“Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” ~ Psalm 133
I have always been a guy who was passionate about unity. Maybe it’s some dysfunction from my middle child syndrome. I’m not sure, but it has always been a deep conviction for me. Maybe its because I’m an enneagram 2, and we hold on to our friendships from Kindergarten with dear life. Again, I’m not sure, but it has always been a deep conviction for me. I think it is because I grew up in the Stone Campbell Restoration Movement, which at its core, is a unity movement. Of all of my core convictions, UNITY may be my strongest dogma! Dogma is known to separate believers, but what would happen if our strongest conviction as Christ followers, was UNITY?
Paul wrote, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” ~ Ephesians 4:1-3
Notice, unity isn’t commanded, it is assumed as if it is the D.N.A. of believers. It is expected as if it is at the core of Christian convictions. It is as if unity is the nature of one who has been touched by the Holy Spirit. There is something stronger than commands in the Bible, there are divine assumptions. For instance, Jesus says in the sermon on the Mount, “And when you pray.” He doesn’t ask them to pray, praying for the Christian is like breathing to a human. We can learn to be better at breathing, but breathing is what humans do. I believe the same to be true of unity. This is why Joni Eareckson Tada says, “Believers are never told to become one; we already are one and are expected to act like it.”
Paul highlights the nature of our unity and the correct disposition for unity. We are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit, which is the same as saying, we are passionate to keep the Spirit’s unity! We could say welcome to the house of God, or interchangeably, we could say welcome to God’s house. This literally means that the Holy Spirit is the possessor, or more strongly stated, the owner of unity. Unity is the prized possession of the Holy Spirit. Meaning, we have no right to steal from God, that which never belonged to anyone of us. Unity is God’s. Dr. Doug Foster says, “Unity is already in existence, we do not create it.” It not only exists, it belongs to God. Tampering with it, is burglarizing the bond of peace. In all of our convictions, unity must be one our core convictions, a dogma even!
Edmund Burke stated, “Whatever disunites man from God, also disunites man from man.” If we disunite from God, we walk in disunity with man, and if we disunite with man, we trouble the unity we have in Christ. J.C. Ryle says,“Unity without the gospel is a worthless unity; it is the very unity of hell.” I include his words to highlight that I do not speak of a unity without divinity, neither do I speak of a unity without doctrine.
So, let me say it plainly, we do not have a right to walk in disunity. Disunity is not merely sin, it is a sin against the DNA of who we have been created to be in Christ. We, the body of Christ, reflect not only the unity of being in Christ, but the triune unity of the Godhead.
This is not only theological for me, it is also sentimental. For the next few moments I’m going to get personal. I’m going to use my journey and Christian tribe to speak my experience. My roots run through two of the three major streams of what’s known as the Stone Campbell Restoration Movement. I adore this unity movement! I love this beloved body of believers. Yes,t is personal for me that all Christians are ONE, but for the sake of authenticity, I’ll focus on the one I grew up in.
As a kid, I didn’t know the names, Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell, but I am now grateful for them both. I grew up running the halls in the non-instrumental Churches of Christ. I not only grew up singing a cappella songs of worship, I also served as an Associate Minister for seven years at the Metropolitan Church of Christ. My brother, Fate Hagood, continues to serve as the Lead Minister there. If that is not enough Church of Christ love for you, I have traveled the country raising money for Southwestern Christian College, a Church of Christ school, where I received my first college degree.
My roots don’t end there! I currently serve as the Lead Pastor at University Christian Church. In the recent past, I have served in supportive pastoral roles at Independent Christian Churches such as Shepherd Church, and Discovery Church as well as others. I have two degrees from Hope International University which is an Independent Christian Church school. One of the most rewarding things that I get to do, is to go back to my alma mater, and speak to 100’s of kids at Hope International University for Chapel services. Is that enough Independent Christian Church love for you? I told you, I adore our unity movement! This is not only theological, this is sentimental for me.
I want you to know the depth of my roots within our beloved family of churches and the deep places of my heart which yearn for the essence of who we are. We are a unity movement! We are founded on the oneness of the Church, reflecting the triune unity of God within the ONE body of Christ!
I now speak to you as one of two brothers, who both pastor churches from different streams of one movement. The irony of that is palpable. Let me be clear, it is not the streams that separate us, It is the fish who refuse to swim against the current of division to walk in unity with each other. The pursuit of unity is one of the main reasons our movement exists. Yet, Fate and I have both experienced the pain and stress of division within our movement, and I will assume that you have as well. If you haven’t, maybe it is because you refuse to swim against the current in order to return to the source of our streams.
Certainly, this season of aggressive bipartisanship and racial division, pulls the rug out from under the feet of our glossed over divisions. If you, like me, are a true “Restorationist,” division tugs at your convictions violently. I’m unaware of how you react to John 17:20-23, but the prayer of our Lord Jesus Christ absolutely wrecks me! It says;
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be ONE, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be ONE even as we are ONE, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly ONE, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
As I highlight just four verses from this divine prayer, our souls know that the objects of division Jesus cries out to God about, is us! He’s like a Dad on his knees praying to God for his children who are missing. Yet Jesus is praying to His Father for his little brothers, and sisters. Jesus is praying due to oxymoronic Christian divisiveness. I can’t help but wonder if Jesus had 2020 in mind as He prayed. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.” I write to us today with love that we might be ONE in Christ, that we might fully live, and not be fools.
Considering my own story, as a product of distinct streams of our unity movement, I have experienced the stress of being shunned based on secondary theological convictions. Although one of our earliest mottos was, “We are Christians only, but not the only Christians.” I know what it feels like to be looked on as less than or even not a Christian based on debatable Christian doctrines. Yet I hold to, of all of my Christian convictions, unity must be one of my core convictions.
Continuing to speak personally, as an African American, I have experienced the trauma of racial tension, within the Restoration Movement. I know what it feels like for my God given ethnicity to be a minimizer of my competency. I share the same story as other pastors of color who had to wade through the discussion of if a church was “ready” for a Black pastor. Yet, with these disparities in experience, of all of my convictions, unity must be one of my core convictions.
Jesus prayed for our oneness even though He is fully aware of the mosaic of our humanity. Distinctiveness is not divisiveness. Color blindness is a myth. Rather, we require vivid cultural awareness to better view the canvas of God’s fully expressed creativity. Distinctiveness is the full expression of the beauty of the image of God. Yet, distinctions have often lead us toward divisions.
Theology has been a reason to divide. Yet, theology must be our primary reason for uniting. Regardless of political, cultural or theological distinctions, true followers of Christ are eager to maintain unity! That is the reason I haven’t given up on ALL of us. I don’t have a right to steal from God what never belonged to me. UNITY is not mine to put down. Unity is a core doctrinal distinction of our Christian faith. It is partially what it means to be a “Restorationist.”
Don’t forget the words I previously shared from J.C. Ryle. I am not preaching a flimsy unity that disregards the gospel. Yes, convictions are necessary. Yes, convictions must be stood on. Yet, whatever those convictions are, UNITY MUST BE ONE OF THEM. Unity is not about some of us. Unity is about ALL of us. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
The post “UNITY AS A CORE CONVICTION” appeared first in the December edition of the Christian Standard