Sacrificing Doctrine for Unity

Jun 15th 2011

I have a conviction about unity amongst the followers of Jesus. In fact, the conviction is a passion, a holy discontent. I do not believe that a single congregation can bring spiritual transformation (revival) to a region. On our own we can build a great congregation, but one congregation by itself cannot reach a city.

Over the years, one justification for dis-unity that frequently and easily comes to the lips of evangelicals is, “But you cannot sacrifice doctrine for unity.”

Lately I’ve been pondering Jesus’ words recorded in John 17:22-23,

22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 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.

First of all, realize that the quality of unity that Jesus describes is trinitarian unity.  Jesus is not talking about a mere “we won’t talk bad about you” kind of unity.  Can you imagine the Father, Son and Holy Spirit making an agreement to merely talk nice about each other?  In fact this unity even goes beyond, “let’s be friends.”  It is indeed relational community, but it’s also missional community.  It’s community with a cause.   Make no mistake, it’s not uniformity, there is diversity between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the relational and missional community runs deep.

Dis-Unity and a divided church has become so normal to us that it’s hard to imagine a different way.  But in fact, it is the way Jesus intended for us to walk.  I’ll be the first to agree that it’s not an easy road to walk, but could we start by agreeing that it is the direction we must walk to follow Jesus?

But here is what I cannot get out of my head, “he gave us his glory so that we could be one…” What does that mean?  Doesn’t it mean that a low commitment to unity comes from a low regard for the glory of Christ?  In the last few years David Bryant has sounded a clarion call for the church to regain a theology of the ascension.  We have perfected our celebrations of incarnation (Christmas) and resurrection (Easter) but we rarely ponder the ascension.

It’s the ascension of Christ that reminds us of the glory of Christ.  Christ the King.  Christ the All-Powerful Sovereign Warrior-King.  Glorious Christ.  Would it be so far from the truth to say that Christians who are not passionate about unity — have a faulty Christology?

If so, then perhaps we have already been sacrificing doctrine for our LACK of unity.

He gave us his glory so that we could be one…