Jesus said, “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:20 NIV)
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed for himself, asking that his upcoming death would glorify the Father. Next he prayed for his disciples, asking the Father to protect them from the evil one. Finally he prayed for you and me, that we would be unified.
Unity is easy when we agree with one another, but can we experience unity when we are not in agreement?
Unity in the essentials…extend charity in everything else
Consider the oft-quoted phrase, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” This is also expressed as, “Unity in necessary things; Liberty in doubtful things; Charity in all things,”
There are precious few things that demand universal agreement. One example is our conviction that Jesus Christ is the only Son of God and the Savior of mankind.
Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
This is an essential that requires unity.
We can be certain about many of our beliefs, interpretations, and convictions, yet leave room for others to disagree. For example, baptism by immersion has the greatest historical and scriptural support, but we understand that equally sincere Christians have different understandings.
Most important is charity, or love. Jesus said,
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-45)
We absolutely, without question, must love others even in our disagreements.
Over the years I have witnessed professing Christians act in indefensible ways. Many wrapped both attitude and action in religious language. The catalyst for anger and ugliness was often nothing more than reasonable differences in biblical interpretation.
five suggestions to help build unity even when we disagree.
- Recognize that good people draw different conclusions regarding important issues. Another person is not my enemy just because he or she disagrees with me.
- I may be in the minority because other people have a better understanding of an issue. I have been wrong about things in the past and I may be wrong today, regardless of how confident I am in my position.
- Very few issues are of greater importance than maintaining unity within our fellowship. Jesus asked for unity when he prayed for us. If unity was that important to Jesus, shouldn’t it be important to us?
- It is more important to love others than it is to be “right” about any particular issue. The world will not conclude we belong to Jesus through our orthodoxy, but through our love for one another.
- Try to understand why other people see things as they do. You don’t have to agree. Knowing their perspective may actually shore up your own convictions. However, when we listen to understand we may appreciate why our views differ.