I get concerned when people discuss the need for church unity. The iea of a unified church actually bothers me, because, despite protests to the contrary unity seems very often to lead to uniformity when it is stressed as essential. there is no program or plan of action that can guarantee unity, at least in the sense of a harmonious group of people that comes together around a common goal, and even then, I am war of common goals. Common goals unite people, no doubt, but the nature of those goals requires critique and scrutiny.
For example, many in the progressive/emergent Christianity camp stress a focus on the coming of the Kingdom of God and the need of the church to help bring it about. The question then becomes one’s perspective on what the Kingdom of God actually IS. Is it a political reality that the Jews of the first century sought to install after the Messiah overthrew the Romans? Is it the failed eschatological vision of a maned named Jesus of Nazareth, who operated in the same first-century context, sought liberation for the oppressed, and led to his martyrdom at the hands of a society that deemed him an insurgent and a blasphemer? Is it some ideal spelled our for a rabbi’s followers to enact beyond the influence of society? Worst of all, is it as the American forefathers aw it: a divine grant to manifest destiny over the New World?
The kingdom of God has meant many things to many groups of Christians, some with benevolent intentions, others with imperialist drive (though they wouldn’t have called it that). It is the same with unity. In many ways, the kingdom of God is supposed to be the “unified” church (I think), yet we do not know what it means to be united, what we should unite under, or how to keep said unity without unity without exclusivity. We think the answer is simple, and say things such as, “We just need more Jesus in the church,” or “we need to get back to the Bible,” as if the problem lies not in our perspectives on our faith, but in some failed program initiative we attempted to install.
It is worth noting that this is no issue with conservative Christianity, which sets its doctrine and demands adherence thereto. Exclusivism is not a problem in these churches; you either stick to the rules or get out. Of course, this rigidity only gives the illusion of unity; the recent events at Mars Hill Church in Seattle will serve as example enough how unity under doctrine (or moreso under a megalomaniacal pastor, in their case) crumbles quickly the second anyone tries to raise attention to its faults. The community itself will be unified, in a sense, but deviation from groupthink leads to a quick exit for dissenters.
No, It is those of us who reject this ideology that find ourselves in this predicament. We do not desire to be united under doctrine, a set of yes’s and no’s to assent to to define us, knowing that our thoughts do not define who we really are. Nor do we desire to be unified under a list of actions we think we ought to be doing as Christians, such as food banks and giving to charity, programs designed to make us feel better while doing nothing to expose us to the systems of power we all participate in. We know that any attempts to institutionalize unity or to act in the name of your idea of unity, you’ve failed. Why? Because unity has no center of power. It brings all involved to ground level and cannot function with the elevation of one individual over another. Just as in the kingdom of God, in unity, the last are first and the first are last, and we rid ourselves of all our possessions to possess the one pearl of great price.
Unity is neither created or destroyed; it is something realized in the midst of people who see their own baggage and turn to help each other carry it. If we’d stop worrying about unity and worrying about each other a bit more, we might just find unity in our midst.