The Sweet Aroma of Unity

Recently my husband and I spent a week in South Carolina, visiting our daughter and her family. While there, we attended a Presbyterian church and heard a very good sermon about the importance of believers being “of one mind.” Philippians 2:2 (Looks like I am back to the unity in Christ theme from April!).

This doesn’t mean we’ll always agree about everything. It does mean that we will meditate on the things that unite us.

“…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

As a member of the body of Christ we receive so many good things –forgiveness, love, acceptance and encouragement for a start. We are able to receive the sacraments, to worship and to work with others who share the common goal of spreading the Gospel. When our minds are filled with gratitude for all that we’ve received, most disagreements with one another will pale.

Early in Philippians we are exhorted to:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4

In other words, we are to put on the mind of Christ, who sacrificed Himself for the good of others, humbly, as a servant. When we imitate Him, we will “shine as lights in the world”(Philippians 2:15b) and the sweet aroma of unity will fill our lives.

For more about unity in Christ see these posts:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer — What it Means to be in Christ as a Community

United with Christ through His Church

Christ-Centered Conflict Resolution by Tony Merida–Book Review

United with Christ through His Church

In many places in Scripture, the church is referred to as the body of Christ, with Jesus as our head. For example, in Romans we read:

“Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to the others.” Romans 12:4-5

And in Colossians we are told:

“And He (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church ….” Colossians 1:18a

Unfortunately, these days, we have lost much of that unity. I’ve been thinking about how church has changed over the years. Rural, smaller churches are struggling to survive. Mission churches are difficult to plant. Some of this is due to practical, monetary considerations — it’s expensive to pay a Pastor and maintain a building. At the same time, transportation is cheaper and easier than it used to be. We no longer need a church within walking distance. Our cars and roads can take us miles away in just a few minutes.

The unintended consequences are great. Now, we no longer have to work to maintain unity with a group of believers. If we quarrel with somebody, or just don’t like them, we can simply change churches. Things will be better there (at least for a while). Church discipline goes by the wayside as well — if a member doesn’t want to hear the hard truth about sin, they can probably find another group who won’t hold them accountable. In fact, it’s no problem to get lost in a large church, to attend worship services without getting to know anybody well at all. With the recent advent of COVID, and more churches airing their services on ZOOM or YouTube, we’ve removed ourselves even further from a true church community.

I’ve been blessed to belong to small churches all of my life. Some of the folks have belonged to the same church all of their lives; others are committed to a specific denomination. They know each other. They know one another’s family. They become surrogate parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles to the children of the congregation. Do they always get along? Do they like everybody? No. But in Christ, they learn to love one another and work together.

Of course, there are sometimes good reasons to leave a church. Maybe a job change leads to a move. Sometimes we find the theology is just wrong. Sometimes God calls us to a different place. But make sure you’re not becoming a “consumer Christian.” Church is not about pleasing ourselves. It’s about unity — unity with Christ and with one another.

For more about the church see:

What Is the Church?

We (the Laity) Are the Church

The Church Family

One Bread, One Body

This contemporary song was written by John B. Foley, professor of Liturgy at St. Louis University.  It is often used on Lutheran Via de Cristo weekends and beautifully expresses the ideal of unity in the Body of Christ, His Church.

A Hymn About Church Unity

This has always been a favorite hymn of mine.  It was written in England in 1866 by Samuel Stone and was originally one of a twelve hymn collection inspired by the twelve articles of the Apostle’s Creed.

Stone created the collection in response to a period of heated theological schism within both the Church of England and the Church of South Africa. The Church encountered a crisis over the inerrancy of the Scriptures and the role of Jesus in God’s plan of salvation.  Stone’s deep conviction in the unity afforded by the foundation of Christ Jesus that led him to write it.”