Church folks have a secret dictionary. I’m not sure who publishes it or how many editions it’s been through, but it surely exists. I’m not referencing the Bible here either, even though most of the church dictionary words are found there. Jon Acuff has even gained great popularity in explaining some of those dictionary terms.
The problem with the secret church dictionary is that the words are often defined by themselves.
Take victorious for example. If asked for a definition a likely response would be, “Well, it’s when God gives you victory over something, of course!” See the problem? I had an ongoing problem with the word abide for quite some time, and I still don’t think I could explain it quickly.
We could play this game with any number of words in the church dictionary and could probably even start some fights with Spirit Filled, Spirit Led, and Spirit Inspired. If you think the definitions are clear and straight forward then put a Baptist and a Pentecostal on the case and see how long things stay friendly.
With our dictionary in mind, how would you define “unity”?
Obviously it means something on the level of singing “Kumbaya” and making daisy chains, doesn’t it? Because if we’re all believers, we’re all going to see things the same way, right? I mean, it’s as easy as grabbing some chicken sandwiches and voting Republican isn’t it?
In Ephesians 4:1-3, Paul gives a really concise summary of what unity looks like, but he doesn’t define it like Webster did.
Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, 3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. [NASB]
Dang it, Paul, we’re trying to be unified! I need to know how right I am and how much everyone else needs to come around to my thinking! But the kicker is in the words he uses to describe unity – all humility, gentleness, patience and tolerance in love.
Those words sound like disagreement among believers is almost guaranteed. And I don’t think it’s reserved for only the people you go to church with.
Humility? I’m not going to need much of that if I’m almost always right!
Gentleness? I need to take a stand for the truth!
Patience? I can’t help it if some people refuse to see what’s right in front of them!
Tolerance in love? I’ll love them because I have to, but that makes it sound like I have to put rainbow bumper stickers on my truck!
I don’t think unity is supposed to be easy, and Ephesians 4:1 gets pulled out of context way too often as a way to say that you ought to act right.
Really, Paul was saying that unity is the way in which we walk in a worthy manner. I wish it wasn’t that way, because I’m really good about finding everybody else’s faults.
Unity requires a mindset like the Moravians had: In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.
So, yeah, if someone says that Jesus is good and stuff, but not the Son of God or the only way for salvation, there will not be unity. Orthodoxy is essential and you can’t make up the rules as you go along. But in the non-essentials, I have to be willing to grant the same liberty and charity that I demand for my own positions.
All of my opinions and beliefs shape how I view right and wrong, best and worst, wise and foolish. And that means conflict is going to happen when we see things differently. Conflict doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but it means when we work things out we do it keeping unity of the Spirit as the priority.
And if we can’t work things out we’ll just have to agree that we love Jesus and leave the rest alone.
It’d just be so much easier if everyone agreed with me.