The Secret to Christian Unity

In 1985 it was estimated that there were 22,000 Christian denominations with 5 new ones forming each week. If those numbers held true we should be at about 28,000 today. I am not sure how those numbers were arrived at or what constituted one church being different from another to count as separate denominations but even if there were only 25 or 50 denominations that would be too many.

We are not sure how much division there was in the Philippian church but we do know of two members Paul encouraged to be in agreement (Euodia and Syntyche – 4:2). Starting in 1:27 Paul begins his appeal to Christian unity. He writes about them being in “one Spirit” (1:27), their “striving together” (1:28), and being “in one accord” (1:28) even in suffering and opposition (1:29-20).

In 2:1 Paul continues his plea for their unity. Notice in the first verse he talks about them and God:

  • “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ”
  • “if any comfort from his love”
  • “if any tenderness and compassion”

He then moves to how a unified relationship with God/Christ that is characterized by tenderness and compassion should result in unified relationships with each other. It is easy to have tenderness and compassion for Christ. He has done so much for us! But it doesn’t stop there. It is made complete when what we have experienced with Christ is reciprocated and lived out with others, “then make my joy complete by [doing this]:

  • “being like minded”
  • “having the same love”
  • “being one in spirit and of one mind”

and by avoiding this:

  • “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit”

Then he pens one of the most difficult verses in the entire New Testament. Not difficult because it is hard to translate or hard to exegete. It is difficult because it dismantles life as we know it. These words are read with hesitancy because we know that if we take them seriously life will never be the same again, “Rather in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (TNIV). On this verse F.F. Bruce wrote,

The simplicity of Paul’s language should not blind us to its difficulty. Those who really try to consider others better than themselves soon discover that this does not come naturally. It is too easy to introduce permissible exceptions to Paul’s rule…There is a tendency, for example, to think one’s own denomination better than others, to the point of imagining that God himself is better pleased with it than he is with others (and therefore, surely, better pleased with me for belonging to mine than he is with others for belonging to theirs.). No such exceptions are permissible where true humility reigns.

Philippians (NIBC)

I appreciate what Bruce has to say and I know that what I am about to say is pie in the sky but I also believe it is what Jesus intended and so I am going to say it anyway – If we had the attitude of Christ and practiced what Paul is talking about here in Philippians, the only thing we would call a denomination are different types of coins. I know you have probably heard dozens of lessons on this passage or at least read it many times. I just want to point out a few things that if we really lived out would change Christianity and the world as we know it.

Christ was God. He had all the privilege and authority. But he didn’t use that to his own advantage. Society teaches us that you are to use everything at your disposal to promote yourself and your own agenda. Not so with Christ. He who was supreme and had everything became nothing and had nothing. He who had every right to be served came as a servant. The one who had every right to be proud and boast about himself humbled himself even to the point of death. And the question is, in light of all of that, how many of us can say we are better or more worthy of honor and getting our way than Christ was? None of us can say that. If the one who was able to get his own way refused it, who are we to selfishly chase after our own desires at everyone else’s expense? We can’t. Instead we are to die to our own arrogance and our own selfishness on a daily basis and instead we are to hold up others above ourselves. Death almost sounds easier than that! Oh, we are called to that too! If we lived like this division would be a thing of the past and we would all seek out Christ first and foremost.

What is the secret to Christian unity? Living out the example of Christ (humility, servanthood, and death to self) and removing all obstacles to making that happen (selfish ambition and vain conceit). Only then will our tenderness, compassion, and unity with God translate into tenderness, compassion, and unity with each other. One last bit of motivation. Have a look at John 17:20-23 and find out how the world will know about Jesus and will start to love his disciples.

0 Responses to The Secret to Christian Unity

  1. i am a follower of Christ Jesus says:

    i want to live these moments on earth with my God
    i want to rest in the Love of my Creator
    to know that His Holy Spirit is in me
    to know His Son Jesus is as my Lord
    to be united through the Holy Spirit with all in His Body
    i am a spiritual being within flesh and bones
    i belong to my God

  2. jimmymccarty says:

    Great post! Along with your solution must be the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet in John 13. At the end he says “no student is above his teacher and no servant greater than his master” so we must wash feet as well. The same goes for how we consider others. If we do not act as though others are better than ourselves we are acting as if we are better than Jesus himself; acting as if we are above what he did. And the same goes for how we pursue unity. Jesus died for it. If we don’t live it are we acting as if we are greater than him?

