What does it mean for us to be one? We talked about the Body of Christ and how Paul called the believers many members of the same body and brothers and sisters in Christ. "Do we have to agree to be one?" asked one person. "How do we know whether someone is part of the Church? How do we know if we're one?"
Christian unity is an important topic for me. I feel that this is the number one way that we can show the rest of the world that we are different in a good way. When we are one, we love each other, we support each other, we look after each others' needs, we respect each others' opinions. I believe that what Jesus was praying for is that we really would be family in the most positive sense of the word. Jesus called himself the Son and prayed to a God he called Father, claiming that he was in the Father and the Father was in him. In the same way, Jesus wants us to be united to each other through him. He wants us to truly be brothers and sisters in Christ.
So here are a few of my thoughts about how the imagery of family can help us understand the concept of oneness through Christ:
- You don't get to pick your family. If I become estranged from a family member, I cannot change our biological heritage. That person is my relative whether I acknowledge him or her or not. Likewise, God is the one who is putting together this Christian family, and the fact is that we Christians are brothers and sisters whether we want to be or not. I can no more declare who is and isn't a real brother or sister in Christ any more than I can say my biological sister isn't my sister. It's all up to God. I don't get to choose.
- Family members don't always agree. I currently worship at a Lutheran church, so during the course of this Bible study conversation, one of the group members was talking about how Lutherans traditionally group themselves together on the basis of common ideology and theology. Lutherans split from Catholics during the Reformation because they didn't agree on several key points, and the Lutherans have continued to split from each other down through the years as more differences in opinion cropped up. It may be true that I could be uncomfortable having people whose views differ wildly from mine in the center circle of my spiritual circle, but I would be a fool to write off every family member with whom I have a significant disagreement. Others may take different approaches to serving Jesus, but as long as Jesus is our master, we are united in a very real way, whether we like it or not.
- You ought to be able to rely on your family. Families are meant to be nurturing, supportive structures that help us grow to be the best and most successful versions of ourselves throughout our lives. Our family members are often the ones who help us when the going gets rough and celebrate with us when times are good. Jesus wants us to work towards having that same personal and supportive relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. That is the future that we are working towards—a heavenly family that lives in harmony, centered in Christ.
- We are not the head of this family. God is. God calls the shots, and God decides what the family's goals are and who is doing a good job. If anybody gets kicked out of the family, it will be up to God to do the expelling, and if anyone is welcomed into the family, it will be because God invited that person to join. We may have hierarchies on Earth, but in God's family we are all equals, all brothers and sisters in Christ. We are all called to do different tasks, and some of us are called to lead, but none of us has God-given authority to force other family members to do what we want. We should instead appeal to each other with love and humility, recognizing that God has created us as equals.
- Harming or forcibly separating your family members should never be done lightly. It is true that sometimes when one family member gets violently out of hand, that person needs to be dealt with for the good and safety of the rest of the family. However, in a healthy family dynamic, no one would ever consider a family member to be disposable or replaceable. We do not engage in personal attacks on cherished loved ones lightly. Instead we try to have reasonable conversations. We talk about our feelings. We debate the issues. We try to find solutions to conflicts. We compromise and figure out whether we can agree to disagree. We apologize when we hurt one another. We put love before pride or anger. Each one of our brothers and sisters is special and unique, and we should think long and hard before trying to remove someone from the family dynamic. Sometimes when things go terribly wrong, estrangements can be necessary, but they should never be the result of a rash decision or a minor disagreement. We should be sad to have rifts with our brothers and sisters in Christ instead of aggressively partitioning ourselves off as we so often do. And we should remember that even if we become estranged from some of our fellow Christians, we cannot unilaterally declare that they are no longer members of the family.