Is unity among Christians possible?
Is it the intention that Christians be divided into so many churches and denominations?
Is there something you and I can do about this lack of unity?
How did the first Christian church begin?
The Bible tells us how it all began, how Jesus explained the requirements for being a disciple to everyone who wanted to follow Him: Be willing to give up everything, hate your own life, take up your cross daily, and do not do your own will. As long as He was on earth, He prayed for His disciples, and He kept the unity between them. Even then, there was already a danger of divisions, for example when the question came up about who among them was the greatest.
Just before His death, Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are.” (John 17:11)
Later, men like Paul fought and prayed for unity among the first Christians. In his letters to the first churches, He exhorted them to be one and to love one another. To the Corinthians with all of their problems, he wrote, for example, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
To the church in Ephesus, Paul explained that all Christians are as one body. Jesus Christ is the Head, and the desire of each member is to do what He says. Therefore, all Christians, brothers and sisters, are tightly knit together in a group, bound to each other and to the Head in love.
After a short time in the first Christian church…
Divisions among individuals, conflicts about knowledge and doctrines, favoritism, giving into bitterness, jealously and honor-seeking – indeed, all of these things, ever since the time of the first Christian church, have contributed to destroying unity. Instead of striving and praying to reestablish and preserve unity, nearly everyone has grown accustomed to all of these divisions. It has become firmly entrenched and established. True, from time to time ecumenical meetings are held; but afterward, everyone returns to his or her own church or assembly.
Most Christians accept that this is just the way things are. Perhaps they hope that all the different denominations might be unified later all of a sudden, in heaven. Quite simply, they no longer believe that it is possible to end all the disagreements, splits, and factions between true disciples here on earth. The reason for all of the factions is sin in all its manifestations: favoritism, envy, pride, and intolerance.
Can you or I do anything about these divisions?
During the time of the first Christians, this unity began in the small things. The few people who wanted to live wholeheartedly for Jesus had to learn to pray for each other, love one another, forgive and bear with one another. They had to learn not to cling to their own opinions and understanding, but instead, together, to seek light and wisdom from God and the Bible. From there, the little church could continue to grow. However, as soon as they stopped striving for unity, all sorts of churches, denominations, and movements gradually developed.
But you and I in our own places can begin by keeping to what Jesus said to the first disciples: Be willing to give up everything and hate your own life; take up your cross daily, and do not do your own will. We can pray for and search for fellow Christians who also long to live as Christians in that way. Because it’s true unity is also possible among disciples in our time.