Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future.
Ephesians 4:2-4 (New Living Translation)
Over the years since I have been involved in church leadership, I have been invited to numerous Christian events, which generally involve walking around the streets of my city with leaders and members of other local churches. The purpose of these events is usually to demonstrate to the watching world (if they are remotely interested) that the churches in our city are united. I have even heard the phrase “show a united front” used by some when describing these events, but in reality that is all they are – a front or a facade. A united front generally hides a divided rear. “Well it’s surely better than all the division and backbiting of the past?” I hear you cry. Absolutely, but it also falls far short of the unity of the Spirit that God is after, and that will hasten the day of Christ’s return.
What is the answer? Am I suggesting that we all sell our buildings and move into the biggest auditorium in town for our gatherings? On the contrary, I would be happy to see a Christian church meeting in every street. Should we then throw off our denominational labels and affiliations? It might be nice, but it still does not deal with the root issue in our thinking, which is that God already sees only ONE CHURCH, therefore it is our thinking that needs to be changed to come into line with what IS already a Spiritual reality.
At this point it is important to clarify, that not every group that calls itself a church, is a church, and not everyone who calls themself Christian, is a Christian, only the biblical definition will do. The true church is a people who have turned away from their old life and put their faith in Jesus Christ. They have been born again, by the Spirit of God and been baptised INTO His family – the church (John3:7, 1 Peter 1:23, Mark 16:16, Galatians 3:27)
What will a change in our thinking look like? Firstly, when we come to the realisation that we are ALREADY one body then we understand that far from being in competition with each other we are there to bless and support one another as local churches. Jesus said that “He will build His church,” therefore we are there to assist Him in His mission, not the other way round as some might think. We must understand that as local churches our mission is the same – making disciples of the nations - and that when one part of the body is blessed we are all blessed, when one part suffers, we all suffer. In other words when we hear that the church down the road has seen twenty people saved and added last week, our attitude should be “Praise God,” and not “why them?” When we hear that there is strife and problem in another church, our heart should be to pray for them and lift them up, rather than hoping that it might mean a few more in our own congregation.
If we are all one body and one church, am I then giving individuals the freedom to hop from one congregation to another as they see fit? Absolutely not. We are all members individually also, and therefore we should be rightly related to the people that God has joined us to within a locality. God puts us together in a local church setting for our growth and maturity, where we can receive encouragement and correction, where we can actively serve God and play our part (Ephesians 4:11-16)
Where do we start? As our opening verse stated, we must first“be humble,” and admit that God is right, therefore our thinking and attitude must line up with His. We must also decide to be gentle and patient with one another and make allowance for one another's faults and differences, rather than see them as a source for annoyance and division. We should “make every effort” towards peace and unity in the Spirit, realising that for the Lord, nothing less will do.