If an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he or she is not a Christian. (Francis Schaeffer)
I read Francis Schaeffer’s The Mark of the Christian shortly after it was published in 1970. Schaeffer quoted Christ’s words in John 13:35: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Then he cited Jesus’s prayer in John 17:21 that the disciples “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.”
Schaeffer tied the verses together:
[In John 13:35] if an individual Christian does not show love toward other true Christians, the world has a right to judge that he or she is not a Christian. Here [in John 17:21] Jesus is stating something else that is much more cutting, much more profound: We cannot expect the world to believe that the Father sent the Son, that Jesus’s claims are true, and that Christianity is true, unless the world sees some reality of the oneness of true Christians. (26–27)
A beautiful, biblical slap in the face.
The Final Apologetic
I was 16—a new believer studying how to defend gospel truth to friends and family. Yet Schaeffer called Christian love and unity “the final apologetic,” the ultimate defense of our faith.
Schaeffer helped me see what should have been self-evident in Christ’s words: believers’ love toward each other is the greatest proof that we truly follow Jesus. If we fail to live in loving oneness, the world—or to bring it closer to home, our family, and friends—will have less reason to believe the gospel.
In 1977, some of us who’d struggled at our churches gathered to worship and study Scripture. Before we knew it, God planted a new church. Our fellowship was a breath of fresh air. At 23, as a naive co-pastor, I thought we’d found the secret to unity. But eventually, though our numbers rapidly increased, too many left our gatherings feeling unloved, not experiencing what Schaeffer called the “reality of the oneness of true Christians.”
Our Deep Disunity
In the 52 years I’ve known Jesus, I’ve witnessed countless conflicts between believers. But never more than in the last year. Many have angrily left churches they once loved. Believers who formerly chose churches based on Christ-centered Bible teaching and worship now choose them based on non-essential issues, including political viewpoints and COVID protocols.
Churches are experiencing a pandemic of tribalism, blame, and unforgiveness—all fatal to the love and unity Jesus spoke of. Rampant either/or thinking leaves no room for subtlety and nuance. Acknowledging occasional truth in other viewpoints is seen as compromise rather than fairness and charitability.
Sadly, evangelicals sometimes appear as little more than another special-interest group, sharing only a narrow “unity” based on mutual outrage and disdain. This acidic, eager-to-fight negativity highlights Schaeffer’s point that we have no right to expect unbelievers to be drawn to the good news when we obsess about bad news and treat brothers and sisters as enemies.
Playing into Satan’s Strategy
The increase in Christians bickering over non-essentials doesn’t seem to be a passing phase. And it injures our witness, inviting eye rolls and mockery from unbelievers and prompting believers to wonder whether church hurts more than it helps.
Satan is called the accuser of God’s family (Revelation 12:10) and uses every means to undercut our love for each other. Too often we do his work for him. His goal is to divide churches and keep people from believing the gospel. “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10). When we fail to love each other, we are acting like the devil’s children.