Unity… is it really possible?
[ Extracted and edited from D2Y2 Magazine – Feb’ 1996 #02 ]
“United we stand, divided we fall” has become an all too familiar statement in every segment of society, in every nation of the world. Our Lord Jesus taught about it. Now, governments campaign for it, NGOs shout about it and pastors continue to preach it.
Wherever the call for unity is coming from, power applies to them all without exception. For even God Himself recognised that when people stand together for a cause, nothing they set their hearts to do would be impossible for them to achieve (read Genesis 11: 6).
As much as the above is true, there seems to be a consensus among many Christians from various denominations (a word that is far from biblical) that the efforts made to achieve such unity in the Body of Christ today is disheartening.
It is not that no efforts are being made. To the contrary, there are many of our brothers and sisters out there who are genuinely championing the call for the Church to stand united. Too often, it is the cold, uninterested, selfish, faithless and narrow minded responses by the others toward such bold and tiresome efforts that have bring about the question, “Is unity really possible?”.
Many a times, those who act on unity, act alone. How far has the Church come to truly fulfil our Lord’s prayer in John 17: 20 – 23? We always expect God to answer our prayers, every one of them, every single day. When was the last time we answered His? What kind of unity are we focusing at? Why are we not able to achieve it?
From Genesis 11: 6 that was referred above, we find that unity was used as the driving force for evil deeds. Hence, God’s judgement upon the people in “disuniting” them to avoid any further damage. Modern examples of destructive unity can be seen from World War I up to the current inhumane and bloody battles which are still being fought till this very moment.
Men (even women and children) incited and ignited by the “vision” of their leader, unite in sacrificial faith, loyalty and undivided commitment, supposedly for a cause, which they have believed to be their purpose for existence or the means by which that purpose would be fulfilled.
This kind of unity is also known as uniformity or “Robotic Unity”. A kind of movement that exist for the sake of the movement itself. The kind that requires minimum intelligence and spite at constructive criticism. “Just follow what the leader says”, no matter how selfish his “philosophies” may seem.
God loves His creation. We are all created differently and that is how we must appear before Him – different. There is of course a certain degree of uniformity when people stand together. And this has been considered to be healthy only that it provides “godly peer pressure“ to make a change for the better, not in any way of forcing such change on anyone.
There is something very risky when one makes tolerance as the foundation stone to unity.
As Martin Luther had put it, “Who we seek to change, we must first love”. It is love that binds us together, not despite of but in spite of our differences. The Lord Jesus Christ is the highest example and authority of love that mankind has ever and will ever know, and He taught us how we should be united through love and by so doing, testify that God had sent His Son to save the world (John 17). To be different and yet be united is what glorifies God for only true love can accomplish this. Those who truly love are those who have come to know the true and living God (1 John 2: 9-11). Unity in diversity is the Christian speciality.
Some will argue that many have succeeded in introducing and sustaining unity even in a setting of diversity without God’s help. They boast about their ability to keep the peace by keeping silent on religious issues. Theirs is a doctrine of tolerance. While this is to a great extent true (and the highest commendation must be awarded to those who have indeed given their best to contribute towards keeping the peace), this kind of practice is still not good enough in the light of God’s standards.
There is something very risky when one makes tolerance as the foundation stone to unity. There is something about tolerance that says, “As long as you do your thing and I do mine … or else” or “As long as you can toe the line….”. In short, “Don’t Rock The Boat!”. Do not upset the status quo! We are enjoying ourselves, thank you very much.
It does not have to be, though it almost always happens, that when God’s people focus more on “peace” (and prosperity), they then begin to slack on their witness, simmer down on their “fire”, think up new excuses, lose their cutting edge and compromise on God’s truths.
At this point, I trust it apt to remind ourselves of Jesus’s words in Matthew 10: 34 – 37. If Jesus could say that He came not to bring peace but a sword and yet pray for the oneness of His people, I can only conclude that His standard for unity goes beyond tolerance to include unity in the midst of differences, disagreements and even disappointments.
We all know our Lord’s prayer in John 17, someone once said it is the only prayer yet to be answered. We also know the power and promised results when God’s people dwell together in unity. So what is taking us so long to achieve it? Why are we growing more apart ? Most importantly, how long are we going to remain this way ?
Here are some of the many areas which I believe is denying the Body of Christ from coming together. Areas that we must deal with as true followers of Jesus:
∘ Past Experiences
Past experiences have much influence on future decisions. We may have, as a church or as an individual, gone through some bad experiences in the past with another church or another individual which had resulted either in the failure of a certain joint project, or in disappointments of other kinds like failure to give due recognition, unequal distribution of new converts, poor fund management, unequal distribution of workload, or the ever common one known as personality clashes.
These failures, disappointments and even hurts do have a way of making us wiser and give us every right to be more cautious the next time, but they do not give us the right to cut off completely from future opportunities that God will bring our way.
We find it quite easy to support and to be part of an established and thriving ministry when we are invited to and find ourselves even boasting about how we are “connected”. Somehow, our past bad experiences disappear into non existence when such an opportunity arises. When these happen in the Body of Christ, it tells me about an attitude which is unbecoming of those who profess to be servants of God, that is the “what is in for me” attitude.
Whatever the case may be, past experiences should never be allowed to dictate the directions God desires to take and the plans He decides to make. For those who know a little about how God works, you know that one of those plans may just be to direct us into the path we have hitherto been so fearful to even consider.
What do you expect? Did we really think that God would allow us to settle in our state of doubt, fear, bitterness and unforgiveness? Let us settle this in our hearts once and for all and be set free from our past so that we may serve God with a pure conscience and work towards what matters most to Him.
We have somewhat touched on this area in the above thoughts on past experiences. Most of the time, we find that the reason for fear of some kind can be easily traced to an untoward event of that kind in the past. However, there exist also another kind of fear which is not founded on past personal experiences but rather on rumours, “We heard that this church ‘sheep steals’, beware of them, do your best not to work with them”. And the list goes on.
Fear, however genuinely founded, was never meant to be God’s gift of discernment nor a guide for directions nor a deciding factor in the future of the Church. In fact, we are told that God has NOT given us a spirit of fear but of love, boldness and a sound mind. lt is still love that binds us together for love covers a multitude of sins.
Many a time, people do not work together because of jealousy or envy. It is the “l should have done that” or “I could have done it better” attitude. Many have noticed that jealousy or envy is usually a problem with those who God initially gave the vision or at least the opportunity to do that which now is being done by another and prospering.
Whatever the case may be, we all know that jealousy and envy has no part to play in God’s kingdom plans. May we consider each other higher than ourselves. It is not too late to make amends and work together.
Remember that even if the other person is prospering with what supposedly was your vision or with whom you supposedly had so committedly trained, they still only form a part of God’s full picture and we must recognise that we have our part to play to complete the vision. This is God’s design.
One of the greatest dangers God’s people face is the building of their own kingdoms instead of His. There may be some who from the very beginning, may enter into ministry with the purpose of self gain. However, most of us are not like that. We really knew God’s calling on our lives and in obedience, we entered into ministry.
Somehow as time goes on and as we begin to get more popular, our organisation gets more popular and we reap the blessings of comfort, we find ourselves naturally getting quite self dependant, self sufficient, self centered and even selfish. We even get quite competitive. always trying to outdo each other.
Quite honestly, some churches can function without God for the next 20 years. I once wondered what would happen to those churches and all their full time workers if God were to remove all their members, that is their only source of income, overnight.
Being self sufficient is not really something to be proud of because all things come from God. Being good stewards does not only mean knowing when, where and who to give but to give and to give generously. Let us be reminded that we are still very human and we still desire very much to build and to build for our own security.
Thus, we are constantly faced with the danger of deviating from God’s focus of building Himself a Kingdom and get caught up with the building of our own. One clear result faced by many who have realised their mistake is that there will come a time of stagnancy.
Stagnancy in growth of new converts, stagnancy in the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and stagnancy in tithes and offerings. May we who are but builders, allow God to build His house the way He wants to. If we fail in all our plans and visions to include efforts towards bringing unity to the Body of Christ as priority, something is very wrong.
God has blessed us that we may be a blessing. We can actually make it our full time job to focus on uniting God’s people as much as we focus on winning souls, and God will be equally well pleased. In fact, it has been promised that when the Church is one, the world will believe that our Father had sent Jesus as Saviour (John 17: 20 – 21). Let us therefore focus on building each other and we shall ourselves be built.
Unity in diversity is the Christian speciality.
The cover of this issue portrays God‘s big picture. Every one of us hold a piece of the puzzle. Some may be bigger than others and some may be made to be placed in positions as a help and guide for other pieces to be positioned. One thing for sure is that every piece is important to complete the picture. Every vision is a part of another vision which when pieced together forms His full Vision.
Is unity possible? The answer depends very much on us. Are we willing to change and be changed? Or are we going to bring our bad experiences and fears to the grave with us and expect to give God some lame excuse when we meet Him? Are we prepared to re-evaluate our goals and plans? ls our faith strong enough to put everything on hold in order to hear God again on His heart’s cry for unity? Before you apply the next layer of cement and put up the next piece of brick, let us stop to consider this thought.
When I was in the midst of setting up Asian Youth Ambassadors (AYA) first youth centre (also known as “The Embassy”), I really needed a lot of assistance. One particular brother who was a great help to me is a brother from Calvary Church. He helped me sourced for most of the things I needed for the centre. He drove me to most of the places at his own expense and even did some of the dealings for me. It was like he was doing it for himself.
He even had to take leave from his employer. He did everything for me with commitment, passion and not forgetting sacrifice. We were from different churches. We have heard many things that the adults have said before about the difficulty (or rather the impossibility) of our two churches ever working together.
What was the difference in our case? I believe it had a lot to do with having the ability to see the bigger picture as well as the privilege of having a different spirit. Both of us knew what God wanted. He wanted to establish a Christian youth centre. Both of us knew how much time we had. With that knowledge, we couldn’t care less of where or what we represented, but instead focused on WHO we represented, and we worked hard and fast to achieve His goal.
I believe that being young also may have had a lot to do with it. We do not have that many bad past experiences and fears. We are less calculative and definitely more easily excited with the new things of God.
Is it any wonder that God would leave Moses’s generation, the generation of complaints, doubts, fears, scepticism and negativism out of the promised land, and allowed only Joshua and Caleb’s generation, the generation with a different spirit to enter in.
I believe that all of us, young or old can take hold of God’s “promised land”. We need to have a new attitude, we need to have a different spirit, then shall the Church be one.
“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion; For there the Lord commanded the blessing – life forevermore.” (Psalm 133)
D2Y2, which stands for Don’t Despise Your Youth, was an official Asian Youth Ambassador (AYA) magazine birthed out in the late 90s. The printed materials communicated dynamic and effective encouragement to and from the Church, with special emphasis on the knowledge and experiences of our Christian youths, which we believe the content is still relevant and applicable in this current generation.