Why is unity in the midst of diversity so important amongst all the different Christian denominations? If we look carefully at Jesus’ prayer for the church, it is through that unity the world is going to know that Christ has come. It doesn’t say anything about evangelism, great programs, beautiful buildings or even inner city outreaches and mercy ministries. My family and I have experienced or been involved extensively in all the above listed examples our whole lives with varying degrees of success. But by far the hardest attitude to breach amongst a skeptical world is the entrenched cynicism exhibited worldwide towards a divided church, its arguing congregants and all that follows in wake of disunity. Divide and conquer the age old adage goes and I suggest the church is beating itself at Satan’s own game at the expense of the lost and dying in this world.
Satan knew all too well how disunity would be his best shot at victory over the efficacy of the church. It was his divisive attempt to overthrow heaven, which got us in this predicament in the first place. Jesus however, in His great wisdom in dealing with division, laid the foundation for victory over Satan in His prayer for unity in the church. Is it any surprise then that Satan’s work of disunity began in earnest mere moments after Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17? In John 18, Jesus and His disciples had only the hour or so it took to walk across the Kidron valley before one of His own (Judas), who didn’t agree with the way Jesus was doing things, came in betrayal with the soldiers for His arrest and crucifixion.
On that cross, Jesus experienced immeasurable physical pain at the expense of crucifixion and the sins of the world. Yet, I believe, far greater pain resulted from being forsaken of the Father. Imagine, the eternal union of the Godhead ripped apart as Jesus is separated from the Father. We diminish Jesus’ work on the cross if we limit it only to sacrifice for our sins. Jesus’ victory over death and the grave, most importantly, gave rise the greatest reconciliation of all time, the reunion of the Godhead.
Just how powerful is unity? How about worldly unity? How about Spirit empowered unity? In Genesis 11 when the Lord visited the tower of Babel, He said,
“If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
Just imagine what power awaits the church, walking in Godly unity, if nothing was impossible for an unredeemed world that walked in unity.
What is it going to take for us to “get it”? What is it going to take for the sacrifice of Christ to have its fully desired effect on the church? I offer a short illustration to further illuminate this point. Imagine standing before the Father on that glorious day to give an account of your life. A glorified and yet nail scarred Jesus is seated at His right hand. The Father turns towards you with an inquisitive look on His face. He ask “now remind me why was it you wouldn’t fellowship with the congregation down the street”? You humbly step forward and declare “as you well know, they didn’t do church the right way”. It’s at this point you insert your particular theological stronghold (baptism style, views about communion, election vs free will, worship style, pre/mid/post tribulation, tongues, etc.). You glance at Jesus for approval of your well studied position only to see the pain of the cross returning to His tear stained face. At first you are confused, you begin to rehearse in your mind your doctrinal rational but all too soon, as Jesus reaches out to you with those nail scared hands, you finally “get it”. All of a sudden your particular theologically insignificant monuments crumble at the feet of our significant Savior.