Before Jesus went to the cross, he gave the world a vision for unity. He prayed, “That they may all be one.” Yet there seems to be a lot of confusion about what this vision for unity actually is and how it should be realized in the world. For example, people can be frustrated with all the doctrinal differences and denominations in Christianity and conclude that Christians are not following Jesus’ vision for unity. But does Jesus have in mind a one-world church with no more denominations? What is this unity? And how is it realized in the world?
What is this unity?
First, the unity that Jesus prays for is a unity between all believers in the world not a unity between all people in the world. Jesus prays that “all who believe in him” would be one. This is a Christian unity that is based on saving faith in Jesus Christ. There are many people who embrace all types of religious beliefs in an attempt to follow Jesus’ vision for unity, yet he makes it very clear that it’s built on only one type of belief — faith in him. True unity is never achieved at the expense of the truth but always upon the basis of the truth. This is why in Acts 2:42, believers devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and then the unity and fellowship. Christian unity is built upon the essential truths of the faith.
Spiritual and relational
Second, this is a spiritual and relational unity, not an organizational and mechanical unity. Jesus is not talking about breaking down all denominational barriers and organizing a one-world church. Jesus compares this unity to the spiritual unity between the persons of the trinity. The three-persons of the God-head never got together and organized unity; they’ve always existed in a relational spiritual unity with a mutual love and mission. He’s talking about the unity that the Spirit creates between all believers.
Received not achieved
Third, this is a unity that’s received not a unity that’s achieved. It’s a gift not a work order. Jesus doesn’t say, “Go out and produce this unity.” No, this unity is received through the power of the Holy Spirit when someone becomes a Christian. For example, here are two Christians who’ve never met before, but as soon as they discover their mutual faith in Christ, there’s an immediate and mysterious interest and joy in one another. What’s happening? They’re experiencing the unity of the Spirit. So, if this is the unity that Christ is praying for, then how is it realized more and more in the world?
How is this unity realized?
1) Maintain the garden. Paul says, “Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). Christians are responsible to maintain the unity that already exists. This means not allowing for the weeds of gossip, unresolved conflict, an unforgiving spirit and roots of bitterness to grow up among you. These are weeds that must be pulled up. Every Christian is a gardener in the church of God, a custodian of peace.
2) Emphasize the gospel. There were many disagreements in the early churches, but Paul continued to remind the church that the gospel was of first importance. Heaven is not going to be a celebration of your right opinions; it’s going to be a celebration of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Many Christians, whom you disagree with here on earth, will be worshipping with you in heaven.
3) Have a humble orthodoxy. A lot of people leave a doctrinal study of the Bible to “the professional theologians” because they think it is doctrine that divides, but that’s not necessarily true. It is the wrong attitude or stance towards particular doctrines that divides. A right understanding and application of the truth will produce humility and gentleness towards others.
4) Build up one another in love. The more God’s love becomes real to your heart, the more you will manifest that love to others. You will be patient, kind and cover a multitude of sins. As it’s been famously said, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”
5) Pray for other Christians and churches. Many people who champion Jesus’ prayer for unity never actually do what Jesus is doing in the prayer — namely, praying for others. Pray for other Christians and churches. Praying for others will help remove the spirit of bitterness and competition within Christianity.
6) Stab your enemy not your family. Use the sword of the Spirit against the devil not against fellow disciples. There’s a difference between speaking the truth in love and stabbing one another with it. You can be bold for the truth without being mean. You can stand for the truth without looking down on others. Handle the truth with care.
7) Make corporate worship a priority. When the church publically gathers together, it manifests the unity that exists among people who are different. These are just some of the ways that Jesus’ vision for unity that he has given to his church can be made more and more realized in the world.
Jeremy McKeen is the Lead Pastor of Truth Point Church. Jeremy received his B.A. in Communications and Philosophy from Florida Southern College and his MDiv from Knox Theological Seminary.