I confess. There are some things I hold in tension. A lot of them.
One of those things that I continue to labor to understand is the idea of unity in the body of Christ, because I think it’s important. There’s no shortage of scriptures emphasizing the need to work towards unity. You don’t even need to view scripture as sacred or authoritative to see the value in getting along with the people around you.
But what about those times when unity requires silence? What about those times when unity is harmful?
I struggle with that, because I’ve been condemned to hell by multiple people in the last few hours alone. I’ve been called divisive for pointing out that using “woke” as a pejorative (especially among the Christian community) might be indicative of some pretty racist ideologies. And since I’m not infallible, I examine these criticisms. Many of them, I get past pretty quickly. But there’s always a part of me that wonders if I’m doing all I can to strive for unity.
But then I’m reminded that I do not worship scripture. I do not worship the ideas and musings of men who’ve contemplated scripture and constructed systematic theologies around them. I worship a God who is revealed , in part, through scripture. I worship a God revealed in the Son, Jesus the Christ.
And Jesus came to bring a sword.
Check out this passage from Matthew’s Gospel:
“Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.
‘I have come to set a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
Your enemies will be right in your own household!’
“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.Matthew 10:34-39 (NLT)
This doesn’t do much to relieve that tension. How does Jesus, the fulfillment of the prophecy that anticipates the Prince of Peace, declare that he did not come to bring peace?
There are two options, as far as I can discern. Option 1 is that Jesus is not who Christians believe he is. Option 1 is that Jesus fails to fulfill the prophecies His disciples claim the Son of God embodies. Option 1 is that Christians have been wrong for 2000 years. Option 2 is that we worship and serve a God that can use division as a means of establishing the peace of God.
Is it likely that God would have me call a “brother” or “sister” one who condemns those (created in the image of God) to eternal separation from God? Would God have me refer to those as siblings who place themselves in the seat of judgement that is God’s alone? Or is it more likely that God would have us recognize the enemies in our own household so that we can more faithfully fulfill the law of love?
I don’t mean to set myself up as infallible or any sort of messianic figure. I’m willing to be wrong on this. If I’m going to be wrong, I want my mistake to be extending too much grace to people who can’t help but feel a little broken.
But I can’t help but think about what Jesus meant when He said we weren’t worthy of being His if we refused to take up a cross and follow Him. For a long time, I’d been led to believe that meant that everyone had a burden to carry. When I reflect on it… that seems a little elementary. Because when Jesus took up a cross, it meant certain death. It meant that people in the religious establishment decided they had their fill of His fraternizing with sinners and tax collectors and Samaritan women. It meant they were sick of His playing defense for women caught in adultery. It meant they were sick of Him healing people. They were sick of Him not observing the Sabbath they way they felt He should and not observing their religious traditions. They were sick of His public criticism of their leaders. They were so sick of it, that they were willing to present one who was brought up in their own tradition (under the oppression of a dominant Roman empire) as an enemy of the state for execution.
When Jesus took up His cross, it was an indication that he had been rejected by both the state (who had little regard for Him at all) and the religious tradition that saw Him as a threat. Taking up that cross was an act that marked him as an outcast. An insurrectionist. A rebel.
I think on all of that that, and I wonder how Christlike the “unity” we pursue is.
When Jesus took up that cross, it caused division. Many Jews would follow Him at the cost of their standing among people they’d considered family for their entire lives. Many gentiles would following this strange man of some ethnic and religious minority who was tortured and executed (for public spectacle, even), and they paid dearly for doing so. And from that group of outcasts and weirdos was born a community. A community knit together by God’s Holy Spirit. A community where everyone shared everything so that they would not go without. A community that grew every day.
Jesus paid for this community with His life. Unity is not cheap. Unity is paid for by the giving of all that one is, all that one has, and all that one does, for the benefit of the other, expecting nothing in return. That’s love. And when enough of us can do that, we find unity. We find community. We get to live.
A lack of love can ruin community. It can destroy life. But I worship a God who has the final say – even over death. So I’m willing for as many of you to condemn me to hell as it takes for someone who needs to know God’s love to hear the truth about it. That’s the price I’ll pay for unity.