“We clasp hands in a circle and sing, ‘Blest be the tie that binds,’ but what does that tie look like? It is invisible, of course, and we may like it that way. The more invisible the better. If it were not for that invisible tie, we might feel that we had to do something about our divisions.”
That quote was written by Ed Clowney in his book The Church, and it unfortunately reflects a very real problem faced by every local church. Christian unity is often (wrongly) taken for granted. It has to be consciously worked at, just like any skill.
Let me illustrate. Many visitors remark that we’re a very welcoming, friendly church, which is an incredible compliment! However, if we ever settle into a comfortable rhythm on Sunday mornings and stop being intentional about seeking out newcomers, our friendly character will eventually cease to be true. We will instead gain a reputation as a club, with a clear distinction between “insiders” and “outsiders.”
The issue of Christian unity is similar but more subtle. It’s easy to identify the visitor on Sunday morning, but what about the people who are there week after week? How well do you truly know them? Obviously we can't get to know everybody as well as we might like, but do we even try? Or do we only know people within a certain distance from our traditional spots in the sanctuary? Do we only mingle with people in our particular demographic (and in doing so, unwittingly form a clique)? Do we go out of our way to love, serve, and care for others within the congregation? These are uncomfortable questions, but we have to ask them if we're to truly grow in unity. And as I write them, I have to admit that I am convicted by own failings in this area. It’s far easier to settle for the status quo than to expend the effort involved in true unity.
So what’s the solution to disunity? In my personal devotions, I recently ran across 1 John 4:10-11, which says, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”
This is the source of our unity! John powerfully connects God’s overwhelming love for us (while we were sinners) with our responsibility to love the other members of the Body of Christ. Unity isn’t possible under our own steam; it has to flow from a deep, rich, experience of God’s unmerited love! Only then will we want to genuinely love and serve one another, even the ones who aren’t “easy to love.”