I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:1-3; New Living Translation)
In the immortal words of Loretta Lynn, “We’ve come a long way, baby!”
Some people think that Christian unity flows from common theology. Reformed, Arminian, dispensational, amillenial, Pentecostal, evangelical, traditional, non-denominational. Each label denotes a tribe (or “mob” if you’re Australian) to which we might belong. Each group has its gurus; spokespeople who define that tribe’s particular theology. And we enjoy some degree of unity within that common theology. But not beyond.
Others think that Christian unity flows from common mission or vision. Now we have to decide if we are missional, attractional, incarnational, simple, or some other methodological (or ideological) model. Once again, unity is reserved for common philosophical approaches to mission or vision.
Yet others think that Christian unity flows from non-confrontational, relational community. Let people be people and do what they like. Don’t challenge them, confront them, accuse them, blame them, or guilt them. Just let them find their own way through the maze of faith. And if we all step back from each other and create a safe space for each other, we’ll have unity with each other.
“We’ve come a long way, baby!”; a long way from what the Apostle Paul suggests in his letter to the Colossians.
Paul writes that he agonizes — that’s a particularly strong word — for churches he knows, churches he doesn’t know, believers he has met, and many believers who have never met him personally. That’s fairly comprehensive agony!
What does he agonize over? Two things. First, that they may “be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love.” And second, that they may “have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself.”
The most compelling unity is not decided by complex theology, novel methodology, or unquestioning tolerance. It really arises from “strong ties of love” and “complete confidence in Christ.” Drop the mic.
Of course, it’s no simple thing to form strong ties of love in a culture that has preferred strong doses of independence. And it seems too simplistic to develop complete confidence in Christ alone when we’ve been raised in a culture of suspicion, cynicism, and considerable self-confidence.
Tolerance and love are not the same thing. Nicety and civility may enhance society but they do nothing to produce deep community.
No wonder Paul agonized over this. When our love for each other wanes and our pure confidence in Christ gets waylaid, we end up with pleasant religion but not radical Kingdom-living.
We might need to agonize a little ourselves.