Let me be united with all who fear you, with those who know your laws. – Psalm 119:79 (NLT)
As Christians we are called to be ONE CHURCH. Although we may meet in several different buildings in several different locations and learn from several different teachers and preachers, we are supposed to be one church. If we are called children of God, then we are siblings – brothers and sisters in Christ. Aside from the Lord, there is nothing more powerful than a family united in Him. Unfortunately the ‘church’ today seems to have misconstrued this concept somewhat (I am aware that this is a very general statement). Chris and I just got back from taking a group of our college students to the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta, Georgia. There were so many wonderful teachings and speakers but the one I want to remind myself of at this moment is the powerful message we heard from Judah Smith on community. He spoke about how our God, by His very nature, is based on community – he is three persons, Father, Spirit and Son. Singular in character and in nature but plural in person. Distinguishable but indivisible. Since we are called to reflect His image, we are called to be just that: distinguishable but indivisible. Judah said that without community, our world will not see God. We are called to love the church because we love God. That does not mean love OUR church – it means love THE church. The church was designed to be united – as human beings we have distorted this into a church that looks and often acts divided. When we are divided, we are vulnerable. Judah used a great illustration from a show he had seen during ‘Shark Week’ on the Discovery Channel – they did an experiment to see if sharks went to a lone seal more readily and more confidently than a pack of close-knit seal. You can guess what the outcome was – they obviously went for the isolated seal and destroyed it in a matter of seconds. This can so easily happen in the church. If we become competitive, territorial, defensive, pushing other churches away because we’re doing our ‘own thing’ we can destroy what God so lovingly designed for us – a unified church. When Jesus returns it will be to ONE Bride, not many! So what does that mean for us on a practical level? Does it mean we instate membership at several different churches and hop between them, not able to commit to actively serving at any one? No, of course not! But it does mean that we can decide to love the church as a whole, to steer conversations that could easily turn critical into positive ones, to encourage those around us to build up their own local churches instead of constantly networking people to join ours. A verse that I’ve been pondering as a result of Judah’s message is 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13. The verses before hand talk about how nothing in this world is stable and everything is beginning to be shaken up. As Christians we will need to be alert and awake while others are sleeping because we do not belong to the night or the darkness. Then verses 11-13 say this:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing. Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. – 1 Thessalonians 5:11-13 (HCSB)
To me, these verses just scream unity in the church – encourage, build up, give recognition, regard them highly in love, be at peace. There are so many things we can do but it has to start in the heart – if this is something that you struggle with, pray that God would change your heart to love THE church and not just YOUR church. If we are not unified, we are totally vulnerable to the devil creeping in and destroying the pure and beautiful vision for Jesus’ Bride.