Unity: so that the world may believe
Jesus prayed: May they be one so that the world may believe (John 17:23)
Ephesians 4: 1-7
Unity gave rise to Trinity: sufficient people in all three congregations said enough to ploughing lone denominational canoes and this congregation was born in 2000. Unity around the mission imperative, in our case the passion to transform our High Street community, gave rise to Trinity Project, and this dynamic seven day a week community was born.
Unity with other Christians in Gosforth and across Newcastle birthed Trinity’s unique contribution to the inception of Street Pastors. Psalm 133 isn’t just about Unity bringing commanded blessing from the Lord, it’s about the messy reality of brothers (Moses and Aaron, Jacob and Esau, David and Jonathan for instance) choosing to live in unity and the nation prospering. It’s about quality of relationships not size: dew on Zion is better than snow on Herman. Ephesians 4: 1-7 includes our membership scripture for 2012: see my message from last Sunday evening on verse 3 on the website. Find the perfect congregation then please don’t join it as you will spoil it: Trinity is far from perfect but our unity has been good and its one of three crucial ingredients that has brought growth. Unity is threatened when anyone of us thinks they know better than the whole: such arrogance is unforgivable and has no place in the Body of Christ.
You see, our Jesus prays, yearns, longs and has a passion for the unity of His people. If we know the heart of Jesus, if we spend time, even for a few minutes a day, at the heart of the Almighty, listening to Him, we cannot avoid the fact that the passion of the Lord’s heart is the same as it was two thousand years ago: ‘Father, I pray that they may be one….’ (John 17:21). Unity lies at the very heart and depth of God’s being.
The unity we are talking about is not the unity of an Islamic God or a Buddhist God or any other monastic God. It is a unity, which is uniquely Christian: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – at the heart of the universe, sharing together, enjoying one another together, never at variance, the Son doing the Father’s will but knowing that if He asks for twelve legions of angels the Father will change His will because they work together in their intimate unity. This is the kind of Unity we are talking about when we speak of the Unity of God’s people.
When we talk about building unity or working for unity it’s almost an insult. We cannot create unity, we cannot invent it, we cannot add to it. It’s something that God gives – and when He gives it to us and we gladly and willingly receive it, the world sees something that it has never seen before. It sees Protestant and Catholic, High Church and Low Church, Poor and Rich, ex-right and left wing fundamentalists becoming one because they have given their lives to Jesus. Unity is a gift that God gives us.
It is not surprising, therefore, that our unity is going to be one of the most important areas of defence for us and one of the most important strategic places for attack from the enemy. The enemy is bound to attack your relationship with the persons you are closest to (that’s why we need to pray for marriages and families) and also the people you are working alongside in the work of the Kingdom. He would be a fool not to). We have got to discover how to live not just in the naturalness of our own unities, within our churches and congregations and across the boundaries of denominations and groups but in the gift that God gives us of love for one another, for the household of God, as well as for the whole human race. Romans 12:5 tells us that we belong to each other.
We don’t work for unity, it is a gift. This doesn’t mean to say we shouldn’t seek the Lord to find out how that oneness is expressed in us. Of course we must do! Personally speaking I don’t worry about the roughly 25000 denominations or groupings in the world of Christianity! They give us first of all an opportunity to understand the God who is a unity but a diversity, who has a variety within Himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit and yet Himself is a unity. You see, any sort of unity we could achieve for ourselves would be rather bland and insipid, if it is without variation. That’s nnot the sort of unity that the church is meant to have. There are bound to be differences and varieties. The unity that we are talking about is a relationship with three integers 1 x 1 x 1 equals 1. It’s a relationship of multiplication not of addition. And the one God, whom we worship, is the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, all equal but taking different functions within the one God. It is the God who is a Uni-God but is a Tri-Unity or Trinity. This is the God who can make a universe full of varietythat we have got within it. We want this variety because Jesus said Methodists can love Methodists, URCs can love URCs and Anglicans can love Anglicans because tax collectors can love tax collectors without any grace at all (Luke 6:32-34, Matthew 5:42). It’s when you meet somebody different from yourself that you demonstrate whether you have got grace or not. It’s when you love across the barriers of sameness into differentness. That’s the demonstration of the grace of God and that is why it’s a grace that God has to give us to love one another. And you can’t love people without meeting them, can you? You do have to spend some time with people and get to know them if you are going to love them. We need to obey the Lord and to love one another across these boundaries. Outdo one another in love. I don’t owe anyone anything but to love them. Jesus is longing to see masses of different people in different movements in different expressions of Christianity so loving one another that they join hands and refuse to budge until they see at least the good news carried into all the world then th end will come.
This unity is not unanimity, that is an agreement with every single jot and tittle of our minds. No human being will ever be completely and utterly in agreement with anybody else because we are in the great variety God has made. It would not be healthy for us to be a clone exactly thinking the same as every single other person. This is not spiritual life, that is death. We can actually disagree and argue with people, and it sharpens our minds like steel upon steel, It is by diagreement and further understanding that we break through into new insights. We will not always agree.
