Unity in Christ


Superficially, Karl Marx’s political system of Communism appears similar to the social teaching of Jesus in Christianity.

The passage of time, however, has exposed a fundamental flaw in human nature that has sabotaged both belief systems, albeit in different ways.

The original ideals of Communism emerged from the growing pain of the masses of deprived Russians, abused by an elite aristocracy, who had little or no social conscience.

But Communism eventually crumbled almost everywhere because of the innate selfishness of the human heart. Its leaders succumbed to the same greed and corruption revealed in the insensitive hearts of the aristocracy it replaced.

And the bulk of the masses succumbed to a desire to receive without giving to others something they did not own themselves.

Christianity started on a different note. The book of Acts describes the initial impact of Jesus’ selfless life, death and resurrection on His followers: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:42-49).

It wasn’t long, though, before the same innate selfishness of the human heart made inroads into those original Christians. The biblical record continues with transparent honesty to describe how a husband and wife, named Ananias and Sapphira, conspired to appear spiritual before the church in a way that was essentially dishonest (see Acts 5:1-11).

The same problem continued to rear its head from time to time in early church history. The apostle Paul’s letters to the Corinthian members reveal a congregation decimated by cliques and divisions centred on various teachers.

His letter to the church in Rome reveals similar tensions, but in this instance, centred on cultural differences (Romans 2:17-24). Discrimination against slaves manifested itself at times (see Philemon 8-11). Because of residual oriental attitudes toward women, tensions in the area of gender difference surfaced regularly (see Ephesians 6:21-33).

Both “systems” floundered on the rocks of human nature. But the one outstanding difference between Communism and Christianity is that the nature of sin, which affects the human heart, is not recognised or dealt with in the former, but has been slowly addressed in the church. Despite its historical tardiness to implement the principles of unity and human dignity in the areas of culture, slavery and gender inequalities, it remains an incontrovertible fact that nations heavily influenced by Christianity are the only ones to have made significant advances in these social issues.

The Bible places a heavy emphasis on the importance of unity in the life of the church. Paul is dogmatic that “all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27, 28).

Because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, all humanity is restored in God’s eyes to the original unity and dignity they experienced before sin entered the world. It then becomes imperative for Christians to “clothe” themselves in, or demonstrate through behaviour, the reality of their legal inheritance.

Scripture states that as humans we have been made in the image of God (see Genesis 1:26, 27). There was never a time when God existed in magnificent isolation. He has always existed as one God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit— a unity of three co-eternal Persons.

A study of the New Testament reveals no hierarchical structure in the Trinity, and no struggle for pre-eminence.

Each brings glory to the other. In one of His closing prayers for the church, Jesus pleads that all of His followers “may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:21-23).

This is more than an impossible ideal.

In the final analysis, it provides the ultimate evidence of Christ’s ability alone to transcend the self-centred and crippled aspects of human hearts. No wonder Paul constantly urged the infant church to live a life worthy of the calling it had received: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:2, 3).

Unlike Communism, Christian unity doesn’t mean absolute conformity. In the past Christian missionaries have made the mistake of colonising pagan nations into conformity with Western culture instead of allowing them to express their response of love and obedience to Jesus in their own indigenous manner.

Our God is a God of endless variety.

Every leaf of every tree is different.

Every snowflake has a variant pattern.

Every culture has widely alternative ways of expressing its faith in Jesus. Unity expresses itself in oneness of understanding the gospel, oneness in experiencing the indwelling Holy Spirit, and oneness in a charitable heart toward non-essential issues. “There is one body and one Spirit— just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

There is only one power in the world that has enabled people to make this a reality. Jesus offers every human being total, unconditional acceptance and was willing to experience the tragic consequence of our selfish, destructive disunities with each other in His murderous death on the cross. Only an encounter with the loving heart of Jesus truly transforms us.

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).

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