UNITY is one of the highest goals in the 21st century, which is why we are always encouraging one another to grow in unity.
Toward that end, we have all heard (or said) things like this:
“We need to all grow together in unity!”
“We all must come together in unity on this subject!”
“We invite you to join us as we grow in unity with one another!”
But sometimes I wonder…. is it really unity we are after, or just keeping the peace?
Is Unity the Same as Keeping the Peace?
Often times (in my experience anyway), what is called “unity” really just boils down to a mutually agreed upon list of beliefs and behaviors that are considered “safe” by everyone within the group. The controversial activities and hot-button topics are considered “off limits” so that everyone can be “unified.” But again, is this really unity?
I have trouble thinking that “agreeing to not discuss certain topics” is what we call “unity” when even Jesus prayed that we would be one as He and the Father are one (John 17:21). It seems that this is not true unity, but is a forced unity… a fake unity. a unity that is based not on love for other people no matter what, but is based instead on a mutual agreement to not discuss certain subjects or do certain things when we are together.
I do, of course, remember what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians about giving up some of his freedoms for the sake of other Christians, and while I understand that this is an essential part of growing in unity, I wonder if this is all that unity is…. you know… a list of rules about what not to talk about around Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, a set of behaviors to not do when in the presence of Pastor Jim, a personal interest to keep hidden from Elder Bob, and my political leanings to stay silent about around Miss Morrell.
Is this real unity? Hiding who we really are from other people just so we can get along?
Is True Unity Possible?
I have a real hard time believe it is, but at the same time, this seems to be the most unified we Christians can get. There are so many differences of opinion on nearly ever subject under the sun and every behavior imaginable, how in the world can we ever be unified? It is impossible to think that we will all become clones of each other, thinking and behaving in exactly the same way, so how can we grow in unity if there will never be unity of thought and unity of behavior this side of heaven? (And maybe not even then???)
I have been thinking on this for a long time, and while I don’t have the answers, I think I am beginning to see a speck of light on how to grow in unity with one another, while still allowing for great disunity on a vast array of theological beliefs and Christian behaviors.
I think that unity in diversity truly is possible within the family of God, but only if we recognize something first about unity.
The Key to True Unity
The key to true unity is to make sure that unity is never the goal. I don’t think that unity can be a goal of Christian faith and practice. I think unity is a result of Christian faith and practice.
When we seek unity as a goal, we do things to try to discourage disunity, which ends up stifling and stopping the conditions required for true unity. When unity becomes the goal, we may end up with peace, but we will never find true unity. True unity requires openness and honesty, but if unity is the goal, then nobody can be fully open and honest. And without openness and honesty, any unity we end up with is fake unity.
So where does true unity come from? How do we arrive at the unity which Jesus desires for His church?
We simply change what we are seeking.
Rather than seeking unity, we seek love. Love is the key to unity. Love forgives when we are wronged. Love shrugs off differences of opinion. Love overlooks disagreements about behavior. When we truly love people, differing political opinions and theological persuasions become enjoyable topics for conversation, rather than issues for division and strife.
If I meet someone and my goal is unity, then I will soon desire conformity of beliefs and behaviors to what I think is right and proper so that the two of us can be unified. But since no two people are ever identical in everything they think and do, unity will never occur.
But if, however, I just seek to love them, then unity will be a byproduct of our friendship, because conformity is never an issue. In fact, while similar interests bring friends together, diversity of opinion keeps friendship interesting. Diversity is the seasoning that gives flavor to good friendships. Learning from others and being challenged by others is one of the things that keeps friends together. But if unity of thought and unity of behavior is the goal of friendship, then friends will not remain friends for very long for total unity is never possible.
But with love as the goal, friends can rejoice and revel in their differences and in this way, be unified despite the numerous differences.
So don’t seek unity. Seek love. Seek friendships. And as you spend time with them in their joys and sorrows, engage with them in common activities, offer help in times of need, and hang out with them in the day-to-day events of life. This is how friendships develop. This is where love grows. And as a result of loving friendships, unity blossoms and thrives.
Seek unity before love and you get neither; seek love before unity, and you discover both.