The year 2006 marks the 100th anniversary of a "year of infamy." That was the year that a secular human government had to point out the obvious to a group of people known simply as disciples of Christ, who had insisted they were going to practice only the religion of Jesus no matter what, were as divided as any sect or denomination in existence. This truly is a moment that shall live in infamy. If this does not make our head hang in shame what will? And if 1906 was bad ... what about 2006?
In our quest to parcel out all the correct doctrine of the Bible we forgot one doctrine that ties the Bible together: The indivisible unity of God's People. God's family cannot be divided without the admission of serious failure on the part of that family.
The unity of God's People is an important theme throughout Scripture. The Table of Nations in Genesis 10 emphasizes the oneness of all races because each human comes from a common ancestor. In Genesis 13 we see Abram's concern for the unity (peace, harmony, love) within Lot. The story of Israel is one of unity until the division occurred in 1 Kings 12 with the disastrous results that followed. Division was recognized as a curse from God as punishment for sin.
Scripture is chalk full of admonitions to keep the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph 4.3). Paul chides the Corinthian church for their divisions. The apostle says, "I appeal to you ... that there may be no divisions among you ... Is Christ divided?" (1 Cor. 1.10-13). The same apostle urges the Roman congregations to "accept those whose faith is weak without passing judgment on disputable matters" (Rom 14.1). He continues "who are you to judge another man's servant ... Accept one another, then just as Christ accepted you" (Rom 14.4; 15.7). Paul told the Galatians, Philippians and Cretans the same thing. John, the apostle of love, even warns those who are "schismatics" (those who would divide God's church).
Unity is one of the most important "marks" of God's church. Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one (united) as he and the Father are one (John 17.10-11, 20-23). Unity is important because our unity validates the message of reconciliation brought by the Messiah. Disunity, according to Jesus, will cause unbelief. Sometimes we in God's church may be guilty of undermining the very message we claim to cherish - not by our worship or traditions - but by our disunity!
Many of the early Christian Fathers wrote on the importance of unity. Clement of Rome, a first century Christian contemporary with John, wrote that schism (division) is foreign to true Christians. In fact, echoing Scripture, he says that division is the surest sign of "godlessness" (1 Clement 1). According to a recent article on "Unity in the Apostolic Fathers" published in The Patristic & Byzantium Review, unity and harmony were as important as baptism. In fact the validity of our baptism was shown in keeping the unity that fills the community of the Kingdom of God.
One cannot fail to believe the Bible and not believe unity is a mark of God's family. Yet if this is so, then why are we so divided? It is so bad on the contemporary scene that socalled "progressives" and "conservatives" cannot even talk to one another. Clement answer to the question was pride and jealousy. What ever the correct answer we know that a divide church is less than perfect church. A divided church is less than God desires ... is it possible that God sends the curse of division in response to our shameful arrogance and sin of self-sufficiency? I do not know.
But my vision of the community of the Kingdom states that any congregation that values the story of God in Scripture will seek to heal the shame we have brought to the beautiful bride of Christ. Many will use such a congregation or individual for target practice ...