Has the Church Been Pursuing the Wrong Goal?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

plugged ears
"Finally, all of you must live in harmony, be sympathetic, love as brothers, and be compassionate and humble." 1 Peter 3:8 (Internation Standard Version)

I wonder if one of the main reasons why so many churches are struggling, many even closing their doors, is because we spend all our energy trying to prove how well we can relate to the world around us, all the while failing miserably when it comes to relating to one another inside the Church. We pride ourselves in being culturally relevant and reaching out to the world, yet we are clueless on how to reach out to our own. This does not build credibility with the lost and in fact builds barriers between them and us. It is my firm belief that the outward proof of the character of the people inside the Church is not demonstrated by their programs, attendance, outreaches, missions giving, sermons, or worship, but solely on the level of authentic unity among them. Jesus gives us the sole determining factor in John 13:35 where he says, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." If we are not living in authentic unity with one another inside the Church, then we cannot claim to be his disciples. It does not matter how much good we do in our communities, if we are not living in unison, we cannot claim to be holy in all we do.

This truth applies to each one of us who claim to be followers of Jesus. None of us is exempt and none of us can be excluded. This is not just for those in leadership or for the mature. This is part and parcel of being a disciple. There is no exemption for ignorance or being new to the fellowship. I must point out that nowhere in the Bible will you find an exemption for the hurt, abused and wounded. If you have been mistreated by someone in the Church that does not give you a pass on unity. Unity is not based on reciprocation. Whether or not others walk in unity with me is irrelevant. I am called to walk in unity nonetheless. As in the previous chapters, the key is found in following the example of Christ who willingly submitted to the Father, laid down his own life for others, and came not to be served, but to serve others. He did not wait for us to deserve it or to serve him back. That is the foundation for walking in unity.

Unity Defined

One basic reason why churches fail when it comes to unity is simply due to the fact that we do not understand what unity is. We cannot expect to be successful at something we do not fully understand. I have heard countless sermons and teachings on the subject of unity. Much of it has been good and much of it has also been not good. The mistake we often make is attempting to use our human experience to define a supernatural concept, which creates problems. You cannot form truth based on experience. Experience must always be filtered through the truth of scripture.

Unity is not natural for humans. Our basic nature leads us in the opposite direction of unity. If you were to take a dozen two year olds from twelve very different families, put them in a room with twelve toys, I can tell you that unity will not naturally occur. In fact, you will have mass chaos on your hands. They will respond in the only way they know how and will always want the toy someone else is playing with. You have to teach them to share and work together. The same is true for the Church. Unity is something we must learn and practice.

Different translations use different words in 1 Peter 3:8. The King James Version and the New Living Translation both say, "Be of one mind." The Message says, "Be agreeable." The New Revised Standard Version says, "Have unity of spirit." Those are not bad; they just do not capture the full essence of what Peter is saying in this verse. The International Standard Version is the better translation, which says, "Live in harmony with one another." When we define unity as everyone having the same idea or mindset, or always agreeing with one another, we miss the whole concept of what unity is. We really should do away with the word unity because, by definition, it implies the absence of discord. When the Bible addresses the issue of unity in the Body of Christ, it is always within the assumed context of people with differing opinions. It never assumes we will always agree. We are simply reaching for the wrong goal—complete agreement all the time. We think the Church should be some sort of utopian society, but that is not what we are called to.

To understand harmony correctly you have to understand how an orchestra works. An orchestra is comprised of many different instruments that all sound different, play in different keys, have different purposes, and belong to different sections. The conductor chooses a piece of music and his job is not to get everyone to play the same thing, but to use different sounds playing together to produce harmony. Unity is everyone playing the exact same note together all the time. There are moments in an orchestral arrangement when that happens, but never for any length of time. That would be boring and would lack any musicality. An orchestra is a group of people with different instruments playing different notes together in a way that creates harmonious music. I like to define authentic unity as the supernatural ability to create harmony in the midst of discord.

I had the privilege of playing in the University of California, Santa Cruz Symphony Orchestra and Chorus for their performance of Igor Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms. I was struck in rehearsal by the fact that as the conductor had each section play a passage alone it sounded horrible. But when each section played together, an unbelievable sound emerged out of the discord. That is the picture of unity in the Body of Christ and that is what we are to strive for. God is not calling us to all think exactly the same, dress the same, agree 100% of the time, and never have arguments. The only way for harmony to exist is for there to be discord and then each of us allow the Maestro to bring us together in harmony as we willingly submit to one another and to the conductor. I played third trombone in that orchestra and I practiced my part for two months before our first rehearsal together. Not only was that piece of music extremely challenging, it was difficult to practice my part because, by itself, it sounded horrible. It did not seem to have any direction or tonality by itself, but my instructor assured me I was playing it right. I remember that first dress rehearsal with the entire orchestra and chorus. This was the first full symphony orchestra I had ever played in and the first one with a full chorus. There were about 75 instruments in the orchestra and at least 100 voices in the chorus. We all began to tune up before the conductor stepped up to the podium and it sounded more like my junior high band than an orchestra. Then the Maestro lifted his baton and began to lead us in what was the most incredible sound I had ever heard. I almost couldn't play. I was so mesmerized. My third trombone part suddenly sounded beautiful and made sense when I played along with that orchestra.

That is the picture of what the Church will look and sound like to the world when we live in harmony with one another. It will capture their attention by the sheer beauty of the sound it creates. It will be a sound that is like no other on earth and will cause them to want to be part of it. I wonder if this is what David was thinking of when he wrote Psalm 133. I like how the New Living Translation says it in verses 1 and 3: "How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! And there the Lord has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting." True, authentic harmony unlocks the supernatural blessing of God over his people bringing life.

Maybe we have been pursuing the wrong goal. Maybe we have been pursuing an earthly goal-Unity, rather than the better heavenly one-Harnomy. Perhaps in our quest for unity we have been creating a sound that keeps people away. If we started pursuing harmony instead I suspect that we would finally start capturing the attention of the world around us. Maybe then the noise we have been making will stop drowning out the heavenly sounds of Christ's Church dwelling together in harmony. Then we might finally enjoy God's blessing over us.

This post is an excerpt from my eBook, “Living the Transformed Life: 8 Steps to a Successful Daily Walk” which is available on Amazon by clicking here.
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