Potent stuff today from author/pastor Mark Buchanan: Why “oneness” is superior to “equality;” the benefits of pursuing church unity; and what’s at stake if we don’t. Excerpt from Mark Buchanan’s book Your Church Is Too Safe: Why Following Christ Turns the World Upside-Down.
A brief open letter to Mark: “Dear Pastor Buchanan, your writing on unity convicts my introverted soul. For your next book, please write “Your Life Is Too Safe: The Introvert’s Field Guide to Joining Community.” -Adam Forrest, Zondervan
Equality vs. oneness
The Bible is little interested in equality. It aims much higher than that. From Genesis to Revelation, it calls us to this deeper, greater, tougher, sweeter thing: oneness. Oneness in our relationship with God. Oneness in our relationship with our spouse. Oneness with our relationships with other Christ-followers. Oneness in the church.
Oneness beats equality every time, because equality demands sameness. To be equal to you, I have to be as smart and strong and kind and generous as you. But oneness presumes difference. To be one with you, I have to accept your gift of otherness. I can be weak where you’re strong, and vice versa. Oneness requires my life to complement yours. It calls us to complete one another.
In marriage, for example, who wants equality? “We’re even” is hardly a motto for lifelong affection. Whereas oneness is intrinsically cooperative, equality is inherently competitive, a recipe for endless one-upmanship. Or worse: a recipe for disaster. Equality was the false dream of Marx and Lenin, an ideology so unworkable in real life that its architects created one of the deadliest and darkest social nightmares in history. On a more personal level, equality is what people strive for in a divorce: half the assets, half the money, half the time with the kids. The scales must be exactly even then. But in a thriving marriage, the husband can be good at cooking and the wife at house repairs, each serving the other, and the resulting oneness means they both eat well in a house well kept.
Oneness, dwelling together in unity, is a good and pleasant thing in itself, much better than equality, and much, much better than animosity.
God’s call to oneness
A church unified is … a pageantry of the kingdom played out before a broken world to convince those who are far away to come near.
So God calls the church to oneness. He does that so that we can enjoy the goodness and pleasantness of it. God is a giver, and “every good and perfect gift” is from above [James 1:17]. But he has another reason for calling us to unity: nothing rehearses the kingdom of God better than our oneness. A church unified is an ensign and a showcase of the kingdom. It’s a pageantry of the kingdom played out before a broken world to convince those who are far away to come near…
We join a church not because it’s already whole, pure, and mature but to help it become so.
Church unity, Paul says, is a gift of the Spirit held together by the presence of Christ (“the bond of peace”) rooted in the character of God (“there is one God”) [Ephesians 4:1-17]. Yet even with all this — the gift, the glue, the root — unity still requires our every effort to keep, something that anyone who’s been part of a church community for more than, say, three weeks knows is true. We join a church not because it’s already whole, pure, and mature but to help it become so…
What’s at stake?
If we can’t live reconciled lives with one another, how will God make his appeal through us? We will be sweet water and salt water coming from the same spigot. We will be walking, talking contradictions. If we lack oneness with those already in the church, how will we possibly convince anyone outside it that this is God’s main business, reconciling the world to himself in Christ? They’ll see right through our little facade.
Unity … is our diplomatic calling card.
Unity within the church is the heart of our appeal. Living reconciled lives with other believers validates our message to a fragmented, isolated, divided world. Unity among us vouchsafes our ambassadorial authority. It is our diplomatic calling card. Without it, the emperor — or ambassador — has no clothes.
- Mark Buchanan
(Some styling above is a web-exclusive feature not included in the text of Your Church Is Too Safe. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer’s personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)