As we talk about unity this week, one of the things we can't ignore is the reason Jesus gives for desiring unity among His people. It's not because it's easier to manage a movement that has a single focus or a single understanding. It's not because there's only one way to follow Jesus. It's not because He had an idea about exactly what every one of His followers would look like, and they would all look the same. In fact, the unity that Jesus had in mind was not about our manifestation of it at all; it was about the foundational nature of unity itself.
Unity is foundational because it is Trinitarian. Jesus says plainly that He desires His followers to be one as He and the Father (and the Spirit) are one. He desires them to know the kind of intimacy and interdependency that He and His father do. Not because there's something 'better' about this way of living (even though there is), but because unity is essential to faith. Because unity is Trinitarian, because it is the very essence of the Godhead (three-in-one), there is something fundamental about the Kingdom of God, about faith, about worship, about love, about holiness, about righteousness, about every good thing that we cannot understand without unity in our lives, without unity in our faith.
And listen, fraternity is not a reasonable substitute here. Simple brotherhood is not enough. A willingness to journey together with those with whom we share a substantial interest isn't enough. A fake appearance of being one with others who we also talk about being their backs or secretly still believe are wrong about this or that the other is not enough. Coming together every now and then and crossing denominational lines when we have a good enough reason is not enough.
Neither is so dramatically narrowing what it is that we deem essential that we lose any meaningfulness at all. It's tempting to go this direction, too, and we can't ignore that. It's tempting for us to say that we're willing not only to tolerate, but to stand with, anyone who declares Jesus is Lord without having a standard for what "Jesus" or "Lord" actually mean. That's how we end up with so many caricatures of Him in our culture at large. Unity is not "just letting everyone believe whatever they want to believe and deciding to stand up next to them anyway."
Unity is the hard work of wrestling things out together. It's the hard work of finding that foundational place of meaningful agreement when we start at places that seem so far apart.
Look at Jesus in the Garden when He prayed. He and the Father are one; they always have been, and they always will be. Yet, Jesus starts on the end of "take this cup from me, Lord" and ends at a place that declares, "Your will be done." Jesus doesn't pretend that He doesn't have His own hope, His own desire in the situation that is to come. They are one, but they begin in two different places in the shadow of the Cross. What binds them together is their mutual love for the people of God. What helps them come together is their understanding of what this act accomplishes. They both want to usher in the Kingdom of God.
(And it's worth saying here, too, that we could be tempted to say that God wanted Jesus to die on the Cross and Jesus didn't exactly want to, but it's more complicated even than that. Because God did not want His Son to have to die. That wasn't God's "plan A" any more than it was Jesus's. So...it's complicated.)
But the point is that even though they are one, they still appeared to have disagreements. They still seemed to have different relationships to the circumstances that were coming. Jesus's prayer in the Garden doesn't make them any less "one" with one another. Rather, it gives them a chance to choose their oneness all over again by coming together on that thing that they both wholeheartedly believe in.
That's what unity does. That's what our unity should do. And until and unless we can do that, we will always be missing out on something essential in our faith experience. Because this kind of unity is essential to the nature of God Himself and so, it must be essential to our understanding of Him.