Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Christian Unity: A luxury we can't afford?

I'm speaking at a Christian Union later this week on our value "we're passionate about unity".

I've heard it said: “Unity is a luxury we can’t afford” . i.e. Christians are such a minority that we need to forget about getting along and just get going in mission. Seems to me the opposite might be true when I hear Jesus speaking with his Father. Unity is a necessity we can't dismiss.

Unity vs. Mission isn't a choice Jesus gives us.

“Father... I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20-21 ESV)

Jesus prayed for a unity that is: • Doctrinal • Relational • Missional

It's doctrinal - its a unity "just as" the Father and Son are united. Everything we do flows from our personal knowledge of God, as revealed in the Scriptures and experienced by the Spirit's indwelling.
It's for relationship - "be one" - not just formal or functional but friendship.
It's for mission - observation of it makes the gospel believable.

The story of the UCCF is part of a story of the revival of evangelicalism around a renewed confidence in the authority of Scripture and the centrality of the cross sparked by a move of the Holy Spirit at Cambridge University in 1919.

The basis of the UCCF is intended as an inclusive basis – deliberately non-specific about many important issues. I wont pretend it's always used well - but the intention is to gather not to exclude. We speak of it as The Doctrinal Basis of The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship of Christian Unions. A basis of fellowship, rooted in doctrine. The personal knowledge of God as the basis of relationships for the sake of mission together. This is churches united, family together.

With some variation in phrasing its the same basis as most evangelical churches and the Evangelical Alliance use. Its standard mainstream Protestantism. The goal being to unite as many as possible to give as many as possible the opportunity to respond to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Most division in CU’s is reckoned to concern the CU’s weekly Team Meeting… which represents about 1.5 hours of the 168 hours in the week! Anything that's only about 1% of our time isn't something to fall out over.

Today’s top issue is often whether women can preach, followed by the use of charismatic gifts (the latter was the hot issue when I was a student 15 years ago). Neither is unimportant but neither should be allowed to divide our witness. (For what its worth I think in most CUs you see a pro-women speaking pro-charismatic position today... but it comes and goes like the tide, driven by the local church scene in most cases.)

1. Do make much of the gospel. 
2. Don’t pretend these “non-gospel” issues aren’t important. They are. 
3. Do be ultimately generous on “non-gospel” issues. Rather be wronged for the sake of gospel-loving and gospel-mission. Don't say - Unity only if we do the "secondary things" my way.
4. Do keep it in perspective. No one is obligated to be at everything the CU does – though learning to bear with others a little will do wonders for your Christian character. 
5. Don’t bind your conscience too tightly on “non-gospel” issues – recognise that thoughtful evangelicals come to a range of conclusions on the roles of women, on divine sovereignty, on charismatic gifts, on baptism, on church practice, while still holding firmly to the fundamentals of the Christian faith.
6. Do embrace diversity in team meetings and in mission. By all means possible let’s take the gospel to people.

Much as what happens at a weekly meeting matters I’d like to ask whether we've crossed the divides that The Cross bridges. A university is inherently elitist – but when you’re in church do you connect with non-students and non-gradautes? What about your non-student neighbours - have you considered how to love the young family or pensioner living on your street? And in and out of University what about those of different ethnicity. A Christian is a global person but are we?

Where the battle for unity really rages…

The real issue is us – as our new hearts battle with our old flesh. The only answer is to repent to the crucified Christ and see more of the Spirit’s fruit in our lives. Death to self and life in Christ is the only way to real unity. The big issues of unity are LOVE ONE ANOTHER… BEAR WITH ONE ANOTHER… PREFER OTHERS AHEAD OF YOURSELF… RATHER BE WRONGED… We might like to fight our corner on x,y,z doctrines of church practice - but love is a primary gospel issue.

I'm the big problem when it comes to unity, because I love things to be done my way. And I seem to find it so easy to say to someone else - "you're not really welcome here" rather than letting myself feel uncomfortable.

In Christ, I'll make the first move to relationship.
In Christ, I'll only compare the worst of me with the best of someone else - rather than vice versa.
In Christ, I'll go out of my way to be generous.
In Christ, I'll show hospitality to those unlike me.
In Christ, I'll be quick to repent, quick to forgive.
In Christ, I'll be slow to assign bad motives.
In Christ, I'll rejoice WHENEVER Christ is preached, even if the motives are bad.
In Christ, I'll assume difference gives me an opportunity to learn before it gives me the opportunity to say I know better.
In Christ, I'll defend those I disagree with because I'll have befriended them.
In Christ, I'll pursue unity so that the world might see the Triune God - the Father at one with his Son.

Christ himself was wronged for us in his death and when we share in his death we begin to get the kind of unity that makes no sense apart from Christ. A unity that exists as we collaborate in mission, standing shoulder to shoulder loving one another. A unity that is not necessarily doing everything together but pulling in the same direction, on the same team - no lone rangers. Christian Unity is participation in the divine life.

We sabotage our mission when we spend our time in-fighting. The answer isn't divide, it's learn to love and find our unity in the unity of the Father and the Son. Then the world will see...

Image: Durham CU.

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