Will the one body of Christ be always mystically united despite apparent division on earth or are God’s people responsible for employing tools to maintain the body’s unity? This question brings to the forefront our understanding of the nature of Christian unity.
On the one hand, to have witnessed acrimonious attitudes can create a desire to breathe the fresh air of acceptance and freedom, such as provided by viewing Christ’s people as possessing an incarnational unity given by grace whereby believers are understood to be united regardless of various forms of seeming division. But if unity is a divine gift which can exist devoid of physical manifestation, then how can it rise above being nothing more than a spiritualized concept?
On the other hand, for Christian unity to provide testimony to the world with any seeming degree of functionality, by necessity unity would at least be partly dependent upon some aspect of objectively conforming to Christ. But might not this view cause a person to limit his or her understanding of the essential conformity, and hence unity, to the horizon of one’s own experiences?
These two views are provided to illustrate that while many armchair understandings can be formulated and even provide counter-points, a biblical understanding is needed to provide the perspective which matters, namely God’s. As previously acknowledged within this series, God creates the unity of Christ’s one body by placing within Christ those who are being saved by grace. Since Christian unity is a product of God’s grace, the nature of unity depends upon how God has described it, despite whatever strong feelings or views we might have.
The New Testament reveals that although God is the source for the one church, continued unity is at least partly dependent upon how individual congregations and members live out their faith./1 Both doctrine and its accompanying behavioral and faith manifestations have been shown to be capable of creating division as well as even necessitating amputation from grace. Thus Paul’s instruction for Christians to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace acknowledges the responsibility Christians bear./2
The foregoing observations lead to several thoughts. Since disunity and even falling from grace is possible, the starting point for recognizing the unity God has created starts not with what may exist nor what people may be claiming about themselves, but with scripture. Second, while unity is initially dependent upon conforming to the call of Christ, unity’s boundaries and contours are determined by scripture and not our short nor our long lists of preferences.
Our experiences, cultural beliefs, and a host of other factors can create powerful desires within us to perceive Christian unity as we think it ought to be. The unity God creates, however, is not a human construct we can command and organize at will but is the work of God by grace. Our function is to acknowledge and maintain that unity which God has created in Christ. This will require faithfully responding to the message.
1/ Romans 16:17,18; 1 Corinthians 1:10; 11:18,19; 15:2; Titus 3:10,11; Galatians 5:4; Revelation 2:5
2/ Ephesians 4:3
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