Friday, January 29, 2016

What unity is and what unity is not

I enjoyed a delightful breakfast this morning with a group of Christian clergy who had been gathered to discuss plans to improve our city. The program identified several urgent areas which needed attention in our city, one of which was racial tensions in our city. Racial tensions are nothing new in our southern city, but what struck me today was a confusion of a basic Christian ideal – the goal of unity.

I despise racism. Let me make the perfectly clear. I would love to wake up tomorrow in a world, let alone a city, in which racism did not exist. But I will not be choosing to participate in the group effort of the Christian clergy I met this morning. It isn’t because they want to end racial tension in our city, but because the group believes that an effort to end racial tension is a witness of our Christian unity.

There is just one thing wrong with that.....we Christians are not united. In 2012 Gordon Conwell seminary released a study which identified MORE THAN 43,000 Christian denominations. How can anyone honestly claim the Christian “Church” (the term is for another post) is united? There are more than 43,000 definitions of Who God is, why He came, what He accomplished, and what all that means for our salvation.

Shortly before His Passion, Jesus prayed for unity in the Church, “that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” (John 17.22-23) There is absolutely no way to understand that 43,000 denominations EACH teaching a different ‘truth’ about God, can be considered as the same unity that exists in the Holy Trinity. The Holy Trinity is united in essence and doctrine, in will and love. Jesus said, “He who has seen Me, has seen the Father.” (John 14.9) 43,000 denominations do not share essence, doctrine, will, and often hatred and judgment rather than love for each other; each Church professing they “have” the truth and others are the Church in name only.

As Orthodox Christians we take seriously Jesus Christ’s prayer for unity in essence and doctrine, will and love. This is why we do not share Communion with those outside the Church or who are divided from the Church. The Eucharist is the expression of our unity in Orthodoxy, but it is not a vehicle to achieve that unity. As Orthodox Christians, with communities on every continent on the face of the Earth, we are already united with people of all races in the Holy and Sacred Chalice during Divine Liturgy. The Orthodox Church has already conquered racism globally. We just have a bit more work to do locally in our individual willingness to embrace others in our Churches.

So my invitation to the city of Florence....come to Church, be Orthodox, and we will enjoy the unity that Christ calls each of us in our heart.

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