Monday, April 14, 2008

Unity in the Cross

But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
John 12:32
It takes power beyond the best of human effort to unite that which is divided. We all know that people can sit side by side, pews full of them, and sing the same songs, pray the same prayers, and read the same Scriptures and still be void of unifying power. Just as men may spend years together in the same prison cell and never become brothers, church folk can be locked into the same church routine for a lifetime and never experience the power of unity in Christ.
We often point to the Bible as the basis of unity, but even the Bible makes no such claim for itself. No book has the power to bring distant hearts into oneness, not even a book that comes from God. God did not give a collection of documents to heal broken hearts, but a Person. It is the wonderful Person of the Bible that makes wholeness possible, not the Bible itself, however much agreement there may be in the study of it. If a book could have reconciled people to God and to each other, then the God of heaven could have looked to the printing press rather than the Cross. If we could have been saved, and made sisters and brothers, by the law or by a book, then Christ died for nothing.
If unity is a matter of seeing the teachings of the Bible eye¬ to¬ eye, then believers will never be united, for they never have and never will see the Bible alike. And if believers ever have been united, it was not because of doctrinal agreement upon the Bible but because of their common devotion to Jesus Christ.
If you have the joy of the Lord in your heart and I have it in my heart, we are going to be one, in spite of our differences. The Apostle Paul names the basis of unity, even when referring to other Christians with whom he had serious differences: Philippians 1:18 says, “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice…” Christ is preached! Any other basis of unity falls short, for only the Cross has the power to unite that which is divided.
It takes nothing from the importance of the Bible to acknowledge that it never has been and never can be the basis of Christian unity. The Bible as the word of God strengthens and enriches the unity and fellowship that is found only in Christ. It is enough to allow the Bible itself to describe its function: 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” Devotion and loyalty to Jesus Christ is the basis and source of our oneness in the faith, while the Scriptures are given to "build us up" as the family of God on earth (Acts 20:32).
Together At The Cross
When you are drawn to that Cross and I am drawn to that Cross, we are together, in spite of all our faults and warts and diversities. However much people may be separated, they can find unifying power in the Cross. Each step we take toward the Cross puts us one step closer to each other. Once we stand at the Cross together with empty cups to be filled by His grace, our differences will not be as important to us as when we stand at shouting distance from each other.
Paul addressed a church riddled with factions, not in terms of doctrinal conformity, but in terms of the power of the Cross. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:2 “I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” In the same context Paul refers to "the message of the Cross" as the power of God (1:18), which is the power to unite as well as the power to save. If we would just be like Paul by making the Cross our message, we would discover the power to overcome any of our sad divisions.
We are a people who have always been concerned, and perhaps rightly so, as to where to draw the line in terms of unity and fellowship. There is obviously a place to draw the line since everyone is not a Christian, but we are reluctant to draw the line except where Christ drew it, at the Cross. He accepts all who come to the Cross. Should we require more?
We look to the Cross for our healing. When people do that, we should meet them there in loving acceptance, for they have yielded themselves in humble obedience to Christ. That is unity and fellowship. If they are deficient in some ways (and who isn’t?) there will be time enough, in an atmosphere of loving patience, to show them the way of the Lord more perfectly. They in turn will help us live the way of the Lord more fully.