Sunday School classes, separate men's and women's groups, and youth groups are put in place in an attempt to bring about community. Usually these groups are based on something that the members already have in common, such as age, gender, or location. Sometimes they are formed around certain subjects. Some churches simply rely on their members attendance at every service or event.

Unity is usually centered around agreement on certain doctrines or practices. In the circles in which I grew up, those who were trying to foster unity among the various Christian denominations were seen as soft on doctrine, or even as heretics. According to this view, heaven would be a sparsely populated place, or if others did make it, they would be far from the throne.

As a church leader trying to bring about change in a congregation, I fell into the trap of thinking that community could be created by having a more laid back, contemporary style of worship with comfortable furniture, and small groups through the week. Unity would come about when everyone came to see that a more up to date, "relevant" way of worshiping and presenting the Gospel was the way to go. As I began to question some of the things I had been taught, I even thought unity would happen when we all felt free to question. I've come to believe that all of those ways of seeing community and unity are wrong.

I think community is something that can not be created by us. We can spend time with people, serve with them, worship together, but community happens as the Spirit pulls us closer to each other and, as a group, closer to God. Community can come about in groups that are combinations of age, gender, etc. Our differences contribute to community, rather than detract from it. Unity is also something that can not be created. If it comes about through human effort, there will eventually be some doctrine or practice that will drive a wedge into a church.

I think Bonhoeffer was right when he said that that our unity is in and through Jesus Christ. The same thing could be said for community. It is not in agreement on doctrine, practice, politics, or any thing else. Unity based on those things can quickly disappear. If our community and unity is in and because of Christ, we can disagree with others about politics, ways of doing things, and areas where Scripture is interpreted differently. If we have the most important thing in common - Jesus, then we are unified. We are not told in Scripture to unify. We are told to make every effort to keep the unity that we have. We can destroy that unity by getting our focus on our own desires and ideas, or our wish-dreams. We must keep our focus on Jesus, and on his command to us to love others as he has loved us. The one sign that Jesus said would show that we belong to him is loving each other.

Let us strive to keep the unity we have been given by loving each other and focusing on Jesus.


CM said...

Hi! I stopped by to say that someone did read that far down the comment list on SCL...actually, I posted late, so I read the ones that came after me; I figured someone should!

I think you have an interesting post here. I guess it's kind of hard for me to understand coming from a Catholic background, because there is unity of belief and doctrine (though clearly some reject it). However, I think that there is very important unity as you are speaking of as well. I have a lot of non-Catholic friends, and I am always blessed by how much we agree on when we focus on the love that Christ has for us all, rather than squabbling.

co_heir said...

CM, thanks for stopping by. The love of Christ definitely keeps us together, no matter what else we disagree on.

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