Thursday, 21 June 2012

At one-ness.

Unity is something as Christians we believe in, unity with God, other Christians, maybe others but we do seem to have differences in outworking this belief. We believe there is blessing linked to unity following Psalm 133 and the promise that where unity is there will be blessing and so in order to get the blessing we work on our unity. Perhaps if we believed in a unity that was already in existence, or even a blessing that was non-conditional based on living in the new covenant, we might do things a bit differently.
If we believe unity with God is something that we work at it will affect our relationship with God. If we perceive a distance in our relationship, then we will spend time trying to shorten that distance or feel that it is too difficult and we might just settle for a long distance relationship. If however we believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God, that we are ‘In Christ’ and he is in us, then our conversation will not start with trying to sort out a distance. In any relationship if we believe we are in someone’s ‘bad books’ because of our behaviour, we will feel a little hesitant in our conversation, may even distance ourselves further if we believe there is no way back. Whereas if we believe we can’t get into someone’s bad books or that they would never hold a grudge against us, or they are always wanting to talk to us, always wanting to hear us, not interested even in our behaviour other than in how it affects us, not the relationship, then perhaps we wouldn’t waste so much time on sorting out the distance and instead enjoy our union and enjoy being blessed.
Unity with other Christians is something we all work at to a point. We are after all too different to be able to get along otherwise we wouldn’t have so many different kinds of churches. Our differences are much more fundamental than style, they are based on our doctrines and theology, there are lines drawn that we aren’t prepared to delete.  We have programs and meetings where we try and get along, if we can do something together maybe we will have the semblance of unity and maybe that’s all we can hope for. We don’t mention the differences and we will tolerate ‘the others’ for an hour per term for the sake of unity and working together for the sake of our community, who to be honest can’t really get over why if we’re all so loved up with each other we have so many different churches in the first place. So how can there be ‘real’ unity when we are all so entrenched in what we believe and can only just about manage to do things together as long as we don’t mention the war. So what do we have in common with the ‘others’? What do we share with other Christians? Jesus is probably the lowest possible common denominator, only belief in him, not really anything else, but then if we read Corinthians and believe what it says - that we are automatically part of his body, then we might conclude that Unity is an actuality and doesn’t need ‘worked on’ or artificially created through activity. We wouldn’t do things for unity, we would do them because of our unity.  If we believe that the Christian over the road, in another church, maybe even in no church is fully united to us, then maybe we would just get along in our relationship, we would again not try and sort out the distance between us, accept there is no distance and enjoy our unity and our blessing. What if the church exists as a reality without our meetings, structures or attendance, what if the church really is the body of Christ, would we then stop using language like; ‘I’ve left the church’, ‘I don’t like the church’, ‘the church is controlling and abusive’, ‘the church ruined my life’ or even ‘I’m off to church’ – only if you’re having some kind of out of body experience! Perhaps if places have treated us badly we could start calling them something other than church; ’institution’,  ‘cult’ and reserve the word church for what it really is? Perhaps words matter.
What about unity with others, those who are not Christians, can there,  or should there, be unity with those that do not believe in Jesus, not as a saviour, not in a relationship with him, wouldn’t step into our buildings, should there be unity with ‘the others’? I’m thinking Yes. I’m not saying I’m right, I’m just thinking/writing out loud.
What if, unity is something so much bigger than we ever thought before? What if the ‘ministry of reconciliation’ is not only about helping people to see that Jesus has reconciled them to God, what if it is also no longer seeing people as sinners, no longer seeing a separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’? Here’s a definition;
Separatism - the advocacy of a state of cultural, ethnic, tribal, religious, racial, governmental or gender separation from the larger group. So perhaps we have something of the separatist in all of us; ‘the saved vs the damned’, ‘Christians vs other faiths or the atheists’, ‘Catholics’ vs the rest’, ‘the Charismatics/Pentecostals vs traditional/established’. We really are like a Monty Python sketch -People’s Front of Judea vs Judean People’s front! We have so many ways to draw lines to separate one group of Christians from each other, never mind where we draw lines between ‘believers’ and ‘unbelievers’. I’m not saying let’s scrap all the buildings and rent a stadium where we can all be together as we do have different theologies and styles but I am wondering whether we should practise erasing some of these lines. Could we consider seeing past a person’s behaviour or theology to see a unity that transcends everything else? Can we delete some of the lines/fences, not just between Christian to Christian but between any sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’? To be able to see unity between one human being and the next. Not just artificial, worked at unity, but a belief that there is no separation. More than seeing that there is no real separation between one Christian and another but no separation between one human and another, no distance between the people. To begin with, how about we are all made in the image of God? That is something we believe, not an illusion and not something to be worked at, it is a reality, male and female made in the image of God. So if we take that as a starting point in our relationships with others then we would not start with the differences, particularly in value between one person and the next. Could we start to see past someone’s behaviour and see the image of God in them? Could we love people on the basis that there is no separation between us rather than trying to love people because we have to, ‘we have to try really hard to love the person when we don’t like them because we’re a Christian’. To see past behaviour, see a person that is the same as us and allow a love to flow from our union with God and our unity with them through some invisible channel? Perhaps like Jesus saw past our behaviour and loved us anyway??
How much of the world’s difficulties come from separatism, my culture is better than yours, my gender is better than yours, my meetings and theology are better than yours. What if we believed in unity and lived from a belief in reconciliation.
Another definition;
Reconcile - to make two 'apparently' conflicting things compatible or consistent with each other. Harmonious is also linked to reconciliation, living in harmony with one another.  We talk of relationships being reconciled, our relationship with God has been reconciled by Jesus, he did the reconciliation for us. The trinity living in harmony with each other with a desire for unity with us and with each other. John 17 talks of one-ness with each other, unity like Jesus has with his Father. The prayer is for all believers and we could say that if Jesus saw a division between believers and unbelievers so should we and this one-ness is only for believers, but I think we should push this one further and would like to suggest that perhaps separation was never God’s intention. Not between us and Him or indeed between human to human. Being separate from one another surely is a disadvantage, the tower of Babel is a testimony to one language possibility and perhaps speaking in tongues by the power of the Holy Spirit was not meant to be used as some kind of ‘good Christian’ barometer but instead as a language to unite people together. Yes a heavenly language used for worship and prayer but maybe, just maybe Paul used tongues the most because he was travelling the most and knew that speaking the same language as his hearers created a sense of unity. Perhaps being all things to all people meant he found unity where we would now see the differences. Perhaps if we believe that the Kingdom is here already then we wouldn’t worry about changing people’s cultures as the Kingdom is already the uniting force.
We say let’s honour our differences but maybe we actually mean let’s keep them.  Let’s honour our uniqueness and yes we are all created with different fingerprints, live in different cultures and 50% of the population have different body parts but this uniqueness could also be outworked in the bigger reality of unity.
I suppose I’m just a bit tired of the line drawing, the line between good and bad, the line between saved and not, the line between secular and sacred, the line between us and them. All these ways to separate ourselves from others, to see differences, to hole up in our own safe world and hope nobody infiltrates the ranks with some weird teaching about one-ness with God and with all of humanity. Maybe my cave is best or maybe it’s time to think bigger than I have done before. Maybe love never fails.

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