People have proposed many different paths toward acquiring unity among believers. If we will pay close attention to Jesus’ teachings as well as to his apostles’ instructions, we will discover an oft overlooked powerful contributor.
Before people spill a drop of ink or type a single letter revealing our strategies for uniting Christians, we would do well to listen to the Messiah. Jesus prepared people to follow him by describing an essential attitude preceding kingdom service.
“If anyone wants to become my follower, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24).
In the Garden of Gethsemane with the cross looming, Jesus modeled the attitude each of us needs if we are going to follow Christ. “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Matthew 26:39).
Jesus expressed with simple words the heart of carrying one’s cross. Personal desires and preferences are jettisoned. The goal of obediently conforming to God’s will trumps all in order to shape what we think, say and do.
As someone who called others to imitate himself as he imitated Christ, Paul’s life and teachings echoed Christ.
“He died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
If in becoming a disciple of Jesus we must die to our agendas, our strong desires and what we prefer, how can any Christian feel justified in dividing the body of Christ simply because we want worship or matters of opinion to be handled our way? The cross precedes discipleship. How Christian can we be if we have not picked up our crosses to follow Christ?
To be sure, an examination of biblical unity requires many more details and observations, such as: God creates Christian unity, not us. We are to maintain what God has achieved in Christ. Not all believers will understand every verse in exactly the same way, yet disciples ought to be humbly seeking to understand rather than imposing their perspectives. Sacrificial love for our Christian brothers and sisters, like Christ’s love for us, should trump a self-serving divisiveness insisting upon getting our way. Conforming to what scripture actually instructs us to teach and to do is the ecumenical position.
Although much more can be written about unity, would not believers be more unified if everyone first picked up their cross to follow Christ? What would happen if all believers shifted away from desiring worship, doctrines and the Christian community to serve them and rather gravitated toward simply pursuing obeying God?