The 7 Pillars of Christian Unity

Lord Jesus, teach us to echo your prayer, and to live by the Spirit, that we may be one as you and the Father are one.  Amen.

This morning we hear again that second-most-famous prayer of Jesus: that we, the Church, may all be one, as He and the Father are one.

Unity is one of those things that looks great on paper, but the reality is something that requires a lot more work – and a lot more humility and sacrifice – than you’d ever think it would.

On paper, unity is easy: it’s the coming together of different parties to create something better than they could ever be on their own.  Yeah, sign me up!

The coming together is one thing.  Even here in this room, it’s not that we don’t like each other, but we have a great group of people who wouldn’t naturally be found in any other setting.  And that’s a good thing: any “church” that is only made up of people who share worldly interests or who look the same or vote the same isn’t much of a church at all.

Coming together is one thing, but coming together to create something better than they could ever be on their own – that’s another matter.

If you’ve ever found yourself working in a union, you know that unity by itself isn’t always productive; but when everyone can come together with the goal of working together, everyone benefits and some real progress can be made.

And certainly scripture uses the example of marriage as the image of unity within the Church – a man and woman coming together, not to lose themselves, but to really create something that goes beyond the individual – and as we all know, that, too, requires real work.

For any sort of unity to produce fruit, to create something better, we need both the willingness and the action.  It’s not enough just to want to be united – it’s not enough just to sign up or show up; we need to match that willingness with steps to carry it out. 

Unity, the creation of something better than we are on our own, requires both willingness and action.

The Unity of the Church

In Confirmation Class at some point you probably learned (I hope!) that as Christians we have 7 pillars of unity.  Jump in with me if you remember them:

We have one Body, one Spirit, one Hope of our eternal calling.
One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all.[1]

(What?  Well remedial confirmation classes start on Tuesday!
If these aren’t familiar you might want to take notes!!)

Those pillars, those 7, are the “willingness” side of Christian unity.  In a marriage you make vows to each other, stating your willingness to come together as one, to the exclusion of all others.  In a union, you have a collective agreement that both parties are willing to follow, to the exclusion of anything that violates the agreement. 

In the Church, we have 7 things that we are all willing to abide by for the sake of unity, to the exclusion of all else. 

We will to be one body.  Our purpose is to come together as one, throwing away all the worldly divisions that get in the way.  We have to actively work against the constant human temptation to break us up into groups based on one thing or another.

We agree to abide by the same Spirit, given at Pentecost.  That’s why, for instance, in today’s lesson from Acts 16, fortune-telling is forbidden, because it’s reliance on a different spirit.  That’s why in Revelation 22, “sorcerers” are among those who find themselves left outside of the eternal city, because turning to witchcraft is a refusal to rely on the Holy Spirit of God.

As the Church we have one hope.  That’s one we often forget, because there are as many reasons to go to church as there are people in the pews.  Some of us need peace and quiet, a break from the week; some of us need an opportunity to serve, while others need the support and friendship or to hear words of encouragement. But, beyond all that, to be a member of the church is to be willing to pin all your hope on Christ’s promises in the New Covenant – on his victory, and God’s provision, and that strength made perfect in weakness as we seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Then there are the four other things that we have to agree to, that we have to will if we want to be members of the Church: we agree to acknowledge Jesus as Lord.  We know He is the one true Lord, so we don’t fool around with any falsehoods about that.  We proclaim one Faith passed down from generation to generation and found in the Creeds, knowing there’s a lot of room for interpretation, and no one of us will ever ‘figure it all out’, but to be a member of the Church is to say that unity on these pillars is more important than you or me “figuring out” each tiny detail.  We agree to be united in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins, recognizing that it’s God who saves us and cleans us up, but that anyone who wants to clean themselves up will find themselves left out.[2]

And that last pillar that we all agree to for the sake of unity is that we agree to have one Father of us all.  That’s huge.  It means that, anyone else who is living by these same 7 pillars is my brother or sister… whether I like it or not!  It means we may bitterly disagree on how to live our faith, or the church’s duty to transform the world around it… but if God’s my Father, than anyone else who calls God their Father has to be my brother or sister.  So I have to live like it.

That’s why Revelation 22 says the sexually immoral and murders and idolaters and everyone who loves falsehood is left outside of eternal life – not because they checked the wrong boxes in terms of sins.  No, not at all.  But because these are things that destroy the family of God.  To abuse a brother or sister, to lie to them, to kill them, or to go all out and refuse to recognize God as Father – they rip apart the fabric of the family, and we’re called to live as those with one Father of us all.

Those are the 7 things all Christians across time and space have agreed that it means to be part of the church.

But real unity, the creation of something better than we can be on our own, requires both willingness and action.

The Action of Unity

It’s not enough just to sign up, to consent to those 7 things.  That’d be like planning a wedding and making marriage vows and then thinking the hard work was over! 

The work of echoing our Lord’s prayer that we would be one means that we put that willingness into action. 

And for the Church, when we’re talking about the unity of the Church, that action shows up in three ways.  Unity of Identity, Unity of Purpose, Unity of Direction.

Unity of Identity

Identity is a bit of a buzzword these days, as it should be.  How do you identify?  Is it enough to say “oh yeah, I believe the creeds.  One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, that’s greatIs that enough?  Or do we need to make that faith our identity.

Or, in other words, is going to church something you do, or is being a member of the Church something you are?

If we ever want to see Christian unity in the world, we need to get serious about making our faith a key part of our identity… not an activity on the side.

Unity of Purpose

Have we gathered for the right reasons?  When one congregation only supports its’ own activities, when we don’t see ourselves as being on the same team, then the answer has to be “no”. 

You know, this was St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians… when they gathered, everyone had their own motives.  And, the first and easiest rule of biblical interpretation is, simply, don’t be like the Corinthians!  As a general rule, if the Corinthians did it – don’t!

When we gather, when we serve, when we fundraise, is it to achieve our own goals?  Or is every action – from washing pews to folding bulletins to shovelling snow to feeding the hungry and comforting those who grieve – is it all part of carrying out that mission to go and make disciples and share the good news?

Unity of Direction

You can have the same purpose but be headed in opposite directions.  The leaders of the Liberals, the NDP, and the Tories all have the same purpose: they want to win, but they’re headed in very different directions to get there.

If we want to put Christ’s second-most-famous prayer into action in our lives, if we want to finally know and see what it’s like for the church to come together to accomplish more than we could ever do on our own, more than we could even ask or imagine, we need to walk the same way. 

Thankfully, we don’t need to make that up – after all, we’re called to be followers, and when we get off track, we have a good shepherd who will put us gently over his shoulder, or put his crook around our neck and reel us in – one way or the other!

But it’s no good, either within our congregation, or amongst the three Christian churches in our town, or in the Church around the world, for us to be walking different directions.  Unity requires that we set the same goal and walk forwards with humility, trusting that there’s a job for each of us to do, and if it’s done to God’s glory and with even a little pinch of real faith, even the mighty mountains will hop out of our way.

My friends, think about these things.  And, this week, take a look and see if there’s an opportunity in your life to really echo Jesus’ prayer with action.  And may we always pray, with Him, that we may all be one, as He and the Father are one.  Amen.

[1] Ephesians 4:4-6

[2] This is the reference to the “dogs” in Revelation 22, being unclean.