Neither is it uniformity, that is a similar pattern that is institutionally imposed upon us all. Of course we all (except the Salvation Army) break bread but isn’t it interesting that we are never told in the Bible how to take Communion – it just says, do it. Was the cup passed round first or second, did it go round twice? Or four times like at the Jewish Passover Feast? We are not quite sure! When He said: “Do this in rememberance of me”, He just said, “Do it”. And we all do it in different ways. Then there is baptism. You may be interested to know that in some parts of the Christian world they baptise three times, that is three duckings. They’d say ‘Father’ once, ‘Son’ once, and if you are still alive ‘Holy Spirit’. Some are used to kneeling and pushing the candidates forward. The Bible just says baptise, so we all baptise and we all break bread but even the way we do these commanded things differs. Consequently, it isn’t uniformity. Howeve, we try to make it easy for God’s things to be understood in every culture and language so that people can fit in and relate to one another. Neither is this a unity a Union, like a trade union, where it’s members do not agree with everything but for the sake of lobbying and benefit of it’s workers a common agenda is arrived at by gaining more than a 50% vote for the achievement of a majority end (sounds like congregational meetings). Neither is it a unification, which is compelled, where people are forced to act and speak in a certain way.
It is a relationship or family unity – your Father is my Father. If we have a common Father, we have the same life – His. Are we going to fall out? Now that Father is defined in the terms of his providence and care for us, for apart from anything else He has given us His Spirit. Father goes on giving the Spirit to those who continue to ask for it. And so if we all have the gift of the Spirit from the Father and all equally have a claim as children upon that Father, that is the oneness we begin with (Luke 11:13). Father gives to His children whay is best for each – why should we be so envious and fight? We can always share. Did Jesus pray to the Church, ‘Dear church, please help me. Please please be the one, please get to be with one another?’ Did He pray like that? Of course he didn’t – that is blasphemous: He praysed to the Father. Prayer is to the Father, not to each other. And He didn’t have to wait two thousand years for His prayer to be answered. We may b waiting two thousand years until at least the Church has cottoned on to this wonderful gift but the gift was proved two thousand years ago. It was proved within hours of Jesus praying that prayer. Father answered the prayer of His own Son in the only way it could be done, for Jesus went out to the cross and, as He died all the things that divide men and women were crucified with Him. The old Humanity was strung up and God said it was condemned, it was executed, and as Christ died, the old Humanity, the Old Adm was put to death and buried and when He rose again He Rose one New Man began the whole human race, this one New Man began a whole new race of men and women who were born of God, belonged to His family and shared in His common life, a life that has been through the cross. That life has been put inside each of us so that all of us have the resources at this moment now to be exactly at one with every single other believer – husband and wife, parents and children, single and married, blacks and whites, Africans and Asians, High Church and Low Church etc. We have the ability because of the gift God has given us in Christ, because of what Jesus did two thousand years ago. And if you will not come to that life with the cross written right the way through it like a stick of rock and insist on umbrage, or taking offence and not being forgiving, if you insist in standing on that ground, then you live in the old Humanity that God has said cannot please Him, for the flesh cannot please God. But we live at the place of the cross where the Spirit of God flows you will live in the oneness of that Spirit: the life that exists between the Father and the Son. “I pray that they may be one even as we are one”: the way of the cross brings you to a place where you know that you are one with every single believer in the whole of the universe – and then Gosforth will believe.
Just as Jesus died to make this Unity a gift to be received for the whole Church, so we need to understand and embrace the cost of unity. For unity is on the agenda, perhaps more than ever before since those glorious first few centuries of the church. It gladdens my heart to hear it spoken of and acted upon. My own calling into full-time ministry in 1978 was born out of a painful realisation that such events as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were at best a second rate pantomime and at worst a nasty stench in the nostrils of Father God, for all the on the surface froth there was little or no ongoing relationship among believers and certainly scant regard for each other from pride-filled congregations.
We have come a long way since then, and thank God for the person and work of the Holy Spirit who has dragged us, particularly leaders, to this point spiritually kicking and screaming! However, I discern a great danger, a subtle temptation, in these days, which I must share with you. Put simply, we want the icing but we are not prepared to bake the cake; we desire the precious oil of anointing us as the Holy Spirit is pouring out in times of worship, ministry and servie, but we pay scant attention to living together in unity with our borthers and sisters in Christ 24/7. You wee we desire our City of Newcastle and our area of Gosforth to believe, and wonder why it isn’t happening – yet we pay lip service to ‘being one’ opting for unity only when it serves our purposes. Remember this: the prayer of Jesus is conditional and we cannot do anything to make the second part happen!!! May Tyneside see the answer to Jesus’ prayer in our generation.
15th January 2012