What’s Happening to Christian Unity?

By: Antipas Harris
Thursday, April 29th, 2010

January 2009, the Barna Group released an article stating, “By a three to one margin (71% to 26%) adults noted that they are personally more likely to develop their own set of religious beliefs than to accept a comprehensive set of beliefs taught by a particular church. Although born again Christians were among the segments least likely to adopt the a la carte approach to beliefs, a considerable majority even of born again adults (61%) has taken that route.” These statistics on religious isolation are staggering! It seems that people are losing sight on the power of religious unity. Also, does this contribute to or a result of the breakdown in the “family concept” in our world today? Hmmm. Just wondering…

Yesterday, Wednesday April 28th, my colleague Dale Coulter spoke at Regent University Chapel. His message addressed the value of the body and/or community. In part, his concern was that while Christians share the liberty of individual creativity and giftings, there is a fine line between unity in diversity and corruption of community. It is true that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. There is freedom of expression, gifts, creativity, etc. Yet, (as Coulter explained) when the Jazz Ensemble frees the improvisationist to embellish the beauty of a piece with her own creativity, she must be careful that the liberty granted does not destroy the harmony of the whole.

In Galatians 5:13, Paul states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters, only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.” The message seems clear that while we have freedom to explore the wonders of God’s truth– all truth is God’s truth, our wondering must neither destroy the whole nor the power and harmony of the whole.

Individuals are increasingly unilateral or isolated in their religious pursuits, but so are churches. Recently, I learned that in Hampton Roads alone, there are approximately 3,000 churches. Each one attracts particular people for different reasons. There is certainly less and less separation by theological stance now than in the last century. Yet, the proliferation of churches continue for several reasons– some seem to be good reasons and others are questionable. These churches offer gifts to the community of Hampton Roads– gifts of various sorts.

I have noticed in my two year residence here and in my travels around the country that by in large the churches are increasingly divided. It is hard to get them together for any common cause. In Hampton Roads, I observed the seemingly impossible task to pull churches together for the purpose raising funds and soliciting relief help for Haiti after the recent earthquake.

Wyclef Jean did a better job pulling Hollywood together and pooling resources to assist Haiti in relief than the churches in this community. I call this a tragedy of disunity! With all of our freedom of worship and ecclesiological structures, there must be practical ways to unify or come together for common existential causes. Yet, I have not witnessed this as a reality. There is no wonder there is so much existential mayhem and decadence!

I have, furthermore, noticed that  many of these same churches cling to tragedies and existential challenges as opportunities to score ministry points for their own ministries. They raise funds for national and international tragedies, feed the hungry, pass out turkeys during Thanksgiving and gift baskets during Christmas. At their annual meetings, on their television shows, in their radio broadcasts and newsletters, they announce to their adherents how much they have done for the year. Their followers are excited to hear how many people their offerings fed last Thanksgiving and how many thousands of baskets they gave away at Christmas and how much money they raised for Haiti, Chili or China for relief.

Let’s reason together. How many people eat once a year? How many people need gifts once a year? And if one church can raise this amount of money for an international disaster, how much can we raise as a community of churches?

These are results of individualism that has crept into the churches. Both individual Christians and churches have left the foundation of Christ– Christ is one Body! Our creative giftings as individuals and separate communities interfere with the power of coming together and standing as one!

If we stand as one, our mark in the world for Christ would be more defined! If we stand as one, we can help rebuild local, national and international communities for Christ! If we come together as one, we can make demands in Congress pertaining our fractured world, existential depravity, gang violence, domestic abuse, economic stress, fatherlessness, poverty, communal pangs, and endless distress.

In conclusion, someone sent me an article from Fanhouse,. Sunday evening, April 18th, National Columnist for Fanhouse, David Whitley reports that the field was empty. Just a day earlier (Saturday), the BYU women’s rugby players had happily posed for a team photo under the stadium’s scoreboard. The lights said the Cougars had just beaten Wisconsin-Milwaukee 46-7.  Whitley quotes Coach Tom Waqa saying, “We won today. But the girls’ biggest opponent is tomorrow. That is adversity.” However, with a national championship in sight, the girls insisted to decline the opportunity. They refused to play Sunday because they acknowledge Sunday as the Sabbath. As part of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Later Day Saints, they believe that Sunday is the Sabbath holy and must be kept holy.

Having been raised as a Sabbath-keeping Pentecostal, I am aware that Sunday is not the biblical Sabbath. Saturday is more correctly the biblical Sabbath. However, I am attracted to the story above on two fronts: 1. The Cougars played together and defeated Milwaukee. One of these girls could not have won alone 2.) The Courgars made a stand together and insisted to keep the Sabbath holy. If only one of the girls stood, I would congratulate her but she might not have made the headlines. So, I might not know about it. However, the power of unity won against Milwaukee. And the power of unity is the force behind the headlines. A Whole team of uniquely gifted young ladies stood together and tied themselves to principles and standards pertaining Sabbath observance.  What a witness!

I am applying a self-evaluation– Where do I fit in these statistics? Am I caught up in my own ideas and intellectual gifts that I have lost hold of the power of a unified stand? What about you?

Standing together, we can change communities and the world!

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Antipas Harris
This entry was posted by on Thursday, April 29th, 2010 at 5:00 am and is filed under Christian Leadership, Church Ministry, Holistic Formation, Spiritual Formation, Theology, Urban Renewal. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

12 Responses to “What’s Happening to Christian Unity?”

  1. Lauretta Anderson says:

    Well said, Dr. Harris. The idea that Wyclef pulled together more unity than the churches is indeed sad. Churches have to come together and realize our message is the same: JESUS SAVES! I am currently reading for my personal Bible study the Book of Acts. I marveled at the principles of the first church, working together in unity, sharing all things, and loving one another. My prayer is “take us back dear Lord, to the place where we first believed!” Thanks for opening an important discussion.

  2. Antipas Harris Dr. A says:

    Thanks for your comment Lauretta. The church has more than money to offer people in need. The church has spiritual nurture. And Port Au Prince needs that just as much as material support we might pool together and offer. Additionally, the communities of Hampton Roads need the churches joined together in unified voice and efforts. So far as I can tell, we are forfeiting excellent opportunities!

  3. Marva says:

    Dr.Antipas this was really good. While I’am in agreement that “many hands make light work” but for the Sheep’s sake knowing intimately who it is you are uniting with I think is important. Sheep follow..and nobody wants to be responsible to Jesus for Sheep getting turned out for unity’s sake.

  4. Antipas Harris Dr. A says:

    True, however, church leaders should unite in order to unite the churches. It seems, however, that there is less of this rationale on a theololgical level than it is on an entrepreneurial level. These days, churches are not as different on a theological level (that matters) as they were in the last century.

    To be clear– I am not suggesting unity with anyone who opposes God. And before we can talk about interreligious dialogue we should advocate for more unity among Christian churches.

    • Marva says:

      Dr. Antipas,
      I totally agree you can’t unite unless you agree, but there are several churches that consider themselves apart of the Body. I think once we as Christians are able to clearly define across the board what a Christian church is, based on the guidelines of the Scripture, the unity of the Body that was experienced in the book of Acts will be more widespread.

  5. Sebrina Brown says:

    Your commentary is well stated. I have seen where the problem stems from ‘who gets the glory?’ In reality, no one deserves the glory but Christ, but we are dealing with man, and as good as man’s heart can be — we (the church) occasionally get waylaid by our own glory. And let’s not mention a combined effort where an offering is being taken up. Who gets the money? How is it to be split? It’s uncomfortable, but it’s real. The good thing about itinerant evangelists like the BGEA and others: churches and ministries come together for the common good of reaching the lost. While serving on the Franklin Graham Crusade, I saw disunity – not on the committee, but from the hesitancy of various ministries in Hampton Roads to get involved. As long as Christ is being lifted up, and the leader is walking in integrity, we must lay aside petty differences and be about God’s business! Christ is waiting on His elect to consistently partner together and set the example for the world. The same Barna study (2009) states that barely one-quarter of adults (27%) are confident that Satan exists. As Spirit-filled believers, we know he’s alive, but he gets his oxygen from Christ (for a set season). Since Christ resides in us, we have the power to cut off his lifeline when we come together.

  6. Kevin Robinson says:

    Unfortunatlly,The Lord told us to expect this very thing! The one powerefull tool that we have is prayer! Let us hold on to this gift that he gave us, and delay for as long as possible the turning away.
    Yesterday at 6:06pm

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  8. Antoinette Gaboton-Moss says:

    I appreciate your blog article Dr. Harris because dialogue regarding Christian unity seems to be sporadic at best. Kierkegaard sought to make a distinction between Christianity and Christendom and demonstrate God’s union with the individual, not solely Hegelian ideals for the masses. Yet, in our postmodern world we are faced with a pendulum that is suspended and a God who has become so privatized and individualistic. Consequently, the larger picture (coming together as one) is not readily seen or detected because the ‘existential puzzle pieces’ would rather show their individual beauty instead of Christ’s church as a whole.

  9. Afropentecostal says:

    Antipas, you have an interesting mix of ideas and interpretation in your latest blog. Thank you for thinking about these ideas. I wonder first and foremost if we have not moved from unity of propositions to unity of practice? That is, when you go to a Gospel concert, you have all types of Christians, and even non-Christians — who yet embrace a style of music (or worship) designed to communicate the Good news of God in Jesus Christ.

    The altar call might be tricky, but the worship or embrace of music as that which brings us together is not halfhearted at all. More poignantly, is there something lost that the unity in diversity is based on message embedded in music, rather than message embedded in position statements (like 16 Fundemental truths?).

    You realize as one that might affirm being Sabbath-Pentecostal, or Hebrew Pentecostal, your beliefs about when to worship, baptism, and the Godhead all lay outside of accepted “doctrinal” basis of Christian unity (baptism in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the Trinity, or Sunday as the Christian Sabbath).

    If doctrine were the litmus test, you and I would both be found wanting, so I wonder if there might be something more profound that we might pull from Barna, as both of us would have to admit we practice ala-carte beliefs that are outside of historic, orthodox, creedal Christianity, as do most Pentecostals and Charismatics.

    And a new or different type of Christian community be forged by a consensus of a different sort? And is it any less Christian?

    • I was hoping that the Millner Intellectual Motor would come on board this train. My basic interest is that we engage discourse on what “Christian Unity” should look like in light of an increasing “a la carte” approach to Christian doctrine and practices and in light of existential problems in the world. My appraisal of the athletes that insisted to “keep the sabbath” was not meant to say, “yes! they are holding on to doctrine!” Rather, my appraisal was to say, “here are some Christian Athletes who dare to hold on to something in the name of Christian beliefs. They worked together to win the game and now they are standing together in their beliefs. My point is not “doctrinal. ” My point is that Christians need to find common ground to stand together for the sake of the world, even in an a la carte type restaurant of doctrine (for the sake of the imagery).

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