We value unity

by David Bode

Last year, 2010, was a good year for sports enthusiasts. In addition to annual events like the Grey Cup and the Stanley Cup, a number of major international events also took place. In soccer, the FIFA World Cup final drew an estimated 700 million viewers world-wide. And who can forget Vancouver’s 2010 Winter Olympic Games?

There are significant differences between the Olympics and other major sporting events. Football, hockey and soccer are fundamentally team sports. A quarterback or forward might occasionally steal the spotlight, but individual talent alone doesn’t win the game. To achieve victory, players must work as a team.

However, the Olympics, while it includes team sports, also includes events which are individual efforts. In these sports—the ski jump, for example—athletes compete on their own. They vie against everyone else, including their own team mates.

Not all of us play sports, but we can all understand and appreciate the value of teamwork. The same is true of Lutheran Church–Canada.

The congregations of Lutheran Church–Canada form a “synod”—a word that means “walking together.” We choose to walk together because, as our national Vision Statement says, “we value unity.” And we demonstrate that unity in three ways; “in our confession of faith; in our mutual support and co-operation; and in sharing our resources.” We come together in unity through faith in Christ to build up His Church and one another, as we live, work and act as one in the Lord.

The Psalms tell us how God wants his Church to act: “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” (Psalm 133:1 ESV). Gathered together by God’s grace, we become one body in Christ. God wants His Church to work and grow together in Christ. In a sense, we become the ultimate team participating in the ultimate team sport as we strive against the devil, sin and death itself to share the good news of Jesus Christ with a world lost in the darkness of unbelief.

Coaches love to remind players that there is no “I” in “team.” As popular as the saying is, however, people around us seem to think differently. The vast majority are “I” centered, focussing on ourselves, even if it means making problems for someone else. Think about how people drive! Ideally, everyone shares the road, but occasionally we encounter drivers who seem to think the streets exist only for them.

And we don’t do much better in spiritual things either; even our prayers are often selfish and self-centred. Too often they sound suspiciously like the old saying, “God, bless me and my wife; my son John and his wife; we four, no more.”

Compare that with Paul’s words to Timothy: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour” (1 Tim 2:1-3 ESV).

Christ’s disciples also struggled with self-centredness. The Scriptures tells us that disputes “also arose among [the disciples], as to which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” (Luke 22:24 ESV). They were not concerned with the unity they had as followers of Christ; they were only looking out for themselves, their own honour and prestige. That “me-first” attitude kept them from being the united band Christ wanted them to be.

How appealing can Christianity look if the local representatives are consumed with bitter infighting?

The church in Corinth had “I” problems too. In fact, division in Corinth was one of the main reasons for Paul’s letter. “I appeal to you, brothers,” Paul writes, “by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers” (1 Corinthians 1:10-11 ESV). Instead of the unity of faith and spirit that should be the hallmark of the Church of God, there were open schisms. The Greek word Paul uses when he speaks of “divisions” refers to rips or tears in a garment. The church in Corinth, Paul warns, is coming apart at the seams. And so he encourages the people “to strive to excel in building up the church” (1 Corinthians 14:12 ESV).

It was a message they desperately needed to hear. The people were “striving” alright, but striving against one another, arguing with one another, opposing one another. They were more concerned with their own interests than with the One who could make them one through the forgiveness of sins. Even more disappointingly, the people in Corinth claimed they were merely following the teachings of the various evangelists and pastors they had known: “‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ’” (1 Corinthians 1:12 ESV).

When we read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we see how these divisions had deeper effects than simple disunity. Some questioned the very truth of God’s Word, and before long, ideas and teachings contrary to the Scriptures began entering the church. Morality suffered. And through it all, the devil must have laughed, knowing that a divided church becomes less effective at sharing the Gospel. How appealing can Christianity look if the local representatives are consumed with bitter infighting?

This is not God’s will for His Church. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His disciples and all who would believe in Him, asking “that they may all be one, just as You, Father, are in me, and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You have sent me. The glory that You have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and You in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that You sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:21-23 ESV).

Once we were unified in sin; now, we are unified by grace.

This is the unity we value so highly: unity with each other through Christ. What a joy to know that through the death of our Saviour on the cross and through His glorious resurrection from the dead, we become part of His body. This unity in Christ is our redemption from the only other thing that unifies humanity: our sinfulness. Once we were unified in sin; now, we are unified by grace.

The hymn writer Martin Franzmann sums it up well: “In Adam we have all been one, one huge rebellious man; We all have fled that evening voice that sought us as we ran… But Thy strong love, it sought us still and sent Thine only Son that we might hear His Shepherd’s voice and, hearing Him, be one. (LSB 569, st. 1, 3).

United in Christ, we value unity. Like any team, the Church must work together. We strive to strengthen and encourage one other in faith. We love and care for one another, that together we may make known to the world the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are made one in Christ and join Him as He takes on Satan: Christ’s team against the devil’s in an epic battle over lost and dying souls. When we are one in the Spirit, one in the Lord, we do great and powerful things to the glory of our God.

We all play different roles on Christ’s team, but we need to use our individual gifts for the good of the Church. In some ways, we work just like a four-man bobsled team. One man, the driver, steers down the track. Another operates the brakes to keep velocity in check. Two more act as pushers, getting the sled started down the hill. But even though they all have different roles, they must work together for a successful run. They push together as one, get into the sled as one, and huddle together as one. They even need to lean in harmony to reduce drag caused by wind resistance and to keep their weight balanced as they race downhill and into the sharp bends of the course.

Until we value the unity we have in Christ, we will find ourselves ineffectual in our mission and ministry

The movie Cool Runnings shows us what can happen when a bobsled team does not act as one. The result is predictable: embarrassing run times and near disqualifications. Until the four men learn to behave and work together, they remain unsuccessful. But when they begin to act as one, they begin to do great things.

The same is true for the Church. Until we value the unity we have in Christ, we will find ourselves ineffectual in our mission and ministry. But when we come together as one in Christ, great things happen. Saved by grace, through faith in the dying and rising Christ, we are one in Him. We cling to His Word of life, confessing together the truth we have learned from His Word, a truth set forth clearly in the Creeds and Confessions. We live together under Him, sharing together in the blessings He gives us as His baptized children. We come together as one at His table, to be one with the Christ who gives us His very body and blood, that we might also be one with each other. And, as Paul says, we “strive to excel in building up the church,” as we share our talents and resources, working together to bring the good news of the Saviour to a sinful world. When we stand united, Satan trembles, for the Church is at its best when it works as one.

Peter’s words are a good reminder: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8 ESV) Like Paul, Peter understood that unity is a blessing. It builds up the Church and empowers it in its ministry. And so, like Peter and Paul before us, we value unity. May we all be one in Christ, as He is one with the Father and the Spirit, One God, now and forever.

Rev. David Bode is pastor of Foothills Lutheran Church in Calgary 

Posted By: Matthew Block
Posted On: June 23, 2011
Posted In: Feature Stories,

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