Disunity is a virus that has infected every part of this world. People just can’t get along. Look around and you’ll see what I mean.
The main reason radical Islam has not been more successful is that the terrorists can’t get along—ISIS fights with its sister Al-Qaeda, while the Iranians can’t stand either one. And look at Congress—they can barely come together enough to approve an ambassador to Argentina, much less balance a budget! Just look at the racial relations of our country, even within the past year. Police have been accused of shooting unarmed African-Americans like it’s Selma all over again. And what is the response? The gunning down of police officers and cities up in flames. History really does repeat itself. Disunity is not biased toward any person or any time. It affects every human being equally. No wonder the song writer asked so pointedly—“Why can’t we be friends?”
I would love to say that this is only a problem with the world. I wish only the unsaved struggled to get along. But unfortunately, that is not the case. Look up the number of denominations in this country—or even in your town. Now, there are good reasons to separate from erring brothers, but color of carpet or PowerPoint is not one! We all have our pet issues, and instead of bearing with one another with love, we bear with one another with claws. I’ve heard of so many church splits recently. I’ve heard of so many inter-blog arguments among evangelicals. I’ve experienced so much hate, so much animosity among people who believe in the same God and have the same Savior. Brethren, these things ought not to be!
In divided times like these, the best place to look for unity is in the Bible. Our Scriptures have so much to say about unity that we have no excuse for our division. In fact, whole books of the Bible were written to address disunity in the church. Including one of my favorite books—Romans.
Now, there’s some division even whether Romans was written to counter division! There doesn’t seem to be one all-encompassing reason the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to the Christians in Rome. But as you read the book, you’ll see at least one reason was to counter disunity, particularly between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians. You see, Emperor Claudius had expelled the Jews from Rome around AD 49. If the church in Rome was founded by that point, then a large block of that church had to leave (including people like Aquila and Priscilla; Acts 18:2). Therefore, the Roman church dwindled to only a few Gentile members, until the Jews were allowed to return (including Aquilla and Priscilla; Rom. 16:3). But when the Jews got back, they found the church was a bit different than they were used to.
Many if not most Christian Jews still kept the Jewish law. The Gentiles, however, did not. The two groups could not have been any more different. Jews were used to interacting with one God and knew they were His chosen people. The Gentiles likely grew up with many gods and were accustomed to the cultic religious ceremonies of Rome. How could these two groups get along? How could they form one body? How could they keep from splitting into different sects? That’s the wonder of 1st century Christianity. How all these cultures and groups managed to form one new way of life and change the world.
I suppose that’s the wonder of all Christianity. How can all these different cultures, sub-cultures, opinions, preferences, and backgrounds come together to form one body? We in America are a lot like the church at Rome. We are a mix of cultures and ideas. And it’s a testament to God’s grace when we all come together in unity. Only God’s power could keep such different people from being divided. We will be known, after all, by our “love for one another” (John 13:35). That’s the sign of Christianity. I think as an American church we are failing at this miserably. We could use some of the same lessons Paul taught the church at Rome.
I’ve chosen as our theme for this study: “Sinners United.” It’s a play off the name of an awesome soccer (er, football) team/club. And I think the sports theme is an apt metaphor for church unity—after all, Paul himself was a huge sports fan.
A team must be unified. What would you think if you turned on your TV to a football game—whichever version, American or the right version—and you see the quarterback is running a totally different play from the rest of the team. Or, the goalie decides to become a forward, but gets into an argument half-way down with a midfielder. You can’t win a game like that. Everyone has to be on the same page. They have to hear the play announced and follow through with it how they learned. The goalie has to stay in his box and the midfielders have to follow the coach’s orders on whether to go up or hang back. And if you watch a professional team, you’ll find the team works like clockwork. They’ve practiced a billion times and know the strengths and weaknesses of each team member. The only time you notice anything is when one player goes out on his own to get the glory for himself—and most of the time fails miserably.
Christianity is not meant to be Hollywood, where you can be your own man and do your own thing. You connect with certain people if you need them for a role or to stay in the news, but when they serve no purpose, you drop them. No, Christianity is meant to be more a football team. Coaches want players who will have a passion for their team, not their career advancement. A dude who will work well with others and will play off the energy of his teammates. Those are Super Bowl winning teams—like the Washington Redskins. Oh wait…
The church is a team. You are on a team with the saved around you and all around the world. Are you a team player or a loner?
We’ll be discussing the “Four Unifying Elements” from the book of Romans. It won’t be an exhaustive study of this exhaustive book, but it’ll be a summary overview on the theme of unity. So let’s do this. Let’s unite. And win the game.
To see all posts in this series, click here.