I have been posting a lot lately about the essential oneness of the church and why it is so important for us to be one in the Spirit of peace. I have also been preaching such sermons to my congregation on Sundays during Lent.
Last week, as I prepared for my last sermon in the series, I came across the following article by David Faust, president of Cincinnati Christian University. The essay is brilliant and lays out our motivation for Christian Oneness quite succinctly.
He begins by talking about some things that are not the glue of our unity:
In a 1910 lecture at Yale, Charles E. Jefferson described the difference between a church and an audience,
It is to be regretted that we have come to judge preachers by the number of persons who listen to their sermons. A superficial man is consequently tempted to work, not for a church, but for an audience.
An audience, however, is not worth working for. An audience is a group of unrelated people drawn together by a short-lived attraction. . . . It is a fortuitous concourse of human atoms, scattering as soon as a certain performance has ended. It is a pile of leaves to be blown away by the wind, a handful of sand lacking consistency and cohesion, a number of human filings drawn into position by a pulpit magnet, which will drop away as soon as the magnet is removed.
An audience is a crowd, a church is a family. An audience is a gathering, a church is a fellowship. An audience is a collection, a church is an organism. An audience is a heap of stones, a church is a temple. Preachers are ordained, not to attract an audience, but to build a church. Coarse and ambitious and worldly men, if richly gifted, can draw audiences. Only a disciple of the Lord can build a church.
If strong personalities don’t hold God’s people together, what does? To ask the question more narrowly, what holds the Christian churches and churches of Christ together? (My emphasis
Faust goes on with an important reminder:
Maybe we have been looking for glue in the wrong places. I love our colleges and conventions, our camps and conferences, and I hold our publishing houses in high esteem. I admire the founders of these ministries, and I’m thankful for the faithful believers who have led and supported them, often at considerable personal sacrifice. I don’t want any of them to go away.
Years ago I worked for Christ In Youth. Today I serve as president of a Christian university and write a weekly column as executive editor of The Lookout, published by Standard Publishing. My life has been powerfully impacted by these and other parachurch groups. I want these ministries and others like them to thrive and grow—as long as they clearly fulfill God’s will.
None of these worthwhile endeavors, though, can hold all of God’s people together. As important as our favorite parachurch organizations seem to us, they aren’t essential to the body of Christ. The church is God’s forever family, not our colleges and conventions.
Can we find within ourselves the humility to admit that, good as they are, these institutions we hold dear are human expediencies, not biblical necessities? Even more, are we willing to boldly declare that if God so willed, and all of our favorite manmade organizations suddenly disappeared, we would still possess everything that matters most as long as we have the Lord? Can we see through the fog of the familiar and recognize that God’s kingdom and his reign, his gospel and his grace, will remain intact and unmoved no matter what happens to our favorite ministries?
Despite all the good they have done and no matter how much we value them, manmade institutions can never hold us all together. We need to look to a higher place to find the glue.
So where does Faust suggest that we find the glue that holds us together? How can we recognize it? What will it be?
What really pulls us together? It’s simple, really. So simple that we tend to miss it altogether.
The Savior sticks us together. We are one in Christ—stuck to him like branches on a vine, like skin on a body, like flames on a candlewick. Unity finds its focus in him.
The Spirit sticks us together. We aren’t united because we share the same political views or personality types, the same opinions and preferences, the same nationality or language or skin color. We’re one because “we were all given the one Spirit to drink” (1 Corinthians 12:13). The Holy Spirit’s “bond of peace” is strong glue indeed (Ephesians 4:3).
Scripture sticks us together. Not that we all understand every verse exactly the same way. But Scripture gives us a common starting point, a common language, a common compass. The Bible pulls us together when we read it personally, preach it powerfully, teach it faithfully, interpret it carefully, and apply it practically. Sound doctrine is manna for the hungry heart. It makes the church healthy and strong.
Service sticks us together. Mission trips and new church plants prove it. Benevolence projects demonstrate it. It’s hard to fight when you’re working side by side to serve someone in need. It’s hard to put your brother down when you’re already down there with him, praying together on your knees. Unity becomes visible, even tangible, when we “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13).
Do you want your favorite college, convention, camp, or other cause to thrive and grow? Then make sure it’s subservient to the mission of the church! Make sure it’s helping people connect with the Savior, the Spirit, and the Scriptures, and engaging them in meaningful service. A parachurch ministry that does those things will thrive. If it doesn’t do those things, we’re probably better off without it anyway.
What is the glue? Savior, Spirit, Scripture, Service—not a flashy formula, but somehow it kept us glued together in the past.
I suggest we stick with it.
Well, I’ll probably get in trouble for quoting so much of his essay here, but I’m willing to risk it just in case you don’t follow the link. These are beautiful words. There is too much that divides the body of Christ, too much that separates us, too much that effectively ruins whatever witness we may have for him and his grace.
We should continue to fan the flame of Christian unity and essential oneness. We must continue to work to preserve the unity already forged for us at the cross.
Be blessed this Resurrection season. Ask yourself: Am I the answer to Jesus’ prayer for Christian Unity or am I the problem? Am I working for peace or fostering division? Am I part of the solution or creating more problems?
Soli Deo Gloria!