A beautiful gathering of women began last weekend. We crossed denominational, cultural, geographical and political divides to join hands and wrestle with the question, “If God is real, then what?” I say “began” because, while this event was a catalyst, it was intentionally not a singular event. The leaders are providing numerous ways for us to continue to connect with each other and challenging us to pour our lives out for the hurting, the marginalized, the oppressed, the broken in our world. It is the closest thing to the early church, as described in Acts 2:42-47 , that I have ever experienced. And it left me hungry for more of this kind of radical unity.
Why is IF: Gathering an anomaly? Why does it take a deliberate effort to engage in this kind of community? Shouldn’t it be the norm for a group that calls itself ‘The Body of Christ?’ I mean, it’s not as if my hands or legs or ears can decide to do their own thing and ignore the rest of my parts. And I think God picked this analogy on purpose so that we can’t escape each other. Because that is our natural tendency: to collect in little groups who look the same, think the same, believe the same and ignore all others. We don’t just ignore each other, though, do we? As soon as the teams are chosen, we start chucking stones at each other like some twisted game of dodgeball.
I am not naive about why we have denominations, or why the church is the most racially divided institution in America. I know the history. I know how we got here. But I don’t want to use the weight of that history as a reason to keep dividing when the Bible clearly and unequivocally says that we are to be of one mind and purpose. If we’re going to look into the past to define us, let’s look all the way back. The very first people to align themselves with Jesus were largely Jewish. In their religious and political context, there were Jews (good guys) and everyone else (bad guys). They did not associate with any non-Jews, and they saw no need to change. Then Jesus showed up and began healing the servants of Roman centurions and chatting with Samaritans and loving on prostitutes. His contemporaries had no context for this, no frame of reference in which this made sense. And even after Jesus was resurrected from the dead and His disciples touched those wounds in His hands and side, they still didn’t get the beautiful magnitude of Jesus gift of salvation. God had to show up in Peter’s dream and then send a Roman to his door before he really understands that this good news was indeed for everyone, just like Isaiah prophesied. The forgiveness and grace Jesus offered crossed religious and cultural bounds and united them all in Him.
But aren’t those theological and cultural differences important, you ask? Of course! But those things that make us Baptists or Presbyterians or non-denominationals or contemporary worshippers or liturgical are secondary to the one thing that should unite and drive us all: the gospel. This good news of God-made-man, of sins forgiven, of hope and joy and eternal life found in Jesus – this is what we should be about. It is the heartbeat of our Body, what gives life to each limb and organ. And on this we can agree.
In his letter to the church in Philippi, Paul encourages them to unity and humility as they serve God together.
Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from his love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor and gave him the name above all other names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:1-11 (NLT)
There is so much we can learn from these few lines. The Holy Spirit unites us. Work together with one mind and purpose (which should be sharing this good news, by the way, not the myriad of other things we make church and religion about). Don’t be selfish. Be humble. Support and celebrate the things other people are championing, not just your own calling. Be like Christ.
I want to soak in these verses. I want to make my life about Jesus’ gift of forgiveness and not about all the other junk to which I cling so tightly. I want to humbly serve my fellow Christians, to encourage them to pursue God and cheer them on when they do. I want to make the community of believers around me rich and diverse and messy so that we may shine like stars in the darkness as we hold out this word of life. Will you join me?