One in the Spirit?

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“We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord. And we pray that our unity will one day be restored. And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
In the dim recesses of my mind, I can still hear my friends singing this song.
It must have been in the mid-1990s. I was a student leader in the Baptist Student Union at NC State. My role on our leadership council was to lead and direct our weekly programming events.
We called it, Monday Night Live, I believe. Yes, the name of our evening programming was shamelessly stolen. To the best of my awareness, though, no one from NBC ever called us to ‘cease and desist.’
Our hour-long program involved the following elements: a welcome, an ice-breaker, some singing, a prayer, some kind of content or guest speaker, and at least 15 minutes of announcements (yes, this sounds strikingly similar to our modern-day worship hour at church).
But our evening needed some kind of closing element that would help us to feel like the group that we were hoping to become. So, we alighted on the familiar song, “We Are One in the Spirit.” All 50 of us would circle up, hold hands and sing the song that Jesus, himself, prayed to the Father: “I ask… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you (John 17:20-21).”
In truth, it was not a throw-away element. It was an earnest plea for unity…because our campus ministry group was a mess. And by ‘mess,’ I mean a disaster.
Oh, we were a jolly bunch (at times). We got things accomplished on campus and in the community (mostly). And we grew in our relationship with Christ (occasionally).
But my lasting recollection of my time in the BSU was that we were divided. We were an odd mix of insiders and outsiders, social misfits and intellectual snobs, attractive and repugnant. We came from different church backgrounds and brought with us a host of flashpoints and disagreements. We argued, fussed and fumed. We debated headlines, championed our points of view, and retreated into tribes that would wage social war with one another.
One thing I must give us credit for: we were resilient. We fought and made up, we argued, and we laughed at ourselves. We would vilify one another on any particular issue, but we’d still lead Bible studies together. We were becoming adults together and campus ministry was an important part of our social and emotional development.
Our ending song, then, was a plea that in the midst of our disagreements and divisions, we could still be ‘One in the Spirit.’ And truly, God answered our prayers.
In light of our current socio-political, and socio-theological realities, 1995 feels quaint.
At best, our differences are fault lines that lie quietly beneath the Church’s surface, only occasionally splintering the Body of Christ. At worst, Christians are so divided that we demonize any hint of ‘otherness’ and shade the world into right/ wrong, black/ white, good/ evil. Fundamentalism—that is, the idea that our worldview is absolutely right, and that all others should be damned—is prevalent on both the right and on the left.
For over a century, our own particular church has prided itself on being a church that eschews fundamentalism and values the fact that we are not all of the same mind. We are a faithful bunch that populates most every station on the continuum from anarchy to communism. And while our church’s tolerance for a variety of opinions and beliefs is what helps to define us as followers of Christ in the Baptist tradition, we also must concede that our way of being church is no longer normative in our day and age. The friction from the movement of tectonic plates that litter our Facebook feeds causes us to increasingly not want to have anything to do with one another.
I find a strange comfort in the reminder that none of this is particularly new in the span of human history. No, we have always been a wily, tribally-loyal mishmash of a people throughout the ages. But we shouldn’t get too comfortable knowing that we are not alone in our toxic and broken reality. History teaches us that fundamentalism (I’m right, you’re wrong!) and the inherent discord that it sows results in horrific violence, civil strife, and genocide. Much of this was done in the name of Jesus, so we’d best tread carefully.
A judicious reading of the Gospels reveals that the disciples were just as divided as my campus ministry buddies were—arguably even more so. The disciples hailed from different backgrounds. There were people who were intimately related to one another, and others who were strangers, sinners and social outcasts. Some were power-hungry. Others were vengeful and mean-spirited. There were revolutionaries and blue-collar workers. They were ambitious. They were naïve. They were liberal. They were conservative.
Upon a final analysis, the only thing holding them together was Jesus.
And even that had a limited shelf-life.
The only way for us to be One in the Spirit when our differences are many is Jesus. If Christ is at the center, and if we are all facing him, a circle will form. So long as we’re all facing Christ, we will find ourselves side by side with those we might ordinarily dismiss. This, I believe, is the only way we can experience unity in the Spirit.
To that end, consider Paul’s practical suggestions for maintaining unity in Christ during tumultuous times. Romans 12:9-21 provides us with a template for how we are to be One in Christ’s Name.
Romans 12
9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.
19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.
20 On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, this is who God is calling us to be.
Jesus is telling us: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid…In the same way, you must let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to our Father in heaven.”
Our Father. Yes, Our Father.