Monday, July 4, 2022

Unity, Worship, and the Other

The key ingredient for unity in the Church.

I was recently reading from a book by Francis Chan on the subject of unity. Chan stated that the key to seeing unity between believers in Jesus is worship. Chan says, “Our lack of praise may actually be the biggest cause of our divisions. Once we stop worshipping, all hope for unity is lost.” That statement struck me as odd. I believe in worship, I live a life that I hope is an expression of acceptable worship to God, I think worship is important. But I have never connected worship to unity in the Body of Christ, which is another subject I happen to care about.

What was Chan talking about? Well, if I am on my knees aligning myself with God’s heart, and humbling myself before a God who loves me in spite of my serious flaws, then I will be transformed and will actually care about the things that God cares about. And my eyes will be opened to the reality that God really cares about people—all people. And the biggest shock might be the discovery that God really cares about the people that I don’t like. People that I disagree with. People that I avoid. People that I judge as having bad theology, immaturity, or superficial cultural practices. God loves those people.

I may not be practicing overt hatred of the people around me, but I may have a hardened enough heart that I don’t even notice some of the people near me. I don’t perceive them as being relevant to my very important daily life. And so I ignore them. Not noticing them, not talking to them, praying for them, thinking about what might be on God’s heart about them. All of this may be the result of my flailing or non-existent worship life. I think that’s what Chan is getting at. I may think that I really love to worship. But if my worship doesn’t result in my pressing in to God’s heart, and lead to my carrying God’s compassion for others, then my worship may be too self-serving to have the Spirit-formed effect that God desires.

If I truly embrace God’s loving heart towards those around me, then I’ll notice that God is grieved over the division and alienation that all too often characterizes relationships between us and our brothers and sisters in the faith. Jesus prayed for our unity with one another, so that the world (unbelievers) would know and believe that the Father loves them, and sent His Son to die for them (John 17:20-23). And when He was asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus was clear: love God with all your heart, soul, and mind—and He added the second command that was “like” the first, that we love our neighbors as ourselves (Matt. 22:34-40).

Luke’s version of this encounter of Jesus with an expert in the law includes a follow-up by the questioner, who Luke says “wanted to justify himself,” and thus asked “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29) This question on the surface seems harmless enough, since we may not know whether everyone we encounter should be considered our neighbor. But Jesus’ classic response could not be more crystal clear: through the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus shows us that even people who seem very unlike us, or estranged from us, or opposite from us in socio-economic terms, are indeed our neighbors.  

There are some scary aspects of that Good Samaritan passage. One is that the (presumably Jewish) man who had been beaten, robbed and left for dead was avoided by not only fellow Jews, but by a Levite and a priest—people who know God’s Word and who are fellow covenant people with the distressed victim in the story. And the other scary thing to me is that Jesus is speaking to me through this story (and maybe to us). We are God’s covenant people. We are people of the Scriptures. And we have been given the Holy Spirit to guide us as we follow Jesus in this world. And yet, might we be guilty of being “experts” in our spirituality who seek to justify ourselves, talking ourselves out of any responsibility to love those around us, especially those who are not like us, but who need the love of God to touch them?

Interestingly, the “hero” of the story was the Samaritan, who used his time, energy and material resources to provide the care that the distressed assault victim needed. And so, he needed to overcome the reality that he was an “other,” someone who normally would not associate with such a person, according to the mutual ostracism that existed between Jews and Samaritans. Rather than seeking to justify himself or make excuses to avoid getting involved, the Samaritan responded in a way that obviously pleased Jesus.  

In this Good Samaritan example, Jesus seems to be bringing two verses together from Leviticus 19. The first is from 19:18, where we read “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” And the second is 19:33-34, which reads “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.” So what is Jesus’ answer to the question, “who is my neighbor”? My neighbor includes the foreigner, the stranger, the Samaritan, the person of a different culture or ethnicity. The “other.” My neighbor is the person God places in my life, someone God invites me to “see,” as he sees.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once preached a sermon on this passage, and in his rough sermon notes we read: “The question of the Levite & Priest: What will happen to me if I stop to help this man. The question of the Samaritan was; What will happen to this man if I don’t stop to help him. Ultimately the thing that determines whether a man is a Christian is how he answers this question.” Dr. King reportedly preached this sermon the week after his home had been bombed, and yet he was compelled to maintain a Christlike heart towards those who were different than he was, and those whose actions were such that he might feel justified in withholding love and compassion. 

Who are our Christlike examples today? The Good Samaritan, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. What would Jesus have to say to us? “Go and do likewise.” Simply as an expression of our love for Him, as an act of worship.

Resources:

Francis Chan, Until Unity. Crazy Love Ministries, 2021.

Christ EW Green, “’I Just Want to Do God’s Will:’ The Single-Minded Obedience of Martin Luther King Jr,” in Speakeasy Theology, January 17, 2022.   https://cewgreen.substack.com/p/i-just-want-to-do-gods-will

Dr. David Cole
Dr. David Colehttps://www.tku.edu
Dr. David Cole is the Provost of The King's University and the Dean of Jack W. Hayford School of Graduate Studies and he serves as the chair of the PCCNA Christian Unity Commission.