Have you ever taken careful note of jigsaw puzzle pieces before they are put together? Each is unique. Each has a place. Each requires the others to find completeness.
The Christian community these days is discovering new horizons of identity and maturity as the people of God. Maybe it has to do with the passing of a century and the birth of a new millennium. Or perhaps it has more to do with an increase in hostility toward Christians requiring a heightened sense of solidarity. Whatever the case, the fact that a new day lies before us is capturing the attention of leaders in ministries around the country. Central to this new day is the idea of the unity of believers. It’s been called ecumenism, solidarity and a few other names, but it remains an essential part of the intent of God for the wholeness of His Body – the Church.
This necessity to develop a sense of solidarity is heightened by the fact that we have continued as Christians to fulfill the Great Commission by reaching diverse people. In so doing, we face the need to relax the tight tensions of our own generational, cultural, and stylistic influences that have often dominated the agenda of the Church.
African American Christians, as well as other converted minorities, have developed an ability to assemble and embark on causes and challenges with Christians from diverse backgrounds. They have found that the collaborative Kingdom benefits and the need to multiply outweigh the human impulse to divide over minor differences. Similarly, all of us across the evangelical spectrum, must unite like multiple pieces of a puzzle for the purpose of impacting the secular empires that have increasingly dominated so many areas of our contemporary life. It is always while people sleep that the enemy comes, catching us unawares and segmented.
The fragmentation of the broader Church community will ultimately compromise our common mission and weaken our ability to stand together on many political, social, and moral fronts. Non-Christian groups have united a strong attack against us in government, community and culture. You don’t need to look far to see the secular, homosexual, and post modern agenda strategically making inroads in politics, entertainment, and community influence.
Perhaps this further illustrates that the “children of this world are wiser in their way than the children of light.” If we continue to major on the minors while others unite over the major issues, we will become distracted by internal murmurings and miss the clearly defined mark that we have been assigned by Christ Himself. Certainly there is an intrinsic need for being “mutually submitted to one another” in order to provide accountability in the Body. Yet we often allow our primary emphasis to be supplanted by a secondary distraction. Defending our faith in the hostile environment of the enemy is too often replaced with the self-flagellating, mutilation of a body turned against itself. This practice is self-destructive and undermines the natural function of the body to heal itself. Clearly this is not the directive or mandate that we have been given by Christ.
As we gradually emerge from the slumber of distraction, and in some cases indifference, we must shake off the lethargy and obsession with eliminating differences among ourselves. Sameness is not our goal. Expanding the Kingdom is. That does not mean we should give up healthy discourse as a means to defend our orthodoxy and temper one another’s extremes. But it does mean we guard our hearts in “upbuilding one another” and always remember our real mission.
As the Church in America becomes increasingly diverse we must be prepared for a diversity of opinions. The appropriate response to that diversity is not to eliminate it or to be encumbered by our own need to deliberate over every issue. Rather, our response should be to welcome and embrace it as a fuller picture of the Kingdom. This enables the Church to infiltrate the systemic structure of our world and show our relevance to the ills of this generation. Then and only then can we emerge as an army of dry bones unified by one clarion call to see the message of Christ move forward. The culture around us will not wait for us to finish bantering, marketing, and broadcasting our fights in print and on the air.
Our image of the Church must expand to accommodate the eclectic community of diverse persons whose culture, economy, and theological approach to God reflects their unique contribution to the Kingdom through multiple styles, cultures, denominations, and theological perspectives on Biblical truth. When that occurs we will lose the” us” and “them” of self-centered defensiveness. In short, the evolving mentality of the Church must reflect the concerns of the people it has won to Christ and not just the opinions of those who won them.
Accepting one another without diluting our faith will not weaken the well-tempered character of the Church nor will it alter the centralized message of the Lordship of Christ. In fact, it will be strengthened. As a human body moves from adolescence to adulthood, it does not become a completely different body. It matures and becomes stronger through development and growth.
Within the Church, unity is predicated upon the kingdom principles of: a) mutual submission to Jesus Christ; b) for the sake of the mission; c) as an expression of the nature of the Godhead.
In the kingdom of God, unity equals diversity. It is part of the paradoxical nature of the kingdom that we find difficult to comprehend apart from a kingdom context. At face value, unity and diversity seem contradictory. Yet within the economy of God, they are more than compatible, they are synonymous. You see, the opposite of diversity is not unity, but sameness. Without the center-point of the lordship of Jesus Christ, any effort toward unity results in negotiated cooperation and tolerance at the lowest common denominator – sameness. Kingdom unity, however, transcends the particulars of diversity. It leads to synergy. It is the embodiment of completeness under the headship of Christ. It truly epitomizes the kingdom principle of being more than the sum of its parts. Were each piece of the puzzle to be the same, there would be no hope of unity, and certainly no hope of the beautiful synergy in the final mosaic that the pieces create together.
Inherent in the metaphorical description of the Church as a body is the necessity of diversity in submission. The body is not healthy if there is no submission to the head. Yet it literally thrives on diversity. Arteries, veins, corpuscles all form a superhighway whose uniqueness does not deter its ability to work in harmony with other body parts in causing the body to thrive. Nor would our bodies function if all parts duplicated the appearance and specificity of one organ. It is safe to conclude that the Apostle Paul has this understanding of the body when He promotes an idea of interdependence of the diverse members of the body of Christ gaining maximum systemic function. Without diversity, then, unity is meaningless.
Further, the careful student of the word must always come face to face with the fact that while God is concerned with our nature, He is also concerned with our effectiveness in fulfilling His agenda in the world. The famous “unity” passage in John 17 does not simply call us to unity for its own sake. There is a mission attached. To assume that our end goal is unity misses the ever-present theme of redemption throughout scripture. Jesus prayed that we might be one “that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them.” You see, without a clear mission under God, our efforts at finding unity serve no purpose but to impress ourselves. In this careful balance between our nature of oneness and the mission of making Him known is the clearest example of being whole, integrated people. Who we are and what we do are inextricably intertwined. Our nature of unity serves our mission of declaration. If we are to remain fruitful in this new millennium, we must prepare ourselves for the contributions of others whose ideologies may differ on minor points, but who are equally committed to the nature and mission of the Church.
Finally, the keystone of Christian unity is the very nature of God Himself – His holiness and His oneness. In his Holiness there is purity of motive and action. In His oneness there is the mystery of the three in one. Both are reflected in the healthy Body of Christ. We, then, who are the Church are called to be the reflection of the nature of God – purity in motive and living the mystery of oneness. In His diversity there is an essential oneness. It is more than cooperation. It is unity in spirit. Because it is inherent in the Godhead, it is likewise inherent in the Body. Each puzzle piece has the whole latent within it. That’s what gives it meaning. Yet without the other parts, the whole remains latent and is nothing more than a dream. For the fullness of the Kingdom to be seen in a piece, it must find unity with the others who are different. Only then can the nature of oneness imprinted upon the piece find fulfillment in reflecting the character of God.
Evangelicals shy away from anything labeled “ecumenical” because among more liberal groups this priority has often resulted in an eviscerated message of goodwill, lacking the spiritual power of the gospel. In reality, the call to Christian unity represents a new chapter in the ongoing growth, shaping and maturation of the Church in America. Firmly planted upon the authority of the Word and guided by the Holy Spirit, in unity there is power, completeness, and the beauty of our common Lord. Truly a new day is before us. A day in which the disconnected pieces of the puzzle are gradually and gracefully connected until the world can get the picture of who the Church is and how we all fit into the Master’s original plan!
Kevin Mannoia with T.D. Jakes