Understanding how to pray and work towards unity with all “Christians” has been a struggle for me. How do I seek unity with people who call themselves Christian, but embody attitudes, values, behaviours and beliefs that, in my opinion, are diametrically opposed to the teachings, character and heart of Jesus.
This struggle is by no means new, or unique to me.
In 1860, five years before the United States abolished slavery, the American preacher Charles Spurgeon said he refused to stand in unity or have any kind of fellowship with “Christian” slaveowners. Was Spurgeon wrong to reject unity with “Christian” slaveholders? Is it wrong to reject unity today with “Christians” who cause harm to others?
The Bible teaches Christian unity is a good thing, but it also instructs us not to associate with certain “Christians.” The apostle Paul warns us to have nothing to do with “brothers” and “sisters” in the faith who are undisciplined, greedy, sexually immoral, verbally abusive, divisive, drunkards, swindlers or deviating from sound doctrine.
This teaching actually makes the issue more complicated for me. I mean, how divisive does a Christian have to be, for example, for us to sever ties with them?
In Matthew 7 Jesus says, beware of false teachers and false prophets. He instructs us to be discerning, to see beyond appearances, and examine what kind of fruit other people’s lives produce, because not all who claim to be Christians are genuine followers.
He says, Not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. On the day of judgment, Jesus says he will tell many professing Christians, Depart from me. I don’t know you!
To be honest, that’s how I want to respond to certain “Christians” sometimes. “Depart from me. I don’t know you. Hey everybody, I don’t know them. I’m not with these people. I’m not one of ‘those Christians.’”
Have you ever said, “Yes, I’m a Christian, but not one of those Christians!” Or at least thought it?
As soon as I start thinking this way, I quickly realize I’m in no position to judge anyone else. Is my life really the gold standard of godliness and Christ-like living? Hardly. I’m well aware of the log in my own eye. I have no business viewing others as unworthy of fellowship with the likes of me. Yet, can I really seek unity, in good conscience, with someone who inflicts harm upon others in the name of Jesus?
The call to Christian unity is complicated. Yet, it’s also really simple.
Jesus teaches us that unity is not the result of seeking unity with other Christians, it is the result of abiding in him and being in unity with his Spirit. When we consciously live in tune with the Spirit of Christ, we will naturally share unity with other people who are doing the same.
If you watch an orchestra tune at the beginning of a performance, you’ll notice the musicians don’t all try to tune to one another. That would be chaos. And futile. Instead, they all tune to the same instrument, the oboe.
Christ is the oboe of our orchestra. In order to be in tune with one another, we need to tune ourselves to Christ. The more we focus on tuning our lives, hearts and minds to the Spirit of Christ, the more unity and harmony we will experience with others who are tuning into the Great Key.
As I seek to follow Christ, it becomes clear I’m called to walk in humility and be generous, gentle and patient with others, including “those Christians.” Especially when I’m confronting them. (In my experience and observation, 9 times out of 10 it’s not the Spirit leading us to confront others, it’s our ego, pride, self-righteousness.)
It’s also clear I’m called to pray for others, including “those Christians.” Instead of judging, mocking, condemning or gossiping, I’m called to pray for them. To genuinely hold them in my mind and heart, and lift them up to the Spirit, desiring their growth and wellbeing.
Sometimes this feels impossible. In those moments, I’m learning to bring my desire to desire their growth and wellbeing, to the Spirit of Christ in prayer, and ask for God’s help.
Yet the truth is, when I actually abide in the Spirit of Christ, unity with all people is a divine reality I experience, not something I need to work towards.
Troy Watson is learning to tune to the Great Key (email@example.com).