Sunday, June 26, 2005

Thoughts on Unity

I thought I might share something of what I shared with the churches in Hawaii.

Unity is ultimately rooted in God's act for us in Christ. God creates the unity by his own act and we live it out in our concrete situations. Unity is grounded in the divine initative and manifested through divine gifts.

This is the context in which I think about baptism, Lord's Supper and worship as shared concrete realities through which we experience unity. They are divine gifts through which God mediates his grace and presence. As shared moments/events, we express and experience unity with other believers because God himself is acting in these moments.

Of course, these are not the only moments of God's acting. Nor are they only moments in which we experience unity or manifest it. Our sanctification--transformed lives of discipleship--also express and manifest unity with other believers as God works in us to conform us to the image of Christ. As we are progressively conformed to that image, we manifest unity (a shared life, a shared discipleship) with others who are also being transformed into that image. But baptism, worship and Lord's Supper are concrete (empirical) gifts of God that also communally and corporately manifest that unity which God himself created.

God acts through baptism. As we share those waters, our unity rests in the divine work and the divine initiative. Baptism as a means of grace bears witness to God's work in Christ and mediates the gracious fellowship of the triune God. Through baptism we participate in God's act in Christ and share the fellowship of the Father, Son and Spirit. As we share that fellowship, we are also in fellowship with all those who participate in that fellowship. The water unites us in a concrete way--not because of the water, but because God has acted to share himself through the water which we all share.

God acts through communal worship. As we assemble, God acts by lifting us up into his presence. The assembled people of God gather around the throne and participate in the holy assembly of the throneroom itself. We draw near to the throne, the city of God. We join the assembly of angels, the assembly of the witnesses of Hebrews 11, and we join the church universal around that throne (Hebrews 12:18ff). God brings us to his throne and gathered around the same throne we manifest the unity that God has created by his act of presence. We are one because we are around the same throne.

God acts through the Lord's Supper. God is not passive at his table. Rather, he is the active host who invites and calls us to sit a his table in his kingdom. We sit at the same table by divine invitation and initiative. Once again, we manifest the unity that God has created by sharing the same table.

The common thread here is that unity is focused on the divine act, not ours. Our acts manifest the unity that God has created, and these specific acts are divine gifts to humanity for the purpose (at least it is part of the purpose) of experiencing and manifesting that unity. Unity is something God achieves and we manifest. It is not found in the human mechanics of these acts, but in the divine act which gives meaning to the divine gifts through which we bear witness to the unity God has created.

7 Comments:

At 9:39 PM, Blogger PatrickMead said...

Thanks for the post, friend. It reminded me of some of Carl Ketcherside's groundbreaking work in the field of unity. He came to the same conclusion as you. And me. I rejoice that unity is not up to us to create. It is a gift from the Father.

 
At 6:28 AM, Blogger JD said...

Beautifully expressed, John Mark. If unity is a gift from God, then who bestows upon us the gift of division? The ugliness of a divisive spirit even seems appealing to some people. I pray that our unity will deepen as we interact with all Christians. In order for it to do so, we will need more expressions such as you have given us.

 
At 6:19 PM, Blogger Rcutsinger said...

Interesting, isn't it, that something that is really designed by God to bring us together (worship) is doing just the opposite in so many places. A sister congregation is in the throes of a possible split over contemporary vs traditional. We lost several families not too long ago over whether or not we would allow clapping. Sometimes I think we have some sort of genetic defect in our fellowship's (churches of Christ) history that keeps us small and ineffective.

 
At 11:24 AM, Blogger Blogging by Tina said...

Some of the issues we discuss leave me feeling as if I need to walk over Niagara Falls on a tightrope in order to be saved. I mean, does God really expect us to perfectly follow every jot and tittle in the New Testament--explicit and implied--in order to be saved? If he does, I'm completely, thoroughly, totally, and utterly SCREWED!

 
At 11:24 AM, Blogger J. Kevin Parker said...

John Mark, great thoughts. Your work on baptism and the Lord's Supper has helped me a lot as a young minister. I wish all of our schools emphasized this theology more. I recently was privileged to help a young man clarify his views on baptism so as to be completely honest while expressing himself clearly to the elders that are now going to support him as a European missionary. He has an M.A. in missions and said his profs never really talked about baptism and the Lord's supper. I've had the same experience.

Re: the tightrope walk to salvation in the previous comment--unfortunately, the every "jot and tittle" that we hear from legalists tends to be dominated by their pet culturally-derived traditions--NOT what the NT actually says. It's incredibly important that we become aware of our worldviews and quit "speaking where the Bible is silent."

 
At 1:16 AM, Blogger Scott said...

Unity is an important thing. The Lord prayed for unity in the real Lord's prayer (John 17). We should strive and pray for unity as well. True unity is only found in the Word of God. We must turn to God's word and submit to it if we truly expect to be unified.

 
At 12:34 AM, Blogger K. Rex Butts said...

Yes the unity is already there, the only real questions is whetehr we will choose to express it -- which seems so difficult at times. Thanks!

 

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