I like to discuss issues with people. In fact, I enjoy a good debate so much that I was once accused of being more willing to debate a question without answering it that to answer a question without debating it. I took this comment as a compliment even though I do not think the person who said it meant it that way. Not long ago my son’s Facebook status said: “_____ thinks most people don’t like controversy.” Most of the comments were of the “duh” variety. But one of the duh-type comments in particular caught my eye. My son’s friend wrote: “Of course people don’t like controversy. It’s disunity.”
You have to understand, my son gets a lot of comments from Church people and I understood immediately why this person said what he did. Now, I realize the Bible has many positive things to say about unity. In John 17:22-23 Jesus prayed for His disciples asking His Father to make them one as He and the Father were one, so the world would know that God had sent Him. After Christ’s ascension the disciples spent a lot of time in prayer and were said in Acts 4: 32 to be of “one heart and soul” and that “they had all things in common.” This was an amazing feat considering several of the disciples were fishermen, another was a tax collector and two others began following Jesus after first following John the Baptist. Later when Paul joined the disciples he was one of the most educated among them, having studied under Gamliel, a well know Rabbi of the first century. We also know some in leadership were married (Peter) while others were not (Paul). And perhaps even more unusual considering the culture, both men and women, Greeks and Jews had significant roles in the formation and growth of the early Church. I think we can safely say never before had such a diverse group been ecxpected to be unified.
Obviously not all the believers were required to study the Torah so they would be as well educated as Paul nor were they expected to fish so they could all be like Peter. While unity does have something to do with drawing together, in the Bible it was never equated with sameness. As I pointed out to my son’s friend, unity can also have its downside. One only needs to conjure images of Nazi Germany during World War II to realize how dangerous unchecked unity can become.
So where is the balance? How do we achieve the unity Jesus prayed for without falling into the cult-like behavior that nips at unity’s heels? I personally believe it begins by working to be other focus. Grace, forgiveness, mutual submission–these are all part of being other focused. But, so is cultivating a servant’s heart and exposing our areas of need. If we are to have equality in relationship acts of service are not enough; we must also willingly receive, even if at first glance the giver does not seem as able to give (read that talented, educated, spiritually mature, financially well off) as we are.
You see, I believe one of the fastest ways to create a cult (or a false face for unity) is to establish a hierarchy, especially if the undertones of that hierarchy is a sense of one’s worth. The minute we begin to think of person A as more worthy than person B we plant the idea that if we can just be more like person A and less like person B we will be more worthy as well. Soon all our energy and attention is spent on being just like person A: looking like person A, and acting like person A. and thinking like person A. It might look like unity but in truth it is fear. We are afraid to step out of line, afraid we will be found lacking, afraid to share because we are afraid our weaknesses will be found out. We are afraid to ask question because everyone else seems to already know the answers and agree with the answers that do not seem to fit our doubts. Eventually we find ourselves part of a group we do not actually fit, or enjoy, or agree with, but we do not know how to bring about change because we do not want to cause disunity by suggesting something is not right. And ultimately, we are afraid to be left out.
In much of the Westernized Church I believe the institution has created an atmosphere of apathy and self doubt where the congregates have become less a part of the work force and more a part of the baggage. We have all heard the sad ratio that in most traditional fellowships 20 percent of the members do 80 percent of the work. I believe at least part of the blame can be put on the hierarcal system itself. When we put such a big emphasis on reaching certain levels in our spiritual growth before we are allowed to serve and then serving in ways that can be easily monitored and regulated but may not be in a person’s particular gifting before allowing that person to serve where he or she has been called, we end up discouraging all kinds of service. Women in particular are often limited to childcare and secretarial duties. The whole Body ends up suffering when its members are made to feel inadequate, unworthy, not needed, or out of place. Even the few who do find some way to contribute rarely suggest new or different ways to accomplish ministry for fear of being seen as causing disunity.
I have walked away from the Institutional Church, or as I have often called it on this blog, Building-Based Christianity. I am not discarding my faith, nor doubting God. But I am finding Him at work in some unique places and using some unusual voices. And, to be completely honest, it has been a long time since I felt so spiritually refreshed and emotionally energized.