Shortcomings When We Resist Unity (July 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Craig Cottongim

I’m sure some can see the irony thinking about our Unity movement’s origins, compared to our polar-opposite present state. Our current circumstances are different than what our pioneers’ original dream was, of gathering on common ground. They envisioned a people who would simply claim the name of Christ and to let go of separatism. Perhaps our generation can change; I feel we can overcome our sectarianism, given enough time.

I’m far from interested in being negative. So please don’t grit your teeth in the anticipation of “a good thrashing.” Let’s just let our guard down, and momentarily be vulnerable. We are missing out on a better experience, and to get there (and get there we must!) we need a reality check. I hope you’ll read this with a loving tone in mind and not imagining you are hearing a bitter one.

Unity is a topic that is dear to my heart. A few years ago when we had several nationwide “Great Communion” services to celebrate the Bicentennial of Thomas Campbell’s “Declaration & Address”, the elders I worked with at the time asked me not to participate in a regional celebration. Milligan University was going to host one in Seeger Chapel on their campus, even involving faculty from Lipscomb as well. Our elders saw nothing wrong with the services, their concern was that “unity” with other groups would cause strife with their flock. Ironic. I was deeply disappointed.

>There’s a stifling barrenness these days that’s by and large replaced our onetime aspirations of Unity. Accepting this self-imposed ghetto is kind of like ignoring a toothache. The good news is that in time the pain will go away. The bad news is, we lose the tooth in the process. When the dentist explores a cavity with those terrifying instruments, we have a choice. Much like a dentist’s evaluation, a little pain reveals the path to healing.

To be honest, when it comes to embracing Unity, overall we’ve apparently settled for less than we should have. Our collective reputation is more reflective of a splintered, worldly one than the prayer Jesus offered in John 17. The path was once clear, but now we’ve drifted off course. Part of the way we can change our direction, organizationally, happens when the situation is so painful we seek relief from the discomfort — any relief. All I want to do is lovingly shine a spotlight on the shortcomings of when we reject Unity, and perhaps this will increase the discomfort that’s already begun in some circles.

To see what we are missing out on, we need to quickly consider what we are aiming for when we mean unity. Working together — that’s as simple as I can phrase it.

For example: being on the job site. When my co-workers and I work concrete, we have a system down. Each crew member knows pretty well what to do, and like clockwork when the concrete truck rolls up we’re flipping the chutes down and backing the truck into place. When we work together, things go well, and the boss makes payroll. When the order of things goes haywire, things backfire and the production goes down. People quit. Customers gripe. Jackhammers roar to life. Simple enough?

Sports teams have to work together, too. Teamwork, after all, is a great metaphor for accomplishing more together than we can alone. When teammates are synchronized and work as one, they win championships; coaches get better contracts; and fans rave. Simpler yet?

How about the concept of an army? When the troops are well orchestrated, in formation, everyone carries out their orders and they stick to the plan of attack, the battle is won. The infantry that gets on the same page keeps the officers pleased, and the leaders remain confident. Simple?

These are not the most compelling metaphors of the Scriptures, to me. Scripture does use the idea of a house, athletics, and military metaphors for kingdom life. The Spirit-inspired writers of the New Testament, especially Paul, also used organic metaphors for Unity that appeal more to me.

Particularly interesting, when it comes to unity, is the idea of the Living Body. Paul highlights the unity within the diversity of the body. The whole body isn’t an eye or an ear, yet the body can’t reject any of the members — each are needed for life. So simple; we should know this symbiotic truth like the backs of our hands. Yet, we’ve “cut off” portions of our of group multiple times over disagreements, and, flat-out rejected entire other groups because they see things too differently.

When we harbor resistance to Unity, we shortchange ourselves. So briefly, consider what we are missing out on when we resist Unity:

For starters, in our search for doctrinal purity, we’ve lost sight of the greatest command: To love one another. In John 13:34-35 the clear message is that the way we display our mutual love will be our main witness to the world of our faithful allegiance to Jesus. How will the world ever know now? We have resorted to splitting hairs over doctrine and the results are not very loving. Church-splits over matters of opinions are usually hateful fiascos.

Bottom line: Souls aren’t reached without Unity.

Additionally, we have sadly surrendered peace with people who are somewhat like minded, and in that, we’ve lost the ability to cooperate in simple and mundane affairs. Therefore, there are people who aren’t being fed, clothed or cared for like they could if we’d just work together. The average church is under 100 members, thus the financial resources are naturally limited. But … There are great organizations that have a “different name” over the door that we do, who we could partner with, if only. Heck, there are people with the same name over the door and some of our people aren’t willing to cooperate with them, all over so much hair-splitting. If our churches could unite in our communities, we could overcome poverty-driven problems. In today’s economy, think how loudly this would speak to a lost world? Bottom line: Impoverished people aren’t experiencing justice and mercy when we are being petty.

We have also forfeited our intellectual inheritance and we’ve deprived our people of a chance to grow. Our meager faith is brittle, it is even fossilized. What do I mean? We are insulated and cocooned and the slightest affront on an idea causes us to circle the wagons. When we miss out on the cross pollination of ideas, our collective thinking plateaus. We lament the loss of great thinkers in our movement, but then we criticize people for quoting C. S. Lewis, or Max Lucado. My dad told me often growing up, “Don’t have such an open mind that everything falls out.” I recognize that type of concern. Still. Bottom line: Our thinking is shrinking.

Really, here’s what I see as I observe our limited Unity: Souls aren’t reached, or enriched, that could be. The Kingdom isn’t expanding. Peace is missing and judgmentalism is winning out too often. Our personal development is stymied by being the non-denominational-denomination. And overall, the will of God isn’t being prioritized, which therefore makes us rebellious .

I’m sorry I’m not going to follow up here and now by having several great ideas on how we can regain our Unity. Maybe these thoughts I’ve shared will trigger an urge to be more open to ideas on Unity from others; I can only hope. I’m eager to read the rest of the articles in this month’s addition and to personally grow from our collective wisdom!

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1584 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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