• Richard Parrish

July Reflection by Richard Parrish United We Stand



READ


“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” – John 17:11b (NRSV) [0]

REFLECT


As a young pastor, I vividly recall being asked to serve a congregation in Southern California. Full of zeal and short on leadership experience, I was quickly introduced to the world of political maneuvering by individuals who had specific agendas.

My first board meeting included a contentious debate surrounding what color we would paint our church buses (which nearly came to physical blows)!

While I admire passionate debate, my appreciation for constructive deliberation centers on essential matters: decisions that impact the welfare of others and resolutions that influence the advancement of God’s kingdom.

I quickly learned: Unity is not the same as agreement.

“If we can’t agree what color to paint our church buses, how will we ever be united on important matters,” I wondered?

More than once I’ve heard well-meaning people stress how vital it is for leadership to “show others that we are united,” which is often code language for: “it’s important others know you agree with me.”

It’s interesting that, if I’m not in agreement with you – or you are not in pact with me – how quickly one of us is marked as creating discord.

Disharmony is not a new problem in society or the Church. Disagreements among citizens or fellow Christ followers should not surprise us. We expect political parties to have different agendas. However, when it comes to the Church, why is it we’re shocked when disagreements occur?

Even a brief reading of the New Testament reveals a variety of disagreements that the church had to face. In the book of Acts alone, we relive the selfishness of Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11); observe the injustice of prejudice towards those who neglect the Greek-speaking widows (6:1); and we witness the insistence from those who maintain that Gentiles must be circumcised first, before becoming disciples (15:1).

The problem with these types of disagreements (or what color we’re going to paint church buses) is: They threaten unity.

Unity is the state of being undivided. It’s living in oneness with each other – despite our differences. When we are united, we experience harmony. However, unity does not magically disregard preference, willfulness, or eliminate the fruit of sinfulness.

Moses reminds the Israelites: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” [1] Moses understands: If we want to experience unity (living in oneness), we cannot dismiss God from the equation.

Jesus prays for his followers: “…Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (Jn. 17:11b).[2] He continues his prayer on our behalf by asking:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” [3]

If we pay close attention to what Moses and Jesus are saying, we discover that unity is always centered in a mission.

When we love God with all our heart, soul and might, God’s mission becomes more critical than my mission. Jesus longs for us to experience unity, so the world will believe that God sent Him to save us.

The apostle Paul frequently speaks of believers (followers of Jesus) as “one body in Christ” (Rom. 12:5-8; 1 Cor. 12:13, 27-30). Paul stresses that the unity of the church is a reflection of the Godhead: one God (1 Cor. 12:6), one Lord (Rom. 10:12; 1 Cor. 12:5; Eph. 4:5), and one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4, 11; Acts 11:17).

Christian unity does not mean total agreement. However, true Christian harmony always expresses itself in shared commonality.

We share the experience of Christ as Lord and confess Christ in baptism (Eph. 4:5,13). Regardless of Christian affiliation, we share the same sense of mission (Mt. 28:19-20). We share concern for one another (1 Cor. 12:25; Phil. 2:2; 1 Pet. 3:8), and the shared experience of suffering for Jesus’ sake (2 Cor. 1:6; Phil. 1:29-30; 1 Thess. 2:14; 1 Pet. 5:9).

These shared experiences as followers of Jesus unite us. It’s choosing paint colors for busses that divide us.

For a color-blind pastor, I honestly didn’t care what color they painted our buses. I was more concerned that we would not lose sight of why we had those buses: To bring children to hear the great news that God loves them so much He sent Jesus to die for them so that they can live!

Despite your political or religious affiliation, ideological differences or personal preferences, we have enough in common that unites us – if we choose. This was made clear to me when I worshipped in a church recently.

The liturgy was foreign to me. Much of what took place on that Sunday morning was different from what my preference is. The “critic voice” in my head wanted to argue: “How can they do that?” The differences of style, liturgical setting, and worship order revealed uncomfortable differences.

It would have been easy for me to walk out the door and assume we have nothing in common. However, that was not possible because of one thing.

At one point in the service the worship leader invited us to audibly, and collectively confess our faith:

“I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord: who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and buried; He descended into hell; on the third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; From there he will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in: The Holy Spirit; the Holy catholic (universal) church; The communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; The resurrection of the body; and life everlasting."


Perhaps we would do well by celebrating what we have in common instead of allowing our differences to distract our focus from our shared mission.


RESPOND

  • With whom are you in disagreement? Have you identified what you share in common?

  • Does your conversation go directly to the issue with which you disagree?

  • What intentional ways might you engage to show appreciation for those who differ with you?

  • How quick are you to listen to those who disagree with you? What insights might they have to offer you that you haven’t seen?

  • Are you open to find common ground with those who do not share your views? If not, why?


[0] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jn 17:11.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Dt 6:4–5.

[2] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jn 17:11.

[3] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Jn 17:20–21.