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Then the World Will Know

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INTRO: The Atlantic Monthly (11/94) told about superstar tenors Jose Carreras, Placido Domingo, and Luciano Pavarotti performing together in Los Angeles. A reporter tried to press the issue of competitiveness between the three men.
"You have to put all of your concentration into opening your heart to the music," Domingo said. "You can't be rivals when you're together making music."
That's also true in the church.

Christians should never be rivals when they are together building God’s Kingdom!

Unity among Christians is essential to the accomplishment of the mission of the Church. God expects Christians to cooperate beyond just tolerating one another. But there are, I will admit, some dynamics that naturally exist that may hinder a unified church.
How should Christian unity, the kind that Jesus prayed about in John 17, manifest between denominations, movements, and ethnicities with disparate doctrinal distinctives?
Christian Unity cannot be overemphasized in the Christian Church today. The preeminent piece of literature regarding the topic is the Bible, and therein is no shortage of teaching on the topic. In the garden, before the events would take place to bring about the end of his earthly life, Jesus prayed,...
John 17:23 NIV
23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
It is a blatant statement of the importance of Christian unity as God’s people. The converse of this prayer, of course, is that...

If the Christian community cannot be unified in spirit and purpose the world simply will not believe that Jesus is the Son of God.

Paul wrote that we are “all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”[2] Since Christians, scripturally, are all one, and acting otherwise makes a Christian’s testimony impotent, it is no small thing to understand Christian unity.
Clearly, the Bible does not shy away from the fact that, from very early on in the first century church, there were problems; there were problems of deceit, such as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira.[3] The Greek Jews and those of Hebrew descent disagreed on the handling of food for the widows.[4] Indeed, there existed jealousy, hurtful relationships, well-publicized disagreements among the most notable of leaders, false prophets, erroneous teachings, gossip, selfishness, boastfulness, and a continuing list of human proclivities that the Church was not immune to. There was no attempt by the writers, or those responsible for canonizing scripture, to hide the disunity of the early Christians.
Gilbert Stafford defines the two ends of the spectrum Christians are most tempted to go where Christian unity is concerned; it is either a bureaucracy that is laden with rules which are difficult to maintain, or it is a lax system of broad tolerance accepting anything that one may proffer as truth just for the sake of getting along. The main focus for any authentic unity must be Christ centered. Christians must seek to work together, worship together, and understand one another while adhering to the authority of scripture.[5]

Truly, it is only scripture behind which Christendom should rally.

While many Christian traditions may have additional creeds, catechisms, and/or writings that differ from one another, the Bible is the only document common to all, and it is in the study of its pages alone that this topic must be resolved. Outside of this, the hope for Christian unity remains dim.[6]
Human beings tend to encode people when they meet them, or when they observe them while knowing a very little bit about them. We categorize people very easily based on sex, race and other things. If Christians are not acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we take that natural tendency and begin categorizing other Chrsitians by very obvious things: denomination, doctrinal distinctives, a like or dislike for a particular kind of church service, or a predisposition for a certain worship style to name just a few examples? But to say, like we are so wont to do, that human beings have a natural predilection toward these behaviors (categorizations) is to miss a huge part of what God does in the life of the born-again believer: the condition brings into being a new person, one re-crafted by the creator not to act in natural ways.[8]
Anthony Evans, author of Oneness Embraced, and an African-American pastor, sees the church as the only hope for true unity.

