What is our baseline for unity in the church? The most basic shared reality is that the church is a community of people who follow and walk faithfully with Jesus Christ. In order to follow, this means that we know Jesus.
The word “to know” in the Bible has an understanding of an intimate relationship. It is the same word used for the intimacy of the sexual relationship in marriage. To know Jesus is to look at who he is as revealed in Scripture, to see him in the church, to see him in people around us and to see him present in our neighbourhoods.
Then to follow him is to go where he has gone and to go where he continues to be. Walking with Jesus gives the comfort of knowing we are with him but also leads to places where we have never been. This is faithfulness. More so than having all the right theological checkboxes marked, it is faithfully walking with Jesus.
As I am preparing this article, I have just read Tom Yoder Neufeld’s “Unity of the Spirit” feature (Feb. 26, page 4). I had long thought of writing on this topic, but now it is also informed by his article. How do we get at some of this baseline stuff? Reading the Bible through the lens of Jesus’ life and teachings, and reading the Bible in community are key. I have been given the opportunity of reading the Psalms in virtual community this year.
Unity is about being led by love. Walking in the love of Jesus and extending that love to those around us are vital to the baseline for unity. With love leading the way, we can have disagreement without the risk of going our separate ways. It is in the context of love that we can have challenging conversations that don’t always come to agreement.
This may certainly be easier for some than others, but taking the perspective of looking for what is right about the world, rather than what’s wrong, will often lead to us finding it. Looking for the good in people, rather than the bad, will often lead us to find much good.
I read Brian McLaren’s book The Power of Everyday Conversations recently; a gem that stood out was the invitation to stay in the place of wonder.
Can we show the world that we can live together? I think that this is a huge question for the church. Someone walked into the Mennonite Heritage Museum in Abbotsford recently and took note of all the splits that have happened in the Mennonite church. He was from a completely different place and background. He asked another person at the museum, “Are Mennonites Christians?”
Jesus prayed in John 17 that the church be one, and by this the world will know what God’s love looks like.
Garry Janzen is executive minister of Mennonite Church B.C.