Church unity as God’s transforming power (Bruce Longenecker)

I think one of the biggest issues facing the church today (in the Western world and increasingly in other parts of the world) is individualism. The “I” is at the centre of our lives. Faith is about an individual’s relationship with God, and has little to do with God’s purpose of the formation of a Christ-community.

But of course churches do talk about the importance of unity. Unfortunately, often (though not always) people talk about church unity when they want to stop others from voicing their concerns about the church. (The same applies the Christian organisations.) I am not saying that people should not talk about church unity when there are divisions. Neither do I mean that divisive behaviour is not destructive.

In fact, I think that, for the apostle Paul, unity within a church community is of paramount importance. But the motivation for maintaining unity should not stem from our own desire to maintain the status quo, hold on to our positions of power, or silence the voice of others without genuinely listening to them.

Much more can be said, but I read something from Bruce Longenecker’s The Triumph of Abraham’s God (Nashville: Abingdon, 1998), that’s very insightful.

It is important to recognise that ecclesiastical [i.e., church] unity for Paul is not an end in itself nor an anthropological [i.e., human] maxim of some sort, as if he thought simply that being associated with others is an obvious good. Instead, the unity of diverse humanity in Christ is a theocentric [i.e., God-centred] symbol. It testifies to God’s sovereignty in overcoming the forces of chaos that threaten his handiwork. It advertises God’s transforming power and overlordship in Christ. Christian unity evidences that the high God, who is one and who alone is worthy of worship, is at work in the corporate body of those in Christ. (page 67)

Paul is well aware, however, that ecclesiastical {i.e. church] unity does not simply transpire out of nothing. Instead, it is the result of a transformation within the moral identity of those in Christ. The corporate unity that follows from God’s triumph is itself the product of a pattern of social life animated wholly by the eschatological Spirit. (page 67)

In light of this, unity within the body of Christ has everything to do the outworking of the lordship of Jesus in our lives. It is based on God’s triumph over evil through Christ’s obedient death and resurrection. It is the result of our identify in Christ and the work of transformation of the divine Spirit.

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