John 17: 21a May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. (HCSB)
Unity would be easy if it wasn't for those pesky convictions.
Through blogging about Christian Unity for the past 30 months, I've come in contact with a lot of great folks who share my desire to promote unity among Christians. I've found a growing number of Christians (particularly among Restoration Movement groups sharing the same conversion doctrine) who believe we've spent too long defending the borders of our various factions. Like me, these folks want to be part of the solution to that problem.
Most of the things dividing churches of Christ are of secondary importance. Communion cups, instrumental music, kitchens, cooperation between congregations, Sunday school classes, Bible translations, and the like are not the central issues of the gospel. (1 Cor 15:1-11
) But unity among Christians is of central importance. Jesus prayed for it the night he was betrayed, so that the world would believe. That makes unity among the top priorities for the church. And we must not allow the secondary issues to derail things of higher priority.
Being united does not mean we have to agree on everything. I think it does require that we agree on the core gospel. And it requires that we treat one another with dignity and respect in the areas of disagreement.
I've found that a lot of people agree with me on those matters.
However, in a few ways I feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. My conviction about gender roles conflicts with the beliefs of the vast majority of people who are with me on the unity topic. I've listened to other viewpoints and studied the subject carefully, but I keep coming to the same conclusion. I think the scriptures define different roles for men and women in the church. Most of my fellow unity advocates seem to think otherwise. And often they have a hard time understanding me as a result. How could someone who loves unity believe what I believe about gender roles? I don't fit the normal mold.
I suspect that many of us are in my position on at least one subject. We want unity, but we have some inconvenient convictions that we can't deny in good conscience. I have to live by what I believe the scriptures say, whether others agree or not. And as an elder, my conviction affects more people than just myself. That doesn't mean I can't have unity with people who disagree with me. It just means both sides have to overlook a few things, and leave it up to God to take care of the differences.
Sitting on this side of the gender issue, I can clearly see that unity will be a lot more likely if people on the other side will at least show some respect and deference to my convictions. That doesn't mean they have to follow my convictions. But I'm already swimming against the current in order to be true to my beliefs. Any efforts to avoid making it harder for me are appreciated!
And of course I need to offer the same kind of consideration to people who hold different inconvenient convictions. I need to remember how I feel on "my issue" so I can understand how they feel about theirs.
It feels different on the other side of the issue. If we were more sensitive to that fact, it would go a long way toward enabling greater unity.