Fragmentation. Division. Fracture.
These are a just a few of the words to describe the story of the Christian Church through the centuries.
As we have been discovering this winter in our Adult Bible Study on Wednesday nights, the history of the church has been shaped by disagreement. In the midst of our differences, we have found it hard to be in communion with one another. So, not surprisingly, our history is one of excommunications, splits, and even violence.
Although this reality may shape our identity, surely we can agree that this is not a Christ-centered strategy for how we are to move forward together.
Jesus’s prayer in the Gospel According to John comes to mind: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me (John 17:20-21).”
As Christians, as Protestants, as Baptists, our legacy is one of division. At a risk of oversimplifying our complex past, the fruit of our disagreements has poisoned our relationships, fractured our partnerships and broken bonds of friendship. How do we end the cycle of disunity and discord?
We can break out of our broken systems through obedience to our Lord Jesus, who said: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all (Mark 9:35).” Humility, and not our runaway egos and visions of personal vindication and grandeur, is the posture that will reset our relationships and repair our alliances.
Fragmentation. Division. Fracture.
These words describe more than the Christian religious tradition. They are also a fitting commentary on our relationships to our fellow countrymen and women. Our predilection toward partisanship and modern tribalism has positioned us to vilify one another. Depending upon who you ask, there is little that unites us. We do not know how to be civil to one another, and we do not want communion with those who disagree with us or see the world differently than we do. We are, I argue, already at war with one another.
All evidence to the contrary, I am not naïve as I sound.  I know that we have disagreements; some of them quite significant. But our differences—whether in our families, in our churches, or in our communities and our nation—should not be empowered with the ability to tear us apart from one another. Yes, we have disagreements. Yes, our allegiances to our respective tribes can create rifts. But without a table for us all to sit at together, our efforts to secure our own agendas will be imperialistic and void of any spirit for common ground.
Strangely, I believe that there may be an opportunity for the same institution that seems to have a monopoly on division and dysfunction to lead here. Yes, I believe that the church—yes, even our local church—can model for our community and our nation what it can look like to be unified in a common cause. For us, our confession that Jesus Christ is Lord unites us amidst our differences. The trust that we can have in one another as a congregation of followers of Jesus can become the basis for accomplishment even though we may disagree individually on most everything else. The tie that binds us together is Jesus, not our social or political allegiances.
Jesus holds us together.
And to actualize, and strengthen, this bond, we must practice humility in how our ideas and beliefs intersect with one another. Imagine what the church would have looked like if it had practiced Jesus’s command centuries ago?
Well, Jesus’s prayer—I believe—would have been answered.
We would all be One.
Let's practice unity in Christ even when we want to argue about everything else. Jesus’s disparate disciples turned apostles did just that. And look how that turned out.