Posted by: Mike Willoughby | October 20, 2011

Can’t We All Just Get Along (Part 1)

How many times have you heard this appeal in one form or another?  Why can’t we all just get along?  Why does there seem to be so much conflict in the world and within our relationships?  Even within (or perhaps especially within) our churches there are constant sources of conflict and division that seem to threaten unity.  Why is this?  Didn’t Jesus pray in John 17 for all his faithful followers to have unity with one another and with God?  The evidence around us would seem to indicate his prayer was in vain.  Who would make a claim that unity is possible in large measure in this world, in our organizations or even in local congregations of the church?

I have to admit this topic has been bouncing around inside my head for a long time but I have been hesitant to write about it.  Part of my hesitancy comes from the potential scope of the subject.  This is a very big topic for a little blog article – perhaps too big.  I also don’t think there are absolute answers to the conundrum of unity within the church.  Many folks have gotten wrapped around the axle over this subject and I won’t pretend to be able to untangle all the confusion.  However even though it’s a big complex topic with no guaranteed answers, it still seems very relevant to me.  If I can understand what Jesus was talking about in John 17, perhaps I will be able to influence the organizations in which I participate to try to achieve the results for which Jesus prayed.

The first nineteen verses of John 17 have become known as “Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer” in which Jesus prays for the disciples he has been with for three years of ministry.  In John 17:20-23, Jesus extends his prayer to include all believers through the ages.  Take a look at what Jesus prayed for us to experience.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

Notice that Jesus prays for his followers to “be one” just as Jesus and God “are one.”  The purpose of this “oneness” is to testify to the world that Jesus’ disciples are loved in the same way that God loves Jesus.  In other words, Christian “oneness” is supposed to testify to God’s immeasurable love.  The question is, “how are we doing with our testimony?”

Obviously this has everything with how you define “oneness.”  There are several English words we can toss out that could be synonyms for oneness with vastly different implications.  Three of these words are uniformity, unanimity and unity.  I believe unity is the word most frequently used in this context, but even then I wonder if we all have the same understanding of the meaning of the term.  Perhaps when I say, “unity” you hear “uniformity” or “unanimity.”  Perhaps the Bible can help us understand what the Bible means.

Jesus says our “oneness” should be in the same form as the oneness Jesus shared with God.  This immediately rules out uniformity as an option.  God and Jesus are not uniform – they are clearly different.  In an effort to try to avoid the complexities of Trinitarian doctrine, let me simply point out that the Father is not the same as the Son even though both are divine.  The people who heard Jesus testify and witnessed his miracles understood that Jesus was declaring his divinity.  That is why the religious leaders were offended by Jesus as shown in John 5:18.

This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

Although divine and of the same nature as God, the Son has a different role from that of the Father and the Son is in submission to the Father as clearly indicated in I Corinthians 15:27-28.

For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.

So uniformity cannot be the standard but what about unanimity?  Are the Father and Son always unanimous in their thinking?  Think about these four scriptural references.

(John 8:42) Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.

(John 14:10)  Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

(Matthew 24:36) “But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.

(Matthew 26:39) And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”

It seems clear that unanimity was not required for the Father and Son to be one.  I would certainly stop short of there was conflict between them, but it seems obvious to me that a difference of opinion or will existed between them especially in the garden.

I find it both helpful and comforting to know that Godly unity is possible without compromising individuality and individual expression.  We can be “one” without being uniform in role and without being completely unanimous in our thinking.  Oneness or unity can be achieved where difference of opinion and even conflict exists!  I don’t believe Jesus would pray for something that was clearly unachievable in the real world in which we live.  Uniformity and unanimity are unrealistic goals in any organization in which humans participate.  However, I believe unity is very achievable.  We can be one just as Jesus and God are one.  We can be one as we are living within the Father’s will!

What does this look like in practical Christian living?  In the next Can’t We All Just Get Along article, we will begin taking a look at the great conflict resolution chapter of the New Testament to see what living in oneness looked like for the very same disciples Jesus prayed over in John 17.  There are lessons for us to learn in their struggle for unity.

Until next week,

Meet me at the intersection!

Copyright © 2011 Michael Willoughby. All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to author and/or owner with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Responses

  1. Mike–We may never be close to “uniformity ” as long as we depend on our “human nature” to survive..In Bible Study., I asked Mark [our teacher ]the night of the betrayal if he thought Peter denied knowing Jesus in a move of “self-preservation”Good food for thought. Les.

  2. Others who have written on this topic have also done well. But how important it is that we ALL who love Jesus also love one another. And we’re sure to have differing views on some matters. I find it difficult to respect as I should brothers who love law and who make laws which they expect all Christians to observe. I find it difficult to respect as I should brothers who do not share my appreciation for the inspiration of the written scriptures. Legalism is deadly. Liberalism is worse. So it’s good when those who sincerely love Jesus and respect His giving the Spirit to inspire the apostles while leading them into “all truth” seek to work together as one body of faithful believers.


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