  3. Aussie walks across globe in the name of Christian Unity
    Samuel Clear, a 28 year old from Australia, is attracting the attention of Christians worldwide, as he independently walks an 18 month pilgrimage across the planet inviting people to join him in praying for the unity of all Christians. Currently five months into his journey and in South America, Sam has also faced much opposition; having been racially abused, stalked by a puma and held up at gunpoint.
    Naming the pilgrimage, Walk4One, Sam left Australia on December 14, 2006 to begin his 29,000km, 564 day, worldwide journey, which includes 18,000kms traveled on foot. From Cape Branco the eastern most point of Brazil, Sam is travelling through South America, Central America and North America, across Russia, and down through Europe to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The unique quest will culminate in Sydney in July 2008 for the start of World Youth Day.
    Specifically Sam is inviting every Christian to join him by setting their watch or mobile alarm for 4.01pm as a reminder to stop for a moment and pray that God will unite us as one in Christ. With Christians praying at 4.01pm across the different time zones Sam hopes to create a powerful 24 hour a day worldwide prayer session in the name of Christian unity.
    “People don’t necessarily need to pray for long, even just 30 seconds as you work is enough, and a valuable way to be part of this worldwide quest. Imagine the power of thousands of Christians, joining together each day, united in our focus on Christ and our desire for unity, in that one moment!”
    Overwhelmed by the division amongst Christians around the world and convicted of the great sadness this brings our Lord, Sam felt moved to leave his job, home and family, sell everything he owned, to personally fund the journey and begin the 564 day mission.
    “I had read several autobiographies in which Christians spoke of being ostracized and worse, by family and friends when their spiritual search led them to convert from one Christian denomination to another. This left me struck by the division amongst Christians around the world. Despite all believing in Christ; various conflicting theologies, practices, experiences, misunderstandings and belief systems continue to cause judgment, conflict and division between Christians,” said Sam.
    “With such division it is impossible to say that the body of Christ is united. It is broken. I don’t claim to know what true unity looks like but I was, in that moment, so convicted of the broken body of Christ and the sadness this brings our Lord. I felt the need to pray and motivate others to join me in praying, so together we can surrender our own agendas and ask for God’s vision of unity to come to be”, says Sam who refers to Jesus’ call to unity in John 17:21.
    Sam’s extraordinary commitment to this quest is clear, after more than 130 days on the road he continues, despite facing many difficult experiences. In Venezuela, he was stalked by a puma in the middle of the night, held up at gun point by a farmer who mistook him for a robber and endured racially motivated physical and verbal abuse.
    On some days he has been forced to walk up to 60km a day in 40 degree temperatures. He has slept on roadsides and in rat infested rooms. However, he has also experienced the great hospitality of many Christian Churches along the way, which have joined him in prayer and invited him to speak of his journey and his desire for unity.
    Christians are encouraged to visit the Walk4One website at:
    http://www.ymt.com.au/walk4one/
    to add your name to the growing list of Christians praying for unity. You can also read further background on Walk4One, view Sam’s itinerary and weekly blog.
    Background on Samuel Clear
    Prior to Walk4One, Samuel Clear was a Manager with Youth Mission Team Australia (YMT), a youth ministry, focused on bringing young people into personal relationship with Christ.
    One of 5 children, Sam was born in February 1979 and grew up on isolated Flinders Island before his family moved to a 1500 acre property in central north Tasmania. He attended St Patrick’s College in Launceston, where he was School Captain in 1996. He furthered his studies at the University of Tasmania, graduating in 2001 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.
    His upbringing on Flinders Island and then in rural Tasmania instilled in him a great sense of adventure and a love of the outdoors, particularly sport. He played AFL reserves as a 17 year old and represented Tasmania in football and basketball. He was also heavily involved in both cricket and athletics. Standing at 196cms (6 ft, 5 in) and weighing 95kg – he’s difficult to miss!

  4. I just read an article on CNN.com regarding unity in the Catholic Church without cultural uniformity (i.e., as Anglican congregations join while retaining their rites). I then wrote a post about the relationship of unity and doctrinal uniformity. In general terms, does unity require uniformity?

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