Opinion—Unity Can Be Our Reality
By Neil Oldham
Editor’s note—Views expressed in the following op-ed do not necessarily reflect those of Church of God Ministries, Inc., or its affiliates. We publish op-ed features to provoke thought, stimulate healthy discussion, and inspire us to be with Jesus, become like Jesus, and do what Jesus did. We’ve asked to hear from a diverse range of voices across the Church of God movement. This op-ed features one of these voices.
There is a spirit of division in our nation. It is pervading every part of our culture. We see it, we feel it. In our homes, on our screens, at our workplaces. And the church is not exempt. This divisive spirit is tearing down churches and faith families locally, nationally, and globally. Ahead of the 2021 General Assembly, it seems reasonable to question whether the Church of God, with all our championing of unity, will be able to swim against this relentless tide.
How did we get here? We have long spoken of bringing our faith into our politics, but it’s increasingly clear that our politics have made their way into our faith. Both in ideology and in attitude, the political discourse of our time seems to dominate all else. Jesus is now so evidently aligned with my cause and not yours. By all appearances, he has also rubber-stamped the self-righteousness of the Pharisees at long last.
Please pardon my sarcasm but it serves to highlight a reality we must confront: The spirit of this age threatening to divide us cannot possibly be of Christ. And, if not of the Holy Spirit, of which spirit is it? To be sure, a spirit that loves to plant lies and sow seeds of division. A hateful spirit that turns brothers and sisters one against another. We must know from whom this comes and yet we have freely given him a place in our assemblies.
Considering Satan’s tempting of our Lord, it is little wonder that he would come against us in the same manner. “Bow down to me and your kingdom can come my way. It’s the direct way, the attractive way, the way that makes you feel like you’re really making a difference. Surely it’s better than a slow way, an indirect way, a painful and self-sacrificing way?”
Yet Jesus brought his kingdom forward with a cross and a quietly emptied tomb. He brought his kingdom forward in the hearts and minds of ordinary, run-of-the-mill humanity. He brought his kingdom forward without a sword, without power-jockeying, without needing to align with any party’s ideology. He brought it forward in humility, with compassion, gently, and with unforced invitation.
Will the Jesus way still be our way? Or will we try to bring his kingdom another way? Will Jesus still be our subject? Or only when he addresses what our unsettled society is apoplectic about today?
Brothers and sisters, our ability to move forward together hangs in the balance of such questions. For, by all the world’s wisdom, we cannot coexist as currently constituted! What business do Democrats have with Republicans? Rural folk with urbanites? Men with women? Black with white? Rich with poor? North with south? East with west? And what about those in the middle?
Will the world’s wisdom be proven right if we insist on our causes, our methods, and our identities as marked by culture? Or could we prove them wrong and rally around our Father’s business once again? Learning to live like Jesus so we can love like Jesus.
For in Christ there is neither Republican nor Democrat, urban nor rural, male nor female, Black nor white, old nor young, American nor Canadian, nor Syrian nor Mexican, but Christ is all and in all. So, if we are the Church of God, holy and dearly loved, let us put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Let’s bear with one another and forgive one another if anyone has a grievance against another. Above all else, let’s put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. And let the peace of Christ rule our hearts in Christ Jesus. Oh, and be thankful.
Yes, you could tell by all the commas—I have borrowed from the apostle Paul (Colossians 3:11–15). It seems we’re not the first Jesus followers to need this entreaty. Neither would we be the first to heed it! If we have ears to hear and hearts not hardened, we can still rally back around our common cause. We can pick up the baton passed to us by faithful generations past and see the world changed, after all. Even if not in the way or by the means it would ever have suspected.
Church of God, awaken! Holiness is still worthy of our pursuit. Unity can yet be realized as our reality. Recover the old paths; formational habits long discarded by which we meet the grace that makes us holy and clothes us in the love of Christ, that perfect bond of unity. Amen. And come, Lord Jesus.
Questions or comments? Neil Oldham can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Neil serves as lead associate pastor at First Church of God in Pryor, Oklahoma.
Feature (top) photo: General Assembly 2019, Orlando, Florida.