I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. Jesus Christ, John 17:20-21
Through these words of Jesus, we can see the passion of our Lord for the Church, His great desire for us, the sons and daughters of God – quite simply that in Him, we would be one.
The great division in the Church these days has led to many discussions on this idea of unity: What does it look like to be unified in Christ? What did Jesus mean by those words, “as you are in me, and I am in you”?
These discussions can only be approached alongside our continual petitions to the Lord that He humble us. We must be willing to let Him break down our own pride and defenses so that we may be free to see and accept the real truth about who we are, who He is, and what He desires for us as members of His Body in this world.
A place to begin is by first asking the Holy Spirit to reveal to us the real effects of our division on the Body of Christ.
One image of this can be considered through our own physical bodies. For example, we can imagine that one of our fingers is somehow cut off partially from our hand. As an immediate result, we know such an injury would mean a great deal of bleeding and exposure to the body. The long-term risks would include excessive loss of blood, development of infection for both the finger and the body, and ultimately amputation of the finger altogether.
When a finger is partially separated from the hand, it cannot simply remain that way indefinitely. Eventually, in a “partially connected” state, not only will the finger be unable to survive, but the open wound will present a great risk of serious illness for the entire body. Either the separated part of the finger must be surgically re-connected to the hand, or the partially-severed finger must be removed entirely.
This seems a pretty appropriate analogy to help us begin to understand the effects of division among different parts of the Body of Christ.
Divisions in the Body are not new, but they are prevalent, and they are harming and exposing the Body today in several forms of egregious injury, a few of which I will attempt to explore here:
“Lesions” – One type of these divisive injuries we can see in the Church today may be described as little lesions or tumors, which are infesting different organs or areas of the Body. These are the little divisions and splinters, or maybe small cliques that develop within Christian congregations. The reasons for these smaller divisions are vast, but mostly stem from simple misunderstanding or miscommunication. Once they set in, they can fester with the aid of gossip, mistrust, competition, personal insecurity, and other deceptions in our lives.
The effects of these types of injuries vary depending on the congregation. We know, for example, that lesions on the brain can cause impairment of eyesight, memory loss, or headaches. Lesions on the skin can cause infection to the body or bleeding. Lesions or tumors on the spine can cause numbness or weakness in the legs and back. And of course, there is the pain, which is felt by the entire body when such little injuries arise.
When we consider the Church, we can see that the effects of these types of little splinters and cliques are very similar to those of a human body. For example, little divisions throughout a community impair our ability to discern God’s vision for our congregation. We become focused on defending our own agendas and egos, or maybe on the weaknesses and flaws we see in one another, and we begin to forget the great works and the glory that God has revealed to us. These divisions can begin to infest the entire community as competition, jealousy, back-biting and other painful effects can spread. The congregation will begin to lose all feeling of the presence of God, lose compassion for the hurting around them, and eventually will just become calloused and numb emotionally and spiritually.
“Partial-amputations” – In recent generations, this type of division has become more common in the Body. A partial-amputation occurs when certain parts of the Body set themselves up in opposition, even competition, with the rest of the Body. Very often these types of divisions may actually stem from old “lesions” discussed previously. In this case, a congregation may begin to set up its own defenses, effectively isolating its members not only from possible sources of opposition from outside the Church, but also from the rest of the Body.
These groups may spend a lot of time criticizing other congregations, maybe presenting themselves as a “newer”, “better”, “more in-touch” community of believers than those “other churches”. These partially-amputated congregations may also believe they possess a better understanding of the Word of God, or a better discernment of His voice, than other churches.
As with the earlier example of the finger being partially cut off from the hand, we can see that this type of division can be very dangerous for both the divided congregation, as well as for the Body as a whole. A congregation that has attempted to call itself a part of the Body, but also to distinguish itself as separated from the Body can not remain in that state indefinitely. Ultimately, the congregation must be willing to submit to the reconciling work of the Holy Spirit, leading it to submission to the Body of Christ as a whole.
Otherwise, the congregation will likely be cut-off from the Body altogether, resulting a community who’s focus has drifted off of the center of the risen Christ. Focus and teachings may begin to center, for example, on a particular issue – maybe a political issue, or on receiving more blessings and healing from the Lord (prosperity), or on comfort, or even on unity. Sometimes these groups may turn their focus to a small collection of scriptural verses, while the rest of the bible fades into the background.
These groups often will become more and more protective of their congregation, cutting themselves off more and more from the rest of the Christian community. Without submission to the humbling and reconciling work of the Holy Spirit to the rest of the Body, eventually the structure of these congregations may resemble more closely a cult community than a congregation of followers of Jesus Christ.
“Major incisions” – These are the great historical chasms, which have been invasively cut within and among the vital organs of the Body. The devastation here is not hard to imagine. We know, for example, that the heart and the lungs do not look the same, nor do they perform the same vital functions within the Body. But what devastation when these two organs divide themselves one from the other, working even to destroy one another!
What grief it must bring to our Lord when we set our weapons up not against the enemy, but against one another – Baptist vs. Methodist, Lutheran vs. Catholic, Orthodox vs. Charismatic, and on and on goes the list of our enemies within the Body. Consider even the title so many of us carry since the Reformation: “Protestant”. What are we “protesting” as “protestants” today? The lies and schemes of the enemy? The prisons and addictions and sufferings of those living under the law of death? Injustice? Poverty? Abuse? No, it seems we are still protesting the edicts of the 16th century Catholic Church.
The tragedy is that almost all of the members of the Church are tightly confined into this broken, self-centered, prideful perception of our place as adopted sons and daughters through the Lord Jesus Christ. We insist that we be counted as members of the Body of Christ, while we emphatically stand in opposition to one or more of Its vital organs. And we continue to wonder why the Body can’t move forward, why revival through the Church won’t come.
Healing and Restoration
So, we may ask, now what? Let us give thanks and praise to our Father in Heaven, because the story continues. Even still, our hope is found in the risen Lord Jesus Christ – hope that total healing and restoration are available. This is the grace of God, given freely to us who are most unworthy.
There is a calling on our generation, which we must be prepared to acknowledge. We must be ready to accept the reality of our circumstances, and to allow the Holy Spirit to equip us so we may fulfill our essential role in this healing process. In fact, I am beginning to believe that our part in this process of reconciliation may be one of the most powerful tools available to followers of Jesus Christ.
Through the grace of God, displayed through His Son, we have at our disposal free access to perhaps the most effective weapon against any scheme ever devised by the enemy. This gift offered to us is more powerful than even the great gifts of teaching or evangelism, healing or deliverance. What’s more, this weapon is freely available to anyone of God’s children, at any time, just waiting for us to kneel down and take it into our unworthy hands.
“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
‘In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, `No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, `We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.’
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
he rises to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!”
The apostle Peter said that we who make up the Church are like “living stones…being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” He wrote, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God… (1 Peter 2:5-10)
It takes only a breath of the Word of the Holy Spirit in our hearts for us to concede with certainty, that we are not the Church as Peter describes. We in the Church have become so conformed to the culture of the world around us, so unwilling to submit one to another, so divided by our own egos and defenses, that it has become difficult for even the most discerning to distinguish the darkness from the light. We are so wrapped up in our own efforts, buried in the “dead works” described by the author of the book of Hebrews, that even the spiritual elders of the Church struggle to know true freedom and restoration of the the soul, which come only through submission to God, under the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Repentance. This is the great weapon of the children of Almighty God. The key to the path of righteousness and freedom, which we have freely available through Him who died, rose again, and lives today and forever, Lord of Lords. The door to the presence of Almighty God Himself. And with certainty, the great calling of our generation, by the grace and power of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.