Throughout Scripture, God talks about unity. In Psalm 133:1, He says, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity.” In First Corinthians 12:2-3, the Apostle Paul says through inspiration, “as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free – and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” Surely, those passages reflect a truth we must all reflect on a daily basis, God expects the Church to be united.
The problem is, I don’t see much unity when I look at the Church. I see a ton of pettiness, in-fighting, and tribal behavior. I see people purposely withdraw themselves from good brethren because of opinions. I see people hurt one another, talk about one another, and even demean the good name of another congregation all in the name of growth or expansion. I see individual Christians (even ministers and elders) take sides, play favorites, and campaign for or against the works of those they love or hate. I see it, I hate it, and, if I could, I’d utterly expose it as the fraud it is because we are not united, we are spread thin, we are competitors, and we are not one body.
Let me take you all the way back to Joshua to show you the solution. In the first chapter, as the people of Israel are nearly ready to cross the Jordan, Joshua commands a group of them to fight alongside their brothers. In and of itself, that command is fairly mundane until you realize the circumstances, for this text illustrates something we’ve missed. Look at Joshua 1:12-15, which says:
To the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half the tribe of Manasseh Joshua spoke, saying, “Remember the word which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, saying, ‘The Lord your God is giving you rest and is giving you this land.’ Your wives, your little ones, and your livestock shall remain in the land which Moses gave you on this side of the Jordan. But you shall pass before your brethren armed, all your mighty men of valor, and help them until the Lord has given your brethren rest, as He gave you, and they also have taken possession of the land which the Lord your God is giving them. Then you shall return to the land of your possession and enjoy it, which Moses the Lord’s servant gave you on this side of the Jordan toward the sunrise.'”
If you’re unfamiliar with the story, let me bring you up to speed. In Deuteronomy 3, the Israelites traveling towards Canaan encounter the Amorite kings Og and Sihon. After defeating them in battle, the land east of the Jordan was given to the Gadites, Reubenites, and half the tribe of Manasseh. At that time, Moses told them just like Joshua years later, they would have to fight alongside their brethren “until the Lord has given (all of) them rest,” (see Deuteronomy 3:20). Even though those tribes had received their inheritance from God, even though they could be fat, happy, and lazy within the confines of their land, even though they could rest from the weariness of the Exodus, they weren’t allowed to.
The commands of Moses and Joshua taught them something we have forgotten in the 21st century – God’s family is bigger than your tribe because God’s children are a nation. God’s people are composed of brothers from different fathers, people from different lands and our individual congregations (tribes) aren’t the end-all, be-all. The Lord’s Church is made up of soldiers, farmers, and even herdsmen and God’s people are more than your immediate family and those you have something in common with, for He is not exclusively yours. He belongs to all His children and all His children belong to one another.
I truly believe we have traded the grandiose power, might, and ability of God’s people and replaced it with the much smaller value, effort, and work of our individual tribes (congregations). Today, we sit amongst our inheritance and we don’t worry all that much about the tribes to the east or west of us. We don’t want to go to battle with them or for them. We have our rest, our reward, and we’re content to just hunker down and protect what’s ours.
In the name of congregational autonomy, we’re forgotten about the fullness of God’s Church. We’re squandering our resources by working individually instead of together. We’re fighting for the same table scraps. We’re negating each other’s work by competing for the same people, the same ministries, and the same reward. We aren’t asking “what benefits the Church?” Instead, we’re asking, “what benefits my congregation?”
In areas where I live, the Church has saturated the community. Each Sunday, Christians gather in 20 different congregations all within a 30-minute drive. We worship the same, teach that salvation is found the same way, practice the same types of Christian responsibility, and reach out to the same people with our benevolence. Yet I wonder, what would we do together? Would we be able to provide professional Christian counseling for couples struggling to remain married? Would we be able to provide a full-time Hispanic outreach and worship service for the hundreds of migrant workers who’ve moved into our community? Would our efforts to teach our young people be more valuable or less valuable by providing more teachers, more students, and more opportunities? Surely, it wouldn’t hurt. At the end of the day I say, we’d do anything God’s Word laid out and our imagination could plan. We wouldn’t ask “is it possible?” when it came to a new ministry, we’d ask, “why haven’t we done this already?”
As I sit here today, I can’t help but think that many of our congregations are very similar to the individual tribes of Israel. We have characteristics that set us apart from one another. We live and work in different areas. We come from different backgrounds and spiritual descendants and we all hold dear to our individual heritages. However, I don’t think our natural response to one another sounds like those Gadites, Reubenites, and Manassehites in Joshua 1. After Joshua commanded them to go and fight for their brothers and their nation, they said in 1:16, “All that you command us we will do, and wherever you send us we will go.”
I pray we will learn from them to unite. I understand we can’t always agree (even on doctrine) and that ultimately, some will never truly be our brothers. What I don’t understand is the necessity and efficiency of having dozens of congregations teaching the same, doing the same, in an area with fewer people than the average college basketball game. I won’t understand youth groups traveling hundreds of miles for great events with teenagers from across the nation who are unwilling to attend a devotional or a weekend retreat with those in the next town or county. I won’t understand the complaints of elders, deacons, ministers about the lack of progress when all we do is fight against one another for the same results. I won’t understand until we learn to fight for one another instead of against one another why we run around saying “we’re the body of Christ.”
All Scripture is taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. All rights reserved.