Last night my church did something that reminded me of one of my favourite things ever. It was a joint church prayer meeting. May not sound much, but I loved it. It embodied one of the best things ever:
Churches being united.
I grew up in a youth group run by people from a number of local churches. A few of us from my church helped at another church’s children’s holiday club. In my previous job, one of the best things was the really close relationship between the local churches. I was even given space in their office to work from. I love it!
Church unity makes me so so excited, and here are some reasons why.
It’s good for us
A church is a family. I love my own family very dearly, and I think there are splendid things about us. But I also know there are pretty odd things about us too. Not all families are like ours, and that’s fine. In fact it’s good – it would be rubbish if every family were like the Criddles.
A local church can have many marvellous things about it, too. But it can also have its own quirks, flaws and foibles. There isn’t a single church in the world for whom that isn’t true. When we come together with other churches, we learn from each other. We Baptists have oodles to learn from our Catholic brothers and sisters. They have plenty to learn from us.
And beyond just learning from one another, unity keeps us grounded, reminds us we aren’t the big picture. The big picture is the whole worldwide Church that Jesus is forming for Himself all over the world. This is what Paul says about that Church:
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Could it be any clearer? We are one. Everything about us – from start to finish – should drip with unity. Remembering that, acting like that, helps us remember we aren’t the real deal. We’re part of something bigger, and that should inspire us!
Just like the Church doesn’t exist just for those who are part of it, our unity shouldn’t exist just for us either. When we are united, we are better able to make an impact for Jesus in our communities.
As hard as we try, it’s difficult not to fall into the trap of being parochial. Do I want to see my own church growing? Yes. Of course I do, I want to see God on the move and doing things through my church. That isn’t wrong. What is wrong is that desire becoming greater than wanting to see the kingdom of God grow in my community. That is far more important.
When we honestly come together from different churches to work together, we’re forced to leave our parochial mindset at the door and work for something far bigger than us. When we do that, we can be far more effective at serving and reaching our local community for Christ.
I believe that’s why some of the most exciting and fruitful projects I’ve ever been part of have been those run by churches working together, not just one church.
It’s good for the gospel
This is the biggest one for me. The night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed to His Father. A chunk of that prayer was for the unity of His Church. This is what He prayed:
I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)
Jesus prayed that we would have unity so that the world will know Jesus was sent by God and loves us. Our unity is itself a proclamation of the gospel!
Today, the church is known for squabbling and bickering amongst ourselves, and it is not good for the gospel. Why would people take us seriously when we can’t even get on? If a group so disparate, so diverse, so different from one another can really know unity, someone somewhere is going to wonder what (who?) is holding us together.
I’m not expecting global church unity to happen overnight, but I will pray for it, and take any and every opportunity to work with other Christians, churches and denominations, to increase the peace, harmony and unity of the Church. Jesus prayed that I would.
And He prayed that you would too.