What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?
-Paul (1 Corinthians 1:12-13)
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
-Jesus (John 17:20-21)
My children love Harry Potter. Even my 6 year-old, who doesn’t read novels, gets wrapped up in the magical and exciting world of Hogwarts when her brothers tell her about it. They even insisted the entire family take internet quizzes to determine which Hogwarts House we each belong to. It’s like a personality quiz for nine year olds. But there’s a problem. We are a house divided! We have HufflePuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin all under our roof (The pic below is an actual photograph of our family problems). As soon as we discovered our different groups, it became all too easy for that to be the focus of conversation in the living room. Instead of loving the story together, defending a "house" became the most important thing.
It's all well and good when we joke about Harry Potter, but sometimes the games of children become the wars of adults. What happens when God's Church is just as quick to label and divide?
I could continue.
If we think that divisions within the church are a thing of modern creation, we need to think again. The challenges that the early church faced were every bit as intense as what we see today. In Corinth, Paul was frustrated to learn that the church he launched had devolved into factions of believers who were emphasizing the adjective more than the noun. There were Paul Christians, Peter (Cephas) Christians, and Apollos Christians. Some were wealthy and involved in the culturally elite practices. Some were Jewish and remained focused on Jewish law as a primary component of faith. And some were poor and powerless compared to the others. Each of them had different identities, so church was in constant conflict because of it. And Paul nearly loses his cool on multiple occasions as he addresses them. Maybe the most biting question he asks is this: Was Paul crucified for you?
Regardless of the lesser identities that we may hold, the hope of Jesus was that we would practice unity with one another by finding our primary identity in him. We choose to see the best. We seek understanding. We acknowledge that we are family. And we realize that the world will decide a lot of things about Jesus based on how we interact with each other. OUCH. Get it together, Church.
It’s become hard for Christians to practice unity because we have taken our cues from the political climate. We believe the myth that unity can only happen through uniformity, but that was never the case. Peter was a zealot and Matthew was a tax collector. We can guarantee that they didn’t see eye to eye on everything. But because they were both disciples of Jesus, they were called to love and dialogue with one another as they worked out their discipleship. They both had to keep their eyes on the same guy, or else they started moving in different directions.
Here are two simple ways we can move toward unity in Christ:
1. Beware the cult of personality
If you spend more time reading one author/leader/speaker’s perspective on Jesus than you do reading Jesus himself, you may become unable to understand where another Jesus follower is coming from. And Jesus won’t be the primary shaping influence in your life. Paul noticed the cult of personality, and attempted to address it right away.
2. Always identify common ground first
I find it amazing that even in overseas regions where I don’t speak the same language as others, I find a mystical family connection with Christ-followers. But it should be more than mystical. Many of us who follow Jesus have far more in common than we think. The best starting point is to identify those things, and keep them in mind as we work to understand and represent Jesus in the world together.
Yes, we will disagree with one another. That’s healthy. Hopefully we will even grow and be changed through that. But if each of us chooses to truly live our lives in Christ, we’ll find that we’re standing close enough to each other to learn to love.
Jesus, bring us to unity in you so that others will know you have come from God.