A song came to mind today. I remember linking arms with friends as we sang it around the campfire when I was young and naïve, and perhaps a little too trusting. The song is “We Are One In the Spirit.”
I believed in the ideals in the song. I still do. Fifty years later, having observed at least fifty demonstrations of decimating attacks on “each man’s dignity and each man’s pride,” and experiencing lots of opportunities to forgive, I still cling to the hope of the unity the Apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 4.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
We have some maturing to do. In the same chapter he writes:
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Are there good reasons for separating? Of course. Dangerous people who refuse to change remain dangerous. A parent who loves two children will move an aggressive bullying sibling away to another room protect the other. The object is protection for one and restoration for the other. We have far too many examples of situations where habitual abuse in churches was covered up using 1 Peter 4:8 “love covers over a multitude of sins,” as justification while ignoring Ephesians 5:11, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” One is about extending grace for growing-pain type sins and the other is about not tolerating a pattern of serious sin with potential long-term consequences, whether for one person or for thousands.
One instruction has grace for the faults of immaturity while the other permits harmful, ungodly ideas and practices to become established. That discussion requires more time and space than this blog post allows today. I’m talking today about the chafing that occurs when we rub shoulders with fellow-believers who still have rough edges, in other words, all of us.
I saw these roses in the landscape patch between an apartment building and the sidewalk as I walked to the grocery store. I grabbed a photo on my phone because I liked the circle they formed. Usually, I edit out the flaws in my flower photos before I publish them. I tell people that if a photo of mine doesn’t have a time/date stamp on it, assume I have adjusted something. I did zap a couple of aphids on this one, but I left fading colour, browning edges and uneven pigment just the way it was. To me, the image represents a circle of unity with grace for imperfection.
I heard a wedding sermon in which the officiant gave a pep talk to the bride and groom. He talked about the admonition to forgive and forbear. (Colossian 3:13)
“Who knew that forbearing the daily annoying stuff would be harder than forgiving the exceptional major stuff?” he asked, speaking of his own experience.
I’ve noticed that one of the major reasons for splits in places where people once gathered with every intention of bearing with one another in love, are often triggered by the opposite character qualities of humble, gentle and patient. Instead, they jostled each other with arrogance, harshness, and impatience.
Sometimes we find ourselves side by side with prickly people. Graham Cook calls them “grace-growers.” Their presence in our lives is not so that we can fix them (or develop protocols for their removal), but so the Lord can using their annoying qualities that continually rub us the wrong way to smooth our own rough edges.
Jesus said we would be recognized as his disciples, but not for our ability to shun the flawed and those who fail to fall in line with shunning practices. We will not be visible representatives of Christ for developing perfect theoretical doctrine, for “maintaining the pure DNA” of our particular sect, for either indulging sinful practices or condemning people still in process, or for becoming successful by the world’s definition. He said his followers would be recognizable. You’ll know who they when you hear people say, “Look how they love one another!”
It’s like they are one in the Spirit or one in the Lord or something.
One in the Spirit by Joseph M. Martin