God is one, and as Christians in Croydon, we are called to be one. Unity starts where we are, Paul’s plea to the Ephesians gives us no opt out clause:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
“Every Effort” is just two words but a massive two words and two words which have largely been ignored by most Christians for the last two thousand years. Actually they are only one Greek word, “Spoudazo” which literally means ‘to use speed’. A modern day rendering might be, ‘put your foot on the gas pedal’ or ‘pull your flippin’ finger out!’ My question is “Have we?”
A consequence of the 16th century reformation was that protestant Christians had Catholics hung, drawn and quartered and Catholic Christians had Protestants burned at the stake. Men and women were killed on the slightest pretext, some only differing on bible translations or minor points of doctrine or churchmanship. Now I know that there was politically more going on than a reformation of the church, but nevertheless they do seem to have missed the implication of Ephesians 4:3.
One of the phrases I use with church leaders is that ‘relationship matters more than doctrine”. In a way, it’s my paraphrase of Ephesians 4:3. Don’t get me wrong, I love doctrine and spend a great deal of my time trying to get to grips with it, but if I allow my understanding of theology to cause me to disrespect another human being, especially a fellow Christian, I am stamping on the brake and not putting my foot on the gas pedal.
One of my deepest sadnesses about the church today is that most church leaders are so occupied with keeping their small fellowships going that they have no time for the city/borough/town wide church. It is very difficult to get church leaders to come to a weekly meeting let alone begin to look at our responsibility to be elders at the city gate. Many denominations move their clergy far too frequently leaving a startling statistic that the average tenure in the UK is 4 years. Some premiership football managers last longer than that!
If the church today is to become the one that Jesus is building then we must face up to a reformation. Not a reformation that will blow the church apart but one that will take seriously Jesus prayer in John 17 and Paul’s plea in Ephesians 4 and become a church for a city, an ekklesia that the gates of Hades will not withstand.
I am proud to be one of the Convenors of the Croydon Churches Forum. According to an early writer, the first Christian communities stood out because of their love for one another. Sadly, that hasn’t been the consistent history of the church through the centuries that have followed, but in recent times Christians have rediscovered that primary calling to love one another as fellow disciples of Jesus. Love is most clearly demonstrated when we love those who are different from us, in theology, ethnic background, style of worship … across all the differences there are between different groups of people, we continue to share a love for one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Croydon Churches Forum is a forum for the practical demonstration of that love, through meeting and praying together, and working together in the service of Christ and for our wider community.
Disunity amongst Christians is more than just a failure to live up to Christ’s wishes, or a handicap in our mission to the world. It goes against the fundamental nature of the Church, which is the body of Christ (eg. Rom 12:5; 1 Cor 12:12-21; Eph 4:4-6,12-16). Christians are more than just an association of people with shared interests, ideals and beliefs. There is a vital relationship between us all.
‘The eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you’ (1 Cor 12:21).
History is full of people and communities who have gone their own way because they believed they were right and that their Christian brothers and sisters were wrong. All our churches have been guilty of this at one time or another. It is difficult to persevere in relationship with people when we disagree passionately about something we feel to be fundamental. Yet when we look back on history, can we really say that any of these causes justified dividing the body of Christ? (Or trying to, since Christ is greater than our divisions).
That’s why I believe we can’t be faithful to Christ and at the same time indifferent to Christian unity. It just isn’t an option.