Sunday, May 1, 2011

Community without Unity?

This week bloggers around the blogosphere are taking part in a Rally to Restore Unity by sharing their thoughts about and desire for seeing more unity in the body of Christ and less division. For more about the Rally to Restore Unity, check out Rachel Held Evans blog here. This blog is my contribution and one of many that will be written this week about Unity.

There have been numerous books written and messages preached over the last number of years about the importance of community within the 'community' of believers. Within the church. For centuries, community has been a central element to what it means to be a part of the church, but as of late, there is certainly no shortage of material available on the 'how' and 'why'.

I like the idea of community. The idea of sharing life with others. The idea of knowing and being known. I like the idea. The problem is, I have always been a bit of a loner. Case in point - after being single and living alone for 7 years, I remember climbing the stairs to my 3rd floor apartment just 3 months into my new marriage thinking, "When I walk through that door, she is going to be there. She is never going away. She will always be here when I get home....forever." (For the record, I love my wife and think she is amazing. Eight years and 4 kids later, we are enjoying the ride of our lives. You can learn more about our lives together here and here.) However, over the last 2 years I have made huge strides in understanding the need for community in my own life and allowing my life to become more engaged with and in the lives of others. Community really is beautiful and is a lifestyle that followers of Jesus are invited into. I read in one of N.T. Wright's books (hey, this is more reference than Rob Bell gives) that when Jesus calls people to follow him, he calls them into the family, into the community. According to Jesus via Wright, it seems impossible to follow him and not be in community. (You might disagree with this and I'm okay with that, I guess, since this blog is actually about unity and the idea that we don't all have to agree and we can still love and respect one another.)

Which is a great segue to my question: We love to preach community, but is community even possible without unity? If my own journey is any indication, then I would propose that true community is not possible without unity. And this has been the missing point for me, for quite some time.

For years, I have been opposed to those who don't believe as I do. So painful to admit and something that I am not at all proud of, but I have always struggled with this. The reason is both simple and hard and probably worthy of it's own blog post, but suffice it to say, that I don't like living in this place.

The church (the people of God) seems to be in a scary and awesome place these days. We have all kinds of characters from Joel Osteen to Rob Bell to Mark Driscoll to a whole bunch of men and women who no one knows except for the communities they lead and pastor faithfully. The beliefs and hopeful practices that come from those beliefs are as wide apart as the earths poles. We focus a lot of attention these days on these big names. Lots of people are writing lots of things about these big names, their followings, their thoughts, their influence and so on. For those of us who enjoy reading and writing and studying, we have a tendency to be quick to form opinions. And herein, lies the problem. Because opinions inevitably lead to judgments. Opinions and judgements: both very popular among people and both incredibly destructive to unity and community.

The problem is much bigger than most of us understand it to be though, because it doesn't actually start or end with these big names. The truth is, it starts and ends for most of us in our own cities, our own coffee shops, our own Home Depot's, our own communities of faith. We focus on figuring out who's 'in' and who's 'out' based on our own ideas and opinions about how belief plays out and we allow it to cause judgmental divisions between us, which in turn, leads to a lack of unity. And without unity can we really have community? True, honest, authentic community? Can we really experience the love and life of Jesus if this is the game we choose to play?

As I journey towards both unity and community, one of the greatest things that has helped me are the wise words of an odd source - a Pharisee named Gamaliel. In the book of Acts, Gamaliel stood before the council who desired to kill the apostles and he said to them, 'Leave these men alone. If their words and plans are man made, they will fail. However, if they are from God, then not only will you be unable to overthrow them but you will also be picking a fight with God.'

So, today, may we learn to stop fighting one another and stop picking fights with God. I point no fingers today, instead, let it start with me. May we all experience the beauty and awe of what it is to be full of love and respect and wonder for one another and for the whole body of Jesus. May we begin to experience unity and in turn, may we begin to more fully embrace life in the community.

Who are those who you disagree with?
How might your disagreements be turning into opinions and judgments?
How might those opinions and judgments be separating you from the very people that God might want you sharing life with?
How might we continue to learn to love and respect one another (even if we disagree) as we all journey towards Jesus?


Chad Estes said...

"We love to preach community, but is community even possible without unity?"

Great question to wrestle with (even better than the ones at the end of the post meant for the small groups).

Thanks for leading in this area by addressing your own journey. You are a hero to me.

Angie said...

I like this. A lot.

Pi Man said...

Good points, Brian. Let me just say that I actually do believe we can have community without "perfect" unity. Frankly, that is what we have now. Should we tend in the direction of unity to achieve greater community? Sure. But God doesn't eradicate or eliminate our personalities as much as He enlightens us to His will as we seek Him, with the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit - His grace. It is the human spirit of cooperation that is influenced by the Holy Spirit of unity that is fundamental to living in community for the greater good and the belief in the common goal. Think of it as the God inspired "means" to His defined "end" if you will. The bible is full of disagreements on the particulars, but agreement on the final destination. None speaks louder to me personally than when Paul and Barnabus had such a disagreement over John Mark accompanying them on their upcoming mission that Paul took Silas and went one way while Barnabus took John Mark and went another way (Acts 15 I believe). We can and will disagree on the particulars at times, but it's our common sense of eternal purpose that binds us for the long haul. Just some thoughts.... Thanks & peace, TA.

brian jeansonne said...

Pi Man : Love the thoughts. Thanks for posting. I too think of Paul and Barnabas often. I agree that we can and certainly will disagree. It's how we handle those disagreements that should be of concern. I don't think for a minute that Paul questioned Barnabas' commitment or love for jesus (my opinion), but that's something we seem to see a lot of in the church today (my perception).

Thanks for the conversation!

brian jeansonne said...

Chad -

Greatly appreciated. Thank you!