Our nation is more divided than ever with schisms and factions tearing us apart. As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9, Romans 12:18 and 14:19, James 3:18) and reconcilers (2 Corinthians 5:18), and so the imperative for us is to pursue and cultivate peace and harmony both within the Church and in our culture. Therefore, it is right and necessary for us to engage our divided nation with the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ – a message of reconciliation, peace, hope and love.
Yet, how can Christians presume to help our polarized and divided nation unify if we can’t even figure out how to unify around Jesus Christ and his word?
According to multiple sources, there are well over 200 denominations of “Christian” churches in the U.S. Shockingly that number would swell to more than 35,000 if all the individual “nondenominational” churches were counted separately. That’s more than 35,000 “bodies of Christ” who have intentionally set themselves apart from one another because of differences in theology, church government, demographics or various other “hills to die on.” That’s in excess of 35,000 distinct groups all claiming to know and represent one person – Jesus Christ. Imagine if there were 35,000 different U.S. ambassadors to France all trying to represent their President and nation. It would be chaotic and ineffective at best, with the only clear message sent being that division and disunity ruled where in fact unity should be present.
There are only a few times Jesus’ prayers are recorded in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, with the most extensive one appearing in John 17. What’s even more significant about his prayer recorded in that chapter is that he prays for “all who will believe in him through [the Disciples’] word.” That means if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ, he prayed directly for you. What did he pray? That we would “be one” as the Father and Son are one. Unity. Why did Jesus pray specifically for our unity? Here’s what Jesus said in verses 20-23:
I do not ask for [the Disciples] only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (emphases mine)
Twice in three verses Jesus states that the reason he desires our unity is so the lost, broken, unsaved people in our world would believe in Jesus as their Savior and Lord! This is so important and so convicting. Many Christians have undoubtedly looked at everything going on and thought, “The real and only solution to all this division, fear, anger and chaos is the heart and life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ.” They are not wrong. However, are we unified as the body of Christ so that the unsaved look at us and see and desire what we have? Are we demonstrating such oneness in our mission and ministry so as to show the watching world something other than the division, anger and fighting that defines our current culture?
As is almost always the case, the problem is not “out there.” Christians recognize that what people say, do and think is directly tied to the condition of their hearts and that true positive change must occur in the heart before is can take place in the culture. What many of us Christians fail to recognize and/or admit is that there’s a lot of heart change that needs to take place within us to bring about repentance, reconciliation, restoration and revival within the Church so we can effectively extend those things to the culture.
There are two things we must actively pursue in order for this to be realized – peace and purity within the Church.
The peace we must pursue is not the kind that appeases people or avoids hard truths and conflict. It’s not the peace that comes from being soft on sin so as not to offend people. It’s also not the kind of false peace that comes from ignoring evil or being apathetic toward bad circumstances. Rather, it’s the kind of peace that “surpasses understanding” (Philippians 4:7) for the very fact it’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit and is therefore supernatural. It’s the kind of peace that transcends all circumstances and can be extended to our worst enemies because our hope and purpose is the Kingdom of God and not of this world.
The purity we must pursue is related to not seeking false peace by tolerating or downplaying sin. A major part of the problem with the testimony of the hundreds (or even thousands) of church denominations in the U.S. is that many are accepting or even affirming of sin. Our divisions are not always over doctrines or how to partake of Communion or how/when to baptize. Sometimes our division is over something valid – disobedience to the very Word of God. In those cases, purification, not false peace, is most important. Jesus’ prayer for unity does not give us license to pursue peace over obeying the clear teachings of Scripture (even when they are countercultural).
For anyone reading this who does not yet consider themselves a Christian, know that Christ has made a way through his death on the cross and his resurrection three days later for you to be reconciled with God and, therefore, at true peace with God and people. Also know that just as the unsaved are called to repentance and obedience to God, so are Christians. It’s an ongoing process. For anyone reading this who claims the name of Christ, let us humbly repent of our disunity and toleration of sin and join our Lord in his prayer for our unity and effectiveness in evangelism, peacemaking and, ultimately, glorifying God with our lives individually and collectively as his Church.
The Greatest Commandment – to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – precedes the second half of loving our neighbor as our self. What the people of our nation need now is not for Christians to scold them or offer solutions they themselves don’t appear to have embraced. What our nation needs is collective repentance and seeking reconciliation and peace with God so that we are then able to be reconciled and at peace with our neighbors.