A Long View of Unity

Posted on May 23, 2014

uni·ty noun \ˈyü-nə-tē\

     : the state of being in full agreement

     : a way of combining the parts in a work of art or literature so that they seem to belong together

Unity is an important thing. The thought of being unified as one is mentioned throughout scripture. The Psalmist writes, “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1). In his prayer for all believers, Jesus prays, “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23).

In Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, he reminds us that unity and diversity can coexist, “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.” (1Cor. 12:12-14).

Note Webster’s definition of unity above. If the only way to experience unity means we must be in “full agreement,” then I’m afraid we’ve already lost that chance. The Church has struggled to fully agree for a couple years now [/sarcasm]. This seems to be a rather short view of unity.

The United Methodist Church has struggled mightily with the idea of unity in recent days (and decades). Words like “schism” and “split” convey the very opposite sentiment of unity. Intentional actions which subvert an agreed upon process and covenant also convey the opposite sentiment of unity. We are not finding ourselves very unified right now.

Some fear that if The United Methodist Church creates a new denomination (or 2, or 3…) it will damage our witness to the world. I’m wondering if our current struggles are not only hurting our current witness but have caused, and will continue to cause, even more confusion for the world around us. It seems reasonable to think that the world around us could assume that a United Methodist church is a United Methodist church is a United Methodist church. Whether in the same state, region, or country, an otherwise unaware or unknowing individual could hold a reasonable expectation of what he or she might find walking into a United Methodist church. Just like there is a reasonable expectation of what one might find when he or she walks into a Roman Catholic church, Lutheran church, Episcopal church, or Southern Baptist church.

Perhaps, instead of looking at unity as “full agreement,” we could find unity in “combining parts that seem to fit together.” Like Paul describes the one body with many parts. I am a United Methodist pastor and yet I feel united with my Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, etc. brothers and sisters under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Are we in full agreement on everything? No. Do our different labels or denominations help clarify those differences? Yes, but that does not mean we cannot be unified as the many that make up the one. I believe this to be a long view of unity.

There is a difference between a hand, a foot, an ear, a nose…though all a part of the same body. Sometimes the world needs help in identifying which “part” connects the individual to the “body” best. Is it possible that creating a new part could actually help our witness in the world? That through the creation of a new denomination we might find ways to reach more people in ways unique to our “part” while also celebrating our place in the “body.”