The call for divinely empowered unity within the church is louder than ever before, but I’m not sure we’re making much forward progress. There are so many issues in our society that seem to only be widening the chasm between fellow believers.
What separates a community of believers from all other groups, clubs, organizations, and communities is the divine. It is the divine work of the Holy Spirit that unifies the most unlikely people together. For some, the only reason they can genuinely love and befriend the person sitting next to them at church is because of Jesus. Apart from this, they would naturally find nothing to draw them together.
This is the kind of unity Paul describes throughout the New Testament. Not only among the collective Church, but each individual church.
We have the tendency to see biblical unity as,
All of the people who like polka dots go to the church down the road, all of the people who love pizza go to the church in the center of town, and all of the people who enjoy golf go to the church by the railroad tracks. But we all love Jesus. See, the Church is unified. All of us agree we love Jesus, but you wouldn’t catch me dead at that polka dot church.
But the biblical understanding of unity actually starts with diversity. I think we like to start with the interests, views, and philosophies that would naturally unite us and then find ways to throw some diversity in there. But not too much.
The division we see in the Church today is largely centered on us wanting to find our common ground first, and that is rarely Jesus.
Here are three reasons the Church fails to experience the divinely empowered unity God has invited us into.
1. Racial Segregation
By many accounts, our society has made reasonable strides in race relations since the 1960s. Unfortunately, the church has often been delayed in seeing similar changes.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is 11 o’clock on Sunday morning.”
Based on a National Congregations Study (2012), eight in 10 American congregants attend a service where 80 percent of attendees are of one ethnic group or race. These numbers have improved slightly over the last few years, but it’s safe to say that King’s statement still rings true to this day.
Racial segregation is a large contributor to division within the church across congregations and denominations.
I encourage you to look around your church and see the level of racial and ethnic diversity among congregants. Based on the data, it’s very likely 80 percent of your congregation is made up of a single ethnic or racial group.
This is especially alarming if your church doesn’t accurately represent the community in which you are planted. If the ethnic makeup of people in your local neighborhoods and grocery stores doesn’t match the ethnic makeup of your church, then there is likely an even greater level of segregation happening within your church community than in the society surrounding it.
Now, the solution isn’t necessarily going out into the neighborhood to start recruiting people of other racial and ethnic groups to begin attending your church, but we should be mindful of how the structures of our churches are either welcoming or stifling diversity.
When Paul talks about the church in his letter to Galatia, he says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile.” He’s not telling us to ignore these distinctions. Instead, he’s recognizing the diversity of the church and emphasizing it’s not these things that unite us, but Jesus.
In order to see the unity described in scripture, we have to embrace diversity. It’s out of true diversity that we can see the divine unity Jesus speaks of.Racial segregation is a large contributor to division within the church across congregations and denominations. Click To Tweet
2. Partisan Affiliation
Partisan influence over the church has become more apparent over the last two years. Pastors and Christian leaders have boldly rallied behind and supported their preferred politicians. It doesn’t require much searching to find a wide selection of sermons filled with partisan politics shared from various pulpits all throughout America.
So many of the contentious issues in our society today have become partisan issues. If you support X, then you belong to this party and that’s good. If you don’t support X, then you belong to that party, and that’s bad. Partisan affiliation has sometimes become a reason a believer stays or leaves their current congregation. For example, churches are now known by the stance they have decidedly taken for or against COVID-19 safety guidelines.
The local church is now more aligned based on partisan views than by Jesus. This shift in the American church is one of the leading drivers for disunity among believers. It’s as if our partisan affiliations have become more important than Jesus.
What makes it even worse is that we don’t actually want to recognize this truth. So we mask this toxic culture in our Christian faith. We tell ourselves that our strong stance for a political party and their agenda is actually the “Christian way.” This is the lie we continue to tell ourselves instead of dealing with the fact that our partisan associations have become more important to us than Jesus.
Outrage, anger, and hostility have become accepted among believers in ways that even non-Christians can see is anti-Christian.
Uniformed partisan views are never what the bible meant by divine unity among believers. We need divine unity to allow us to move past partisan divides.
This is so complicated and there are no easy answers for how we go about correcting the havoc this has wreaked on our churches, but we must recognize what is happening and ask for the Holy Spirit to bring the type of unity we read about in scripture.
3. Denominational Allegiance
The harm of denominational arrogance seems to have shifted into the shadows in light of the destruction that partisan affiliation is causing in our churches. But this is still a top reason the church remains divided.
I will be the first to admit that this is a challenging element of the modern Christian faith, because I don’t think we should get rid of denominations. But I can also recognize the way they make unity more difficult.
Just imagine what our world could look like if different denominations were willing to stand side by side in working for the kingdom. There are ways Christian denominations could be more open to working together and not writing off a ministry, effort, or organization simply because they are a different denomination.
We are now at the point where many Christians are operating in their denominational silos and refuse to step outside of them. From schools, to mission agencies, publishing companies, and media sources, denominations are working independent of one another.
The nuances of different denominations are helpful as believers work through the secondary and tertiary matters of faith, but too often we move these areas of disagreement to the first tier. We treat other denominations as if they have understood the faith completely wrong, and our denomination is the only one that got it right.
The indoctrination in certain denominations is worse than others and it leads towards an arrogant spirit. It’s a good thing to align yourself with the denomination that supports your theological views, but you must also leave room to value and understand another denominational view.It's good to align yourself with the denomination that supports your theological views, but you must also leave room to value and understand another denominational view. Click To Tweet
Divine Unity Starts With Diversity
The church’s struggle with unity is rooted in us rallying around the wrong thing. We want to form our unity with those who look like us, think like us, and can relate to us. It’s natural to gravitate to those who are most like us.
Our understanding of unity is to drive out diversity. But Jesus wants to unify us while maintaining diversity.
Biblical unity is not something we can program into our churches. It truly must be a work of the Spirit. It is divine. We must recognize the ways we try to drive out diversity and surrender those tendencies to Jesus.