For He himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16)
What a radical concept Christian unity is! The fact that in Christ, we are one!
This heavenly reality certainly does not appear to be true when we look around the world. We all come from various backgrounds and cultures, life experiences, and we have our own denominational distinctions. Each person sees the world very differently, and because of this, we are inherently prone to disagree with and distance ourselves from those who are culturally, denominationally, and ethnically distinct from us.
Yes, it is easier to worship with people who look like us, act like us, and have the same theological beliefs as us. But as Christians we are called to go beyond this place of comfort to see and value Christ in our neighbor.
Paul acknowledges the difficulty of extending Christian fellowship by exhorting us to “earnestly endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Greek word here implies a “full effort of the whole man, involving his will, sentiment, reason, strength, and total attitude”(Karl Barth). This striving forward is not simply an outward action of embracing the other, but is first and foremost an inward examination of our hearts.
When you look at your brother or sister, do you see Jesus? What might be hindering your view?
From my experience, one of the chief hindrances to Christian unity is my need to be right. This places walls between me and my brothers and sisters, resulting in a self-righteous attitude. At the end of the day, only God knows those who are His, and so the “right” answer is Jesus’ work and righteousness, extended to all.
During Unite Boston’s 10 Days initiative, we had the opportunity to step outside our comfort zones to get to know our brothers and sisters from various denominations and backgrounds. As we did this, we learned to respect those that disagreed with us. We learned to be confident in the fact that the fellowship of the saints goes beyond a uniform doctrine to involve a unity of Spirit (Eph 4:3) and the inward spiritual rebirth of those who confess faith in Jesus as Lord. We also learned to value the breadth of Christian traditions, rather than promoting a particular expression as having greater spiritual authority over another. Indeed, the deep, difficult work of Christian unity is to respect and honor those with whom we have significant disagreements.
When we step back, we realize that the one and only thing that makes us one is our revelation of Jesus. It is what Jesus did in his incarnation, sacrifice and resurrection that has reconciled us to God and to one another, thus forming an inseverable and eternal peace. It’s as we all gaze at Christ’s sacrificial work on the cross that we are one.
Jesus, we confess our tendency to exclude rather than to include, to judge rather than to honor, and to assert our position rather than to love unconditionally. Lord, have mercy.
Guest Author: Kelly Steinhaus is the Team Leader of Unity Boston and my friend. She is investing her life and labor in building teams of unity in the greater Boston area.