Unity in the church is not an option for followers of Jesus, says Francis Chan. And if we are failing in this endeavor, one question we should ask is if we really know God—or if we just know a lot about him.
“I am not at all pushing unity at the expense of truth, nor am I pushing unity at the expense of morality,” Chan told author and pastor Skye Jethani on a recent episode of the Holy Post podcast. “God loves truth and hates lies. He loves holiness, and he hates sin.” However, people who are adamant about standing for truth and fighting sin have a tendency to downplay unity as “a cute idea, rather than an absolute command from a holy God and the desire of his heart.”
Said Chan, “There has to be a way that we fight for truth, we fight for holiness, as we are eager to maintain the unity of the faith.”
Unity in the Church Means Being Friends with THOSE People
Chan said that when he was in seminary, he was warned not to fellowship with people in certain Christian circles whom he was told were false teachers. “During my seminary years, there was a lot of warning about the charismatics,” he said, “We really just had to warn people about anyone who believed in the gifts of the Spirit and make sure that people do not speak in tongues or prophesy…everything was just logic and reasoning.”
Chan’s teachers also warned him against Roman Catholics, who were supposedly idol worshippers. The result was that Chan became a person who was “really afraid of other groups and afraid of how they might be destroying the body of Christ.”
But his perspective shifted when he actually got to know people who were Catholic and charismatic. For example, Mike Bickle, director of the International House of Prayer, was “public enemy one” when Chan studied him in seminary. But, said Chan, “the more I saw the humility of his life, his knowledge of the Word of God…his frustration with the excesses in some of the people in his circle,” the more Chan wanted to learn from him.
Another person who surprised Chan was Matt Maher, the author of the worship song, “Your Grace Is Enough.” Chan was shocked when he learned that Maher was Catholic. “I start to realize that I generalize people, put them in these groups,” said Chan. He would think, “Oh, because you’re charismatic, because you’re in this Roman Catholic group, then these things are true of you.’” The problem with that mindset is that by generalizing groups, he was making false assumptions about individual people. Chan said that he has experienced similar unfair judgments from others, such as when people assume he is arrogant because he hangs out with Reformed conservatives.
While we must take the pursuit of unity in the church seriously, Chan stressed that we should not try to come up with a “master plan” for this pursuit. Rather, we need to begin from a place of being absolutely humbled before God. “Let’s just start with humility,” said Chan, “Let’s start with understanding what we’ve been invited into.” When we recognize what God has actually done for us, “this should absolutely change everything” because we will have a profound love for our brothers and sisters who have also been loved and welcomed by a holy God.
Jethani pointed out that many people would not really disagree with that point, but yet we still see a significant lack of the unity in the church God is calling us to pursue. Chan agreed most people would not overtly disagree with his call to humility before God. But, he countered, the real question is whether or not people live out what they say they believe.
In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays to God for unity in the church:
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
When Chan was a new believer, he memorized John 14-17 down to the exact wording. But the fact he memorized those words did not mean he really knew what they meant. “I’ve known in an intellectual sense this passage,” he said. “But I have not known this passage.”