Unity in My Terms

When we had dinner the other night with our friends who just moved back from PA , we had a great discussion. I learned a lot about the church and myself through that discussion. They shared with us their desire to be involved in unifying the body of Christ. What a great desire, and what an area that truly needs dealing with inside the Western Church. I applaud their desire and hope and pray that they are able to help move things in that direction.

When we started talking about this issue, they explained that they intend to start a para-church ministry to fulfill this goal. At this point my mind immediately went negative, it was as though that one word threw a wall up in my mind and automatically set me against the idea. I realized after further reflection on the conversation how wrong it was for me to completely shut myself off from the idea simply because they want to go about it in a way that I have preconceived negative opinions on. Honestly who knows if I have negative opinions on their approach, all I know is I have an aversion to that one word, “para-church.”

A major reason that Stephanie and I seek to have more of an organic understanding of the church is because we want to see more unity among the broader body of Christ. We hope to see less of the idea of “your church” vs. “my church” in our interaction with other believers, but here I was dividing myself from these fellow believers because I didn’t like the terminology they used to describe what they felt led to be doing. This conversation helped me realize my unwillingness to work with people who don’t think like me, people who use terminology that I take issue with. How backward of me to shut myself off from these wonderful people because they used the term “para-church.” How contrary to everything I say I believe to simply write off their desires for unity because they want to pursue it in terms that I don’t like.

I really appreciate their willingness to share what they feel God is calling them to do. I really look forward to seeing how God will use them to help unify his body, and I really hope that He will break down my prejudices so that He can use me in the same way. I realize now how antagonistic I have become against my brothers and sisters in the more institutional arena of the church. I pray that God will break down those prejudices and help me to see all fellow believers as brothers and sisters, that I will see what God is using them for and how God is working in their lives, and that I can learn to look past our differences in thought to try and reach real unity with them.

It is not enough to say I seek unity with all fellow believers in Christ, but to only connect myself with those who see unity and see the church the way that I do. I can clearly see that I have much to learn about love, Christian fellowship, and unity from fellow believers, both inside and outside of my own understanding of the church.

Advertisements

About Dan Allen

Just some guy trying to figure stuff out... View all posts by Dan Allen

15 responses to “Unity in My Terms

  • stephallen08

    Excellent post, Dan. Your honesty is a breath of fresh air! It’s so easy to switch into defensive mode when we think people don’t understand us or (even worse) don’t agree with us! Yikes 🙂

    I understand how frustrating it can be to hear that people aren’t understanding you. When people use phrases you don’t necessarily agree with or when they have idea’s about the Church that bother you, it’s easy to get angry and shut yourself off. But when we take a few seconds to step back, without analyzing their words (words,words,words…they’re dangerous aren’t they?), but their hearts, often times we find that we’re very similar and in the end desire the same thing…. to love and serve others as a Christ centered community.

    If we’re going to BE the Church, then we have to tear down the walls we’ve built. We have to wash the bitter taste from our mouths and LOVE our brothers and sisters regardless of our beliefs or interpretations of scripture. Our SOLE focus should be Christ and our goal should be growing in Christ together.

  • Dan Allen

    Stephanie,

    Thanks for the words of encouragement! I especially like when you say: “If we’re going to BE the Church, then we have to tear down the walls we’ve built. We have to wash the bitter taste from our mouths and LOVE our brother’s and sister’s” It’s very easy to be bitter, especially if we’ve come from a bad experience, but Being the church is not about being against those other guys, its about being a community centered on Christ and sharing his love with those around us!

    Great comment!

    -Dan

  • Arthur Sido

    All Christians want unity! I have never heard of someone outside of the extreme fundamentalist movements that doesn’t extol the virtues of unity.

    Of course unity means changing your mind and method to agree with me. For others, divisions within the church actually help our unity as unfathomable as that might seem. The hard part is that Biblical unity means that we may not always get our way, in fact it might mean that we never get our way. Our reward then comes not from winning people to our way but just fellowship itself. It is hard indeed to see unity as something that might mean that I have to make all of the sacrifices instead of the other guy sacrificing for me. The mindset of “unity through doctrinal conquest” is a strong one among my fellow Reformed believers and man is it a hard mindset for me to get out of!

  • Dan Allen

    Arthur

    I love what you say in the middle of your second paragraph: “The hard part is that Biblical unity means that we may not always get our way, in fact it might mean that we never get our way. Our reward then comes not from winning people to our way but just fellowship itself. It is hard indeed to see unity as something that might mean that I have to make all of the sacrifices instead of the other guy sacrificing for me.” It really gets to the heart of the issue: do I want to sacrifice my desires, my way, my soapbox to try and reach out, to love, other believers?

    Thanks for the comment!

    -Dan

  • stephallen08

    To what extent do we lay ourselves down for unity’s sake? Do we continue gathering with our brothers and sisters who don’t gather as we see the NT Church gather? Do we abandon them to gather with believers of like mind? I see no sacrifice there. Instead, shouldn’t we show them how to gather as the NT church did by our love for them and the relationships we form? I hear a lot about the Industrialized Church and the Business Model Church. I hear how lost and wrong their practices are. I see people breaking free from these institutions and forming more “organic” expressions of the Church. I don’t see how this exemplifies love and unity.

  • Dan Allen

    Stephanie

    This is something (which you well know) that I think about a lot. Learning to have unity with my brothers and sisters, while not ignoring or watering down what I believe Christ has called us to as the church. I think it is important to distinguish between embracing brothers and sisters who we don’t necessarily agree with, but not embracing the IDEAS that we don’t agree with. I may love and fellowship with a brother who believes in infant baptism, but I am not going to have my babies baptized. I may love my charismatic brothers and sisters, but I am not going to get baptized in the Spirit. Should we participate in things we believe are wrong or sinful for the sake of unity?