The church is “...the only authentic cross-racial, cross cultural, and cross generational basis for oneness in existence.” - Anthony Evans

It is a difficult question to answer, especially considering the tensions that sometimes rage in America over race, but how can the races unite when the church cannot? Until Christians begin to see themselves as one people who are a part of one Kingdom, unity may be a far-off fantasy, or a theory that is virtually unattainable.
Is lack of unity even the biggest problem in the world of Christendom today? It would be very difficult to say this when it is well-known that the number one priority (read, problem to be resolved) is making disciples; the Church does not seem very good at making true disciples of Jesus.[10] But, what if the making of disciples was being hindered by something? In my ioinion, when viewed from this angle, as nuanced a point as it may be, lack of unity hinders, arguably beyond all else, the disciple-making process. As distractions proliferate, whether disagreements over music styles, speaking in tongues, sprinkling versus immersion baptism, or any other issue that engrosses one to the point of failing to make disciples, the result is the same: people are dying and going to hell even as those minor, and for the most part, inconsequential wars rage on.
Christianity is on the decline in the west, even as it is on the rise in Africa, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim.[11] Is the decline of Christianity in the west due to the luxury of being able to believe without reprisal, without fear of bodily injury, or even death, thus leaving the average Christian at leisure to ponder why one denomination or one point of doctrine is better than the other? There is a plurality of religion in the world today that Christians must learn to deal with. Global communication and travel have brought into the view of most everyone varied religious thought and practice. The future of the church depends on the reaction of today’s Christians to the many world religions that are becoming more and more familiar to the average citizen of earth.
I do believe that lack of unity is one of, if not the biggest problem in the church today. But some believe that the challenge of unity in the churches has to do with the challenge of defining truth in any meaningful, concrete way, and with answering several questions that seem to have no easy answers. Questions like:
1. Why do Christians want consensus? Originally, some concensus was needed. In 325 The Nicene Creed is a statement of belief widely used in Christian faith. What did it mean to be a Christian? It is called Nicene because it was originally adopted in the city of Nicaea by the First Council of Nicaea in 325. What it did was define the basic belief construct of Christianity:...

One God, creator of all things. One Lord, Jesus Christ, fully human/fully God. One Holy Spirit, the guiding force in the life of the born again. - Nicene Creed Bullet Points

That was originally, and it was needed in that day, and still is as far as that is concerned. But today, consensus is wanted because conformity is desired for the purposes of maintaining authority, traditions or ideology. In this flawed context the cohesiveness of the system may be damaged as free-thinkers threaten to dismantle long-held beliefs. We become PROUD of our differences! But what we are really doing is building a fortress that no one, expect those that look like us, act like us, and agree with everything we say, are allowed into.Or, conformity is desired so that a fortress can be provided into which a threatened group retreats.[12]
2. Is consensus possible in Christendom? Sometimes, but insisting on complete concensus stifles thought and creativity.

Consensus is NOT a condition of unity!

Our modern misunderstanding of consensus is predicated on the notion that there is but one universal and eternal truth for everyone. Stay with me on this… For you, at a particular time in your life you might say, “Life is good!” That’s your truth at the time, but it may not be someone else’s truth in that same moment. It has no bearing on the truth of Jesus, of God’s provision for our salvation, etc… But not everyone has the same life experience, so how could everyone have the same spiritual reality. That is, like everything else in reality, in flux, situationally relative, and subject to one’s position in the social network. Get a bunch of mid-American old white people together and they might say, “Oh, the 50s and 60s were such an idyllic time; everything was so much simpler, and the church was important in our lives.” Get the same age-group together with people of color, and they would have a different story to tell about a time when life was hard and cruel and painful just because of the color of their skin, and equality was a pipe-dream they couldn’t imagine. The only thing they might agree on is that the Chruch was so important in their lives, but for VERY different reasons. Same time period, same country, but two very different truths. In this case, consensus leads to compromise, the very definition of which denotes hypocrisy, and the sacrificing of convictions.
3. Who defines what is acceptable or unacceptable? There is no easy way to come to agreement about which group’s doctrinal positions should be held as the standard.[14] There is but one banner under which all can come together, lose the insecurities and rest in Christian unity, the banner of God’s love.
Galatians 6:14 NIV
14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
CLOSE: First, it is very clear from scripture that God’s intention for the church is that a spirit of unity exists that goes beyond simply tolerating one another’s doctrinal distinctives, and demanding that we all think and act alike. When Jesus prayed in the garden prior to his crucifixion, he prayed for oneness (unity) of all that believed so that the world would believe that Jesus was really the Son of God, and believe the message.[15] (b) The first century church was corrected and brought back to scriptural truths by a small group of leaders who were more concerned that the brotherhood of believers be unified rather than how each town or group of believers was perceived in regard to being more right, or more wrong than another group. (c) Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus to challenge that body to be of one mind, one body, and one spirit regarding the faith.[16] Paul also challenged those who serve God to view others as equals, not as male or female, slave or free, Jew of Gentile.[17]

There is no question that the Bible demands unity among believers.

There may be a natural tendency for human beings to resist embracing those of another belief system (Hindus, Buddhists, etc…) , or even those with the same general belief system (Christianity) that have differing doctrinal distinctives within it. Why? There is a natural inclination for people to feel more comfortable within the dynamic of one’s ingroup. (b) The possibility that someone from an outgroup will bring unwanted change into one’s life creates fear. (c) Fear keeps many Christians from accepting people with vastly different attitudes and doctrines, thus perpetuating disunity among believers. Understand this, Christians, fear in not a valid reason to disregard the responsibility of unity among all believers.
Also, consensus is not necessarily a condition of Christian unity as some suppose; in other words, all Christians do not have to hold the same doctrines, especially those that are not salvific (related to your salvation) in nature. There are multiple examples of early church fathers uniting for the sake of the mission and purpose of the church, but who held differing beliefs regarding smaller things other than those that surrounded salvation. Ultimately, it is the Gospel alone that determines how we accomplish unity.
Unity among Christians is essential to the accomplishment of the mission of the Church. Biblically, God expects Christians to cooperate beyond just tolerating one another. Are you? Do you express a spirit of unity in your walk, or do you take every opportunity to cause discord by keeping our differences front and center.
There is only one point around which to rally for our unity, Jesus! There is only one feeling or emotion from which we should draw to accomplish that unity over and above any differences regarding our preferences, and that is LOVE!
Is the love of Christ in you when you think about others?

“Father, make them one as You and I are one, so that the world will believe that I am Your Son.” - Jesus

That’s how important this is.
let su pray...
Bibliography
Stafford, Gilbert W. Theology for Disciples. Anderson, In: Warner Press, 1996.
Katongole, Emmanuel and Chris Rice. Reconciling All Things. Downer’s Grove,
Il: Intervarsity Press, 2008.
Evans, Anthony. Oneness Embraced. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011
Platinga, Richard J., Thomas R. Thompson and Matthew D. Lundberg. An
Introduction to Christian Theology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Kurzban, Robert, Joh Tooby and Leda Cosmides. Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) vol. 98, no. 26 (2001): 15387 – 15392.
Klaus Nürnberger, Can Unity Be Based on Consensus? Journal of Theology for
Southern Africa vol. 116 (2003): 9-25.
[1] John 17:23 NASB (all scripture from this version unless otherwise noted).
[2] 1 Cor. 12:13.
[3] Acts 5:1-10.
[4] Acts 6:1-7.
[5] Gilbert W. Stafford, Theology for Disciples (Anderson, In: Warner Press, 1996), 221 - 226.
[6] Ibid, 230-231.
[7] Robert Kurzban, Joh Tooby and Leda Cosmides. Can race be erased? Coalitional computation and social categorization, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) vol. 98, no. 26 (2001): 15387 – 15392.
[8] 2 Corinthians 2:15.
[9] Anthony Evans, Oneness Embraced (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2011), 45.
[10] Matthew 28:18-20.
[11] Richard J. Platinga, Thomas R. Thompson and Matthew D. Lundberg. An Introduction to Christian Theology (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 360.
[12] Klaus Nürnberger, Can unity be based on consensus? the gospel of God's unconditional, suffering, redeeming acceptance of the unacceptable as the foundation of Christian unity. Journal Of Theology For Southern Africa no. 116: (2003): 10.
[13] Ibid, 11.
[14] Ibid, 21.
[15] John 17:23.
[16] Eph. 4:1-16 .
[17] 1 Cor. 12:13.
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