Friday, 19 February 2016

The fragile nature of unity

How united is your church?  How much of a threat is your church unity under?  What contribution do you make to either building and maintaining unity or undermining it?

My hunch is that we are pretty convinced our church is united and that we are fairly sure our unity isn't under imminent threat.  And yet repeatedly in his letters Paul has to address issues that cause division.  In Galatia it's law keeping, in Corinth bringing the divisions of the church in terms of wealth, power and patronage into the church, in Ephesus it's Jew Gentile.  James talks about the same theme, the danger of the untamed tongue, dangers of preferential treatment and so on.  And in Acts unity is often threatened, it's the issue in Acts 6 as the widows complain they are being overlooked, it's the issue again in Acts 11 as Peter reports back to the church about the events in Caesarea, it is the issue again in Acts 15.

Our unity is the gospel is hard won at the cross, and if the devil can cause dissension and division he will do so because it undermines our gospel witness.  And it's not just an issue in the New Testament. In many ways the whole story of the bible is one of gathering and scattering.  Adam and Eve gathered in the garden and then scattered, both from God but also from one another, at the fall, at babel we see the same again.  In Genesis 37-50 we see the family of Israel scattered by jealousy and envy, but reunited by the amazing grace and providence of God.

As Israel enter the promised land in Joshua 4 we find another interesting incident that we are tempted to skip over to get to Jericho.  But God in his wisdom pauses and makes us pause over the memorial stones to commemorate Israel's crossing Jordan.  I'd never really thought through the significance of this in terms of unity before.  It's stressed a number of times that this is a memorial of twelve stones, one for each of the twelve tribes.  This is not a lose confederation of disparate peoples, this is a new community, bound together by their shared experience of the redemption and rescue of God.  As they walk past the memorial it doesn't just remind them of who God is but of what God has made them.  The times of Joshua and David are probably the two high points in terms of the unity of the people of Israel, and yet tragically it doesn't last long.  Within a generation of Joshua we read of the Judges each increasingly focused on one tribe, a disparate people, separating and scattering.  And within a generation of David we see the cracks that will in time become the fissures that fracture Israel into two nations.

How seriously do we take praying for our unity?  It was hard won at the cross and only by staying focused on the cross and the grace we find in Christ can we maintain unity.  And it matters, it is of eternal significance, because our unity speaks powerfully of the gospel of Christ and it's power to remake and reshape the world.

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