    Thanks for the comment! Hopefully someone else can do a better job addressing this question since I feel like I am still struggling with what the answer should look like!

    -Dan

  • norma hill

    Dan said, “I feel like I am still struggling with what the answer should look like.”

    Amen, brother!

    (hmm… reminds me of Paul and his “being all things to all people…” Seems like this is a long-time struggle)

  • Dan Allen

    Norma

    Its good to see that I’m not the only one who is still trying to figure things out! I find it interesting that you share Paul’s “all things to all people” quote here because I have been thinking a lot about culture in other posts lately and you really helped tie it all together by drawing out that Paul’s statement concerns unity.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    -Dan

  • Mark

    Dan,

    I hope my response isn’t too long, but here it is.

    You are not alone in having the automatic walls go up when something is said that grates against what you believe. I think we are all that way to some extent or another, but when a person comes out of a negative environment or negative lifestyle or negative anything, I think the tendency is to go too far in the OTHER direction, before finally finding truth, which is usually somewhere in the middle. I think we need to be aware of this tendency, and it seems like the Lord is making us aware more and more.

    Without being privileged to the specific conversation had, I can not speak to my opinions on the plan. Certainly the goal is a great one. The question is, how do we go about it. One thing I will say is that, usually when the Lord calls us to a work, we have to start that work with imperfect understanding. it is expected that mistakes will be made along the way, and that the methods used initially will not be the methods used later. As long as our hearts are pure towards His intentions, He will make sure we stay on the right path, and that the end result will be in line with His ways. So, that being said, even if your friends planned to use methods that you felt were inappropriate, if their hearts are right they will be led in the appropriate manner. I think it is hard to just let the Lord build what He wants to build, and don’t recognize the inexorable nature of the Spirit to accomplish what He intends.

    Next point: I think the purpose of God in the earth at this time is to establish an accurate expression of Christ, and His body, in the earth. We don’t see this by and large. In order to accomplish this, there often needs to be a new work started, a work founded on Godly, kingdom principles. As I discussed in a response to a previous post, this work needs to be open and friendly to those that are still “churched”, but would obviously have a very different appearance, as it is built on different principles. Where we promote unity in this endeavor is in reaching out to our “churched” brothers and sisters, and loving them, even if they don’t understand or reciprocate. The goal is to show the true expression of the Body, so that the lie can be fully exposed.

    In response to Arthur’s comment, I think we underestimate the power of prayer to accomplish what needs to be accomplished in the body. I think we also lack the ability, by and large, to “agree to disagree”, so to speak, and all trust that the Spirit will make all things plain. There are issues in the group that I meet with, and I have strong opinions, based on my understanding of scripture, on those issues, that contradict what others in the group believe. I believe I am right, but so do they, and all I, or we, can do is pray that His truth be revealed in our hearts. I agree with Arthur. This is not about being right. It is about fellowshipping. Ideally all parties should be open to ideas that are different from their own, and I think we have to be open to the possibility that we could be wrong. What separates us from the system we came from is our ability to love and fellowship, even though we disagree. This would be an example of “striving” for unity. It takes work, and laying down our own desire to “be right”.

    Great discussion.

    Mark

  • Dan Allen

    Mark

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts! A lot of what you say is about trusting God to do the work of unifying us and our role is really just being open to that: you talk about the power of prayer, the Spirit making things plain, and His truth being revealed in our hearts. All of those ideas (at least how I understood them) point to our inability to be unified apart from the work of God’s Spirit in our hearts. For me a huge part of moving in the direction of unity is realizing this truth: for me to be more closely united with my brothers and sisters I must trust and depend on the Spirit more and more.

    At the end of your comment you say: “What separates us from the system we came from is our ability to love and fellowship, even though we disagree.” I hope this can truly be said of us! I think there are many people who see organic/house/simple church concepts as setting themselves AGAINST traditional models, but it is my hope that people will see (because we express in our words and deeds) that it is not about being against any certain group, but about unity as a body under the leadership of Christ.

    As always, I appreciate your thoughtful comments!

    -Dan

  • Unity Begins with Christ in Me | The Assembling of the Church

    […] (from “The Ekklesia in Southern Maine“) wrote an excellent post called “Unity in My Terms.” Dan describes how easy it is to seek unity on our own terms, instead of accepting people as […]

  • Jon

    Great post! This sounds like what I wrestled through recently. I discovered that the need for unity shows up in Scripture far more than any of the topics that people use to divide the church. So if I were to make a list of essential Christian beliefs, unity would be very near the top.

    However I suspect many Christian’s don’t think unity with all believers is an essential, or at least not as essential as some other distinctive they hold to.

    So can I be united with someone who doesn’t share my view that unity is essential?

    Can I be united with someone who does things contrary to what I think is essential to our faith?

    When I consider all the Christians I know, who don’t think like I do, yet display evidence that they love Jesus, I think I have to.

    Maybe our unity doesn’t come from a shared list of common beliefs, but more from a shared connection to a common Lord.

    God bless!

  • Dan Allen

    Jon

    Thanks for your comments!

    I got thinking about essential doctrines and how we use them as a basis for what we would consider acceptable division, but if unity in Christ is an essential belief then, well, that just makes my brain hurt!

    I think you are really on to the heart of unity in your last sentence: “Maybe our unity doesn’t come from a shared list of common beliefs, but more from a shared connection to a common Lord.” So true, and so Biblical!

    Thanks again!

    -Dan

  • randi

    very true and something we all are guilty of. Thanks for that confession.

    ouch. it convicted me.. and hurt 🙂

  • Dan Allen

    Randi

    Thanks for the comment and thanks for the honesty. It’s good to know I’m not the only one struggling with this!

    -Dan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: