By Amy Rager
It would seem that if a group of people built their ideology upon the same, infallible book that the members of the group would all pretty much believe the same thing. And yet we all know a multitude of other Bible-believing Christians who make us want to hide under a rock. There are folks who love God and live for Christ holding viewpoints that baffle us.
Disagreements over God’s intent and desires have divided Christians since the days of Paul. The problem is not new but its resolution is still pressing. Here’s why:
We are called to unity. Before Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, he prayed these words over his disciples: I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word (that’s us!), that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Jesus knew we would need each other. He knew that the world’s acceptance of him as its’ Savior would be influenced by our unity.
Human nature says, “Divide. Distance yourself from what you don’t understand. Get ahead by clinging to the powerful. Those who don’t agree with you must be dumb. Surround yourself with those just like you.” The Spirit within us says, “Unite. Love. Give grace. Draw those in who may hurt you. Give of yourself. Everyone is made in the image of God. No one is past redemption.’
The question of our day seems to be: can we coexist together in a meaningful way while having different points of view? What a testimony it will be if the church can raise her voice and say, “Yes! Look at us! There is something that can unite and it is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”
But how? How can a Christian of color have unity with a believer who denies the continued existence of racism? How can a proponent of gun control and a gun rights activist within the same church get along? How can someone who believes that part of the answer to crime control is eliminating immigration embrace their illegal immigrant brother or sister in Christ?
I’m going to be really honest for a second and say that I don’t have the answer. A problem this big is far above my pay-grade. But I do have hope. Our God will accomplish what he desires. As we wait on him, we must act. Will it be messy? Sure. But, ‘hope does not put us to shame.’ With that disclaimer, here are some steps to consider for promoting God-glorifying unity within the church:
1) Pray fervently and first The Bible calls us ministers of reconciliation. However, the kind of humility and strength that fosters unity comes only from God. Faithful attempts at unity are our responsibility, but we are at God’s mercy for the results. Plead with him. Pray to God that he would give you discernment and compassion. Pray that he would prepare the person(s) you are struggling with relationally for a meaningful journey toward unity. Jesus prayed for our unity; it seems fitting we should pray for it as well. Verses for inspiration: James 3:18, Philippians 4:7, Proverbs 16:7, Psalm 29:11
2) Listen as an invested sibling Being a part of the same family means actively investing in one another’s well-being. Don’t make assumptions about your sister’s viewpoint or experience—ask her about it. Don’t judge your brother from a mile away or let bitterness brew in your heart—have the difficult conversation. Show them you care by your presence, and seek to understand. Compassionate listening is empowering, and giving validity to someone’s experience builds bridges. This does not mean, however, that you have to agree with or tolerate their statement. Verses for inspiration: 1 John 4:20, Romans 12:5 & 10, 1 Timothy 5:1-2
3) Rebuke humbly Deception is dangerous. Sin is oppressive. After prayer and conversation, if you still feel they are deceived or walking in sin it is your obligation to offer humble rebuke. As people who are capable of being deceived, we correct respectfully. For their good and restoration, we point them back to the ways God intends. We don’t let someone we love remain in error. Verses for inspiration: Romans 12:1-21, 1 Corinthians 12:26, 1 Timothy 5:1-2, Proverbs 17:17
4) Rinse and repeat The process doesn’t end. Even if unity was restored, it will be challenged again soon enough. Persevere. Stay committed to your brothers and sisters in Christ. ‘He who began a good work in (your fellow Christian) will be faithful to complete it.’ Don’t give up on unity within the church, the rewards are too great and the command is too strong.