“Unity in the Church”

Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple.  Open it up and here’s all the people.  Many of us are familiar with this little finger-play.  If you do it right, your “people” are standing nicely in two rows.  Actually, now that I take a closer look, they are leaning sideways nicely in two rows like they belong in a Ripley’s Believe It or Not room.  Either way, they appear to be in unison, in sync, and presumably, in unity with one another—at least from the outside view.

Let’s pretend that the physical unity we see in these finger people accurately represents the unity in their hearts and minds as well.  Wow.  A building with unified people, sideways people, yes, but none-the-less, people in unity.  If you have been in relationships of any kind, you know that true unity is not easily obtained.  And unity in the local church setting, which is full of sinners, saved by grace, and built on individual relationships with Christ and on relationships with one another, is really no different.

I think it is safe to say that we can and should be passionate about unity in every area of our lives as believers, but this is especially true in the life of the church.  Church members should consider unity a priority.  Ministry leaders should be adamant about it and fervently chase after it.  All must fall under the authority given by God as they “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).  This doesn’t happen naturally, it’s supernaturally of His Spirit (as Paul noted) and yet, simultaneously unity is what we intentionally pursue as His people, both individually and corporately.

What can women, specifically, do to “make every effort” as Paul charged?  There are many obvious answers to this question, but one in particular comes to mind as we continue to explore our quote from Women’s Ministry in the Local Church  by Susan Hunt and Ligon Duncan.  The answer is this:  that a women’s ministry in the church would be one that “complements and supports the work of the pastors, elders and deacons.”

Complement and support rather than compete and usurp.  We’ve touched on this topic before; regarding male and female functions in both the home and the church (see the March entry) but today let’s take complementing and supporting from the distinct angle of unity within God’s church.

Because sideways finger people in unison is a worth-while concept to explore.

First and foremost, in making our effort, we need to recognize that we are destined for the whole competing and usurping problem.  It’s called our contribution to relational chaos. Check out Genesis Chapter 3 from a relational standpoint and you’ll see what I mean.  We know that the unity that Adam and Eve had with God and with one another before the fall was relational bliss—spiritually, emotionally, physically and yes, even mentally—and it was all destroyed after the fall.  In verses 16 – 19, we read the curse from God, which describe in-depth how disunity would play out in the lives of male and female.  We see relational chaos at its climactic origin in these verses.  Eve would not only have pain in bearing forth children, she would also desire to rule over her husband (3:16).  Adam, from his end of the curse, would have to toil the land, which would be a difficult process.  By the “sweat of his face” (3:18), he would provide for his wife and for his family.

In short, women would have the tendency to overrule the leadership of men and men would have the tendency to be frustrated in their responsibility to provide.  This, of course, is a paraphrase, but it speaks of great truth about relationships, roles, and the disunity that comes from the sin of mankind and the curses that followed that sin.   Genesis 3 is indeed, hard to take in, but oh doesn’t it add insight to the reality of relational chaos in our lives?   From the miscommunication to the misinterpreted expectations and everything in-between, we are left with quite a mess in our quest to “make every effort” towards unity.

The good news (literally) is that a plan (the gospel) to overcome the sinfulness of mankind was present right smack dab in the midst of the curse.  It’s called the Protoevangelium, the “first gospel” and it points to Christ Himself overcoming the serpent, that is, the evil, and giving mankind victory over sin.  Check it out in verse 15 of the same chapter that left us on the verge of discouragement due to our propensity towards dysfunction, and note with me the appearance of yes, victory, in the midst of sin. Victory that leads to unity in the lives of God’s people.

This brings us to a secondary point in how women can “make every effort” to complement and support.  Note that these two behaviors are reflective of true unity in the heart of a women, which always begins with the Gospel.  We can be friendly and pretend to get along, but until we each have been graced with the reconciliation of our hearts to our Creator by the power of the blood of Christ the Son on the Cross, our “unity” amongst one another is nothing but a false substitute of fake togetherness.  This, unfortunately, is so often where people of the church settle.

Oh, the blessings that are lost when church people just settle.  Settling comes from never reaching authenticity.  It’s never getting to the core of issues because getting to the core would mean searching deep within ourselves, seeing the plank in our own eyes, and pleading before God to purify our hearts from the motives and behaviors that have contributed to the relational chaos that we experience with others in God’s church.

The reality is that true unity comes at a cost. In short, it’s called dying to self.  When I think about unity in my marriage, I think about sacrifice and the art of yielding.  It’s costly, hard work for my husband to sacrificially lead and it’s equally difficult for me to bypass my domineering nature and yield to him with a grateful heart for that leadership. The same is true in our home, with our children.  The cost of unity is an ever-demanding job called biblical parenting, which as you know, requires time, dedication, and consistency—all of which don’t necessarily come naturally for us but indeed are attainable for us because of what Christ has done.

The same is true in the church.  Authenticity. Sacrifice. Time. Dedication. Consistency. Perseverance. Yielding. Leading. Nurturing. Providing.  For us as women, complementing and supporting the leadership that God has provided in the pastors, elders and deacons of the local body of believers because we know that our gifts and contributions are valuable and that ultimately, unity is a worth-while goal.

Think about when Jesus prayed for the unity of believers in John Chapter 17.  He knew full good and well that His Bride would be subject to divisive attempts that could fraction the whole body. That relational chaos would be present, that in light of the reality of Genesis Chapter 3, women would struggle with the leadership placed in their lives and that man would continuously fight to provide that leadership.  In verse 21 He prayed that, “they (those who would believe in Him and His Word) all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You; that they also may be one in Us.”

Last time I checked, Jesus’ prayers are always answered. Let’s stop and see the bigger picture, which is that sin was overcome and that victory was given.  That true unity, like it was in the Garden before the fall, is attainable because the gospel is great enough.  That finger-people under the steeple can and should have one heart and one mind because Christ’s Bride WILL BE unified.

i Women’s Ministry in the Local Church by J. Ligon Duncan and Susan Hunt.  Crossway, Wheaton, IL. 2006.