The second in the Stream's special series on #ChristianUnity
Editor’s note: This is the second piece in our series on Christian Unity.
The apostle Paul urged believers in Rome to “live in harmony with one another” (Romans 12:16 NIV). The interesting thing about harmony is that it isn’t sameness. In music, one person will sing the melody. Those who sing harmony sing something that is different but fits with the melody. A good harmony singer makes the melody all that more sweet.
There is great diversity in God’s Church: differences in style, ceremony, emphasis, ability, and other beautiful manifestations of the vastness of our Lord. God didn’t make two fingerprints, two snowflakes, or any two people the same; but with all of our diversity, we can have supernatural unity.
A Lesson From Billy Graham
If you had asked me years ago if I loved other people, I would have said yes. But I had learned from some church folks to develop a critical spirit that was not healthy. The fact is, dedicated Christians hold religious convictions even more strongly than any political concern. We often defend our beliefs in such a way that we actually contribute to our own defeat. Mean-spirited religious sectarianism has as much potential to damage people as racism or any other “-ism.”
I remember calling my friend Billy Graham and criticizing him quite forcefully for his association with people I deemed too liberal or non-evangelical because of his friendship with Catholics in America and in other countries. I even foolishly questioned his association with charismatics and Pentecostals. Dr. Graham was unfailingly gracious to me in that conversation. He said, “I really want to be careful that I’m not compromising. But tell me this: Do you know these people? Have you been around these people that you are talking about? Have you spent much time with them?”
It is sad to realize that while attempting not to compromise, we often find ourselves compromising the Great Commandment to love God and others appropriately.
I said, “No, I haven’t.”
He replied, “Well, I have, and I’ve found them to be very Christlike. As a matter of fact, I couldn’t have a crusade outside the United States without their help. If it were not for the Pentecostals and charismatics, I couldn’t have an effective crusade overseas.”
Unity Despite Differences
As I look back on that conversation, I realize that the same small-mindedness and hard-heartedness I exhibited is a tendency of many in the church. And we need to stop it. It’s not healthy, and it makes us insensitive to the heart of God. It deafens us to what the Lord is saying to His people.
Billy Graham inspired me to spend time with Christians and church leaders I had been critical of, and I experienced the transforming power of God’s love. As I got to know them better, I came to know Him better. I saw clearly there is only one perfect Person, and His name is Jesus. It is sad to realize that while attempting not to compromise, we often find ourselves compromising the Great Commandment to love God and others appropriately.
Showing love to others in the body of Christ does not mean we will never have disagreements, but let’s learn how to resolve our disagreements without being hateful. What have we accomplished if we “win” a debate but lose a brother?
I have been blessed beyond measure when joining with other church leaders — Protestant and Catholic and all those who know Jesus personally as Lord and believe the Bible is God’s Word — to find common ground necessary to effectively address our common concerns.
When I am asked why I work with Catholics and those of different denominations, I answer, “Because I love everyone and will consistently, without compromising, faithfully seek to present God’s truth in love to everyone with ears to hear. If I appear unwilling to communicate with others or hear them, how can I expect others to willingly hear me?” The fact is, we all need to be seeking to more clearly hear God. I join with Jesus in praying for supernatural unity of the kind that has inspired spiritual awakening throughout history.
Standing Against the Gates of Hell
Let me re-emphasize: Supernatural spiritual unity is not sameness. It is love lifting us above our differences along with necessary diversity in order to pursue common goals for the glory of God and benefit of others. It is reaching out in love so we all continue to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). Those who believe there is a Creator and Father God who expresses His love through Christ must recognize the importance of standing together as salt to preserve the innocent and all that is precious, and as light exposing evil and illuminating the best way in which to walk and live.
The enemies of God, faith, the Bible, moral principles, marriage, family and the right to life will never willingly give up an inch of the ground they seek to claim and control. They are determined to manipulate, dominate and even destroy. Unless those who profess a belief in God, His Son, the Holy Spirit and His Word as reliable begin standing together, then deception, darkness, then the defeat of true freedom will result. Believers must find common ground to resist the assault on truth — or the precious, will, as Jesus said, be “trampled under foot by men” (Matthew 5:13).
Protestants and Catholics who know Christ must find ways to stand against the gates of hell while lifting up Jesus as “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
I still have deep theological convictions, and one of them is to help tear down damaging walls that separate people while encouraging a dialogue that leads to healing, understanding and reconciliation. I’m tired of the division in the church and in our nation. I want to help bring people together, “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Of course, truth does have a polarizing effect, but when truth is shared in the power of God’s love, it penetrates and influences all parties and groups for the better.
That’s why I am heartbroken when church leaders refuse to dialogue and interact honestly. And it disturbs me when I see religious people misrepresent the truth. Let’s stop hiding behind our denominational differences, our stereotypes and our rhetoric. Let’s speak the truth lovingly to each other and continue to build on the absolute principles that God set in His Word and seeks to establish in our hearts.
These are perilous times and difficulties lie in wait at every turn. But if we will commit ourselves to the principle that “love conquers all,” then we will find God’s love expressed through us — His Body supernaturally united — is sufficient to meet the pressing needs people face, and accomplish His kingdom will on earth, even in our lifetime.