Thursday, October 18, 2007

Thoughts On Unity

Just about the time I think I've got the time to write for this blog, I prove that I don't. No more claims about being back on the blogging scene. I'll write when I have time.

I've been thinking some about unity. After all, those of us whose religious heritage rises from the American Restoration Movement have been immersed in thoughts, talk, and behaviors relating to unity. We are (were) a unity movement. At least we were a unity movement in the beginning. Somewhere along the way, unity began to slip away from us. Doctrine came to be more important. Differences and distinctions in doctrine began to identify how dislike we were from others. We narrowed our doctrinal focus. Our movement woke up one day and we were standing over here, with everybody else scattered over there, and the only way to solve anything was if all those other folks moved toward us. OK, I have greatly over-simplified some really complex issues, but you get the idea.

As many others have noted, the American Restoration Movement has produced numerous divisions, and every one of them over some point of doctrine. It appears to me that the effort to unify on the basis of common doctrine has limited possibility. It's not that doctrine is unimportant. It's that unity based on doctrine demands more than human beings seem to be able to manage. Unless, of course, everyone is willing to see everything my way, for that would solve all the problems.

I was reading from the book of Ephesians, chapter four and first few verses. Here's what it says:
1 Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love,3 being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Eph 4:1-3 (NASB)

Here's what struck me. It is definitely a passage calling us to unity, but it is not a passage that sounds like a call to rally around the doctrine flag. Instead, it's a passage that calls for a response of the heart: humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance, and love. You could call each of those doctrine, for they are surely taught in scripture, but they aren't the issues that normally carry the doctrine flag. These are heart issues, attitudes, the building blocks of emotional bonds. Here are the tools of unity.

If we would step back for a moment and think about the people with whom we feel the closest, most secure unity, I think we would immediately recognize those building blocks. I am unified with people with whom I share a mutual humility. Let one of us become haughty and overbearing and unity begins to fade. I am most unified with people with whom I am gentle and who are gentle with me. Let one of us become harsh and mean-spirited and unity begins to ebb. I am most unified with people with whom I am patient, and who are patient with me. Let one of us disallow the other our shortcomings and misunderstandings, or our lack of insight or effort, and unity dims. I am most unified with people with whom I am tolerant, and who tolerate me. Let one of us become irritated beyond reason and unity weakens. I am most unified with people I love and who love me. Love enables us to put up with a lot, and unity requires that ability. Lose love and unity is a dead hope.

Perhaps we've got it backwards. The approach of the past has been to demand doctrinal uniformity before unity could exist. Maybe we need to unify on the basis of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love, and then it would be easier for us to resolve our doctrinal differences. I know this: I can have more worthwhile and productive discussions about doctrine with people with whom I enjoy a mutual spirit of humility, gentleness, patience, tolerance and love. Get rid of any one of those elements, and you've upped the difficulty of even talking about doctrinal differences. Get rid of two or more, and unity is impossible and so is doctrinal agreement.

As the Psalmist would say, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" (Ps 133:1).