I had coffee this morning with a friend who is a fellow co-laborer in ministry. As we bantered around various social issues confronting Christianity–gender identity, social justice, and the like–as well as the reality that COVID has led many to conclude they no longer have a need for the church, I was struck again by how fragmented we have become. At a time when church growth is attributed to demographic shifts between local congregations, we can find it easy to point fingers at who is at fault and miss the fact that harmony among believers is but one way we demonstrate our love for God (John 17:20-26).
Sometime after the martyrdom of Peter and Paul in Rome around 67AD, the church’s leaders wrote a letter to the church in Corinth. Having started in 49 or 50AD, the church in Corinth was well known for her faith.
“For who has ever visited you and not approved of your highly virtuous and stable faith? And not been astonished by your temperate and gentle piety in Christ? And not proclaimed the magnificent character of your hospitality? And not uttered a blessing for your perfect and unwavering knowledge?” (1 Clement 1:2)
Answering the question as to how it will be that the believers will experience what God has prepared for them (1 Cor 2:9), the Roman leaders write:
“When our understanding is faithfully fixed on God, when we seek after what is pleasing and acceptable to Him, when we accomplish what accords with His perfect will and follow in the path of truth, casting from ourselves all injustice and lawlessness, greed, strife, malice and deceit, gossip and slander, hatred of God, haughtiness and arrogance, vanity and inhospitality.” (1 Clement 35:5)
The Roman church leaders’ primary concern was correcting the actions of those causing division in the Corinthian church by insisting that the church unify around God’s will.
What is striking to me in relationship to the fragmentation that we see in 21st century Christianity–34,000 plus Protestant denominations and organizations–is that expecting unity around the vision or mission statements of a local church, pastor, or group of leaders only further splinters Jesus’ Bride. Instead, like we read in the Roman letter to the Corinthians, we must insist on a singular unity around God’s vision for and mission in the world. Anything short of this clear call to be in harmony with God’s will–not a pastor’s or church leader’s–only further divides Christianity, fragments Christ’s body, and harms our witness in the community.
“For,” as the writers warn, “[God’s judgment] will happen if we fail to conduct ourselves worthily of Him and to do the things that are good and pleasing before Him, in harmony” (1 Clement 21:1).
This should not be a difficult task for those indwelled by God’s Spirit and intent on His glory. After all, who can improve upon His vision and mission?
What unites us:
- One God – creator of all
- Two Testaments – Old and New
- Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- Two Problems – sin and death
- One Church – holy, universal, and apostolic
Is greater than what divides us:
- Social Justice
- Theological opinions
“Now that we have considered such great and so many examples [of harmony], it is right for us to bow our necks in submission and assume a position of obedience [to the Holy Spirit]. In this way, by putting a halt to the futile factions, we will truly reach the goal set before us, with no blame attached.” (1 Clement 63.1)
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