Unity is a big theme in the church, particularly in churches of the Restoration Movement of which I am a part. As Christians, we take seriously the words of Jesus's prayer that we may all be one, as He and the Father are one. And certainly, we should be.
But unity is an idea that's taken a beating in our modern age. Perhaps even long before now, but certainly now in a postmodern, pluralistic culture. We have been taught to believe that unity is uniformity, a oneness that pervades everything that we do and all that we are. As though we all have to believe exactly the same thing, act exactly the same way, do exactly the same things. It's unity only if we're all doing it together.
That has never, however, been God's definition of unity, nor is it Christian. God has always been about plurality, about diversity, about specialization and exception. We know this because we see the way that He talks about the gifts that He has given to each one - and we certainly wouldn't expect everyone to preach the way the one called to pastor preaches or to encourage the way one called to encouragement does or to give the way those gifted with generosity (and means) give. We expect each Christian to act out of his or her unique gifting, but then we also cry for unity...whatever that means.
And what does it mean?
There's a word in 2 Chronicles 30 that is translated in the English as "unity." Yes, all the way back in the Old Testament. Yes, long before Christ's famous prayer. Yes, during a time of division for God's people. It's a word translated "unity," but the Hebrew from which it is taken is most telling. In the Hebrew, this same word literally means, "to be of one heart."
One heart. Not one mind. Not one hand. Not one act. But one heart.
That means to be in love with the same thing. To be tuned into the same thing. To have longing for the same thing. To be of one aim, one purpose, one passion. If we could only understand this, it would change the way we do unity.
See, it's far to easy for us to look around and to ask, "But how can that man be my brother?" He doesn't take Communion. He hasn't been baptized. He sings weird songs at his worship or he dresses funny. He believes very differently about social issues that I do, and he claims God's okay with that! That church down the road? They're just weird, and that makes them wrong. How could I ever pretend that he's the same kind of Christian as I am.
Simple. It's a matter of the heart, not the mind.
What we have to ask ourselves is whether our brothers and sisters in their hearts love Jesus. If they are consumed with living His love. If they are passionate about His grace. If whatever they do is guided by this burning desire to honor Him, serve Him, love Him. It's not about whether we think they're getting it right or getting it wrong; it's about why they're doing what they're doing. And if they're doing what they're doing out of the same heart that we're doing what we're doing, then we are brothers. Plain and simple.
And this is not just true in the church. It would do us a lot of good to look around and assume that others are acting out of just as pure a heart as we are. Not that they are arrogant or naive or brash or backward or right or wrong or whatever, but just that they are earnest.
It really changes our impression of the world and of others in it when we start with an assumption that everyone is doing the best that they can with what they have. Just like we are. When we do this, we become brothers and sisters. When we do this, we become one. One humanity, broken together, on a journey toward redemption, however our hearts understand it. There is no "us" and "them;" there's only "we." And if there's only "we," then "we" are in this together.
All of a sudden, Jesus's prayer doesn't seem so difficult. We are one.