Is it possible to have unity in the body of Christ?
Have you ever wondered why there are so many different Christian denominations? And why isn’t there more unity in the body of Christ?
In doing a little research for this episode, I found estimates ranging from 1,200 up to about 40,000 different Christian denominations. Obviously, not everyone agrees even on how to count how many denominations there are.
If we all believe in Jesus, why can’t we agree on everything else?
Why is the church divided?
Sometimes I wonder how can two people, two churches, or two theologies, look at the same Scripture and come away with completely opposite interpretations?
Then add to these two divergent views hundreds more. It seems sometimes Christianity has splintered into all these different warring camps, many of them claiming they are the only true believers.
How does this happen? If you want to know how, study history.
I think the more important question to ask is: Why does this happen? Why does it still happen?
Human nature can be divisive
There are lots of reasons, one of which is the conscious or unconscious mingling of the original teachings of Christ with the ways of the world, or trying to explain or make sense of things and coming up with man-made, man-contrived doctrines.
And the more I’ve thought about it, the more I think it’s a function of human nature. The human mind believes what it sees. But it also sees what it believes.
I’ve talked about some of these ideas before in several different episodes of The Bible Speaks to You Podcast and I’ve used some of the analogies I’m going to repeat this week.
There’s so much talk about who is right and who is wrong when it comes to explaining what the Bible means, and what it means to be a true Christian, I feel deeply we need to revisit this topic.
Perspective changes what you see
Imagine you and I are sitting across from each other at the table with the salt and pepper shakers in the middle.
To you, the salt is on the right and the pepper is on the left. But to me the pepper is on the right and he salt is on the left.
We could playfully argue with each other about whether the salt is on the right or the left, but we would understand it’s actually a matter of perspective that determines what we see.
But now imagine that the “salt and pepper” represent a theological issue that we disagree on, but we don’t realize we’re looking at it from different perspectives.
The argument is no longer in jest, but becomes heated and judgmental.
I don’t know if you’ve ever had those kinds of theological discussions, but they are no fun. Both sides think they are right and won’t budge an inch. Neither side realizes that the other person is looking from a different viewpoint and sees something different and therefore believes something different.
Once I had a “conversation” with someone who used the very same Bible verses to prove his point that I used to disprove it. That was a real eye-opener. We were obviously sitting on opposite sides of the theological table.
Different interpretations of the Bible
So let’s talk about how and why Christians disagree on important Biblical teachings?
There are two basic reasons: We just talked about the difference perspective can make. But the filter or lens we look through also changes what we see and believe.
You’ve probably heard the joke about the lady who looked out her kitchen window and noticed that her neighbor was hanging up dirty laundry to dry on the clothesline. This went on for several days. She got pretty judgmental of her neighbor until one day her husband cleaned her kitchen windows. Miraculously, the neighbor’s wash was clean that day when she hung it up to dry.
The dirt was not on the laundry but on her own window.
The lens you look through changes what you see
How often do we look at the Bible, God, others, and ourselves through muddy windows?
For example, if you grew up in a church that taught God was wrathful and merciless with the tiniest sin and was ready to punish you any and every minute, that view will color the way you interpret the description of God as Love in the New Testament.
Or if you believe God is not always willing or able to help you when you need it, that will change what you see in the Bible.
The challenge is to realize we have this problem and then wash away all the cultural, sociological, and religious “dirt” from the way we look at ourselves, the world, and especially the Bible.
It’s not always easy to realize there is dirt on our windows. And we usually think something or someone else is the problem.
We just see what we see. We believe what we see. Then we end up seeing what we believe, sometimes we still believe it even after the dirt is washed off.
Your thoughts are your lens
All our fears, limiting beliefs, what we’ve been taught, what life has dished out to us, affect the way we interpret the Bible. We look at the Bible through the filter or lens of our own thinking, culture, opinions, history, etc.
This is why the baptism of the Holy Spirit, is so vital. It washes away the mental “dirt” we don’t even realize is there.
The other main reason we disagree on what the Bible says is that we are looking at it –and specific verses, or stories—from different perspectives.
I’ve already talked about this a little bit, but here’s another example.
Let’s say you have six iPhones and strap them to your body, one on your head, one on the shoulders, one at your waist, one on a knee, one on a foot, and one on your back.
If you turn on the video camera on each phone and walk down the street, what happens? Even though your body is doing one thing – there’s only one event taking place – each video from the six cameras will show something different, especially the one facing backwards.
If you come to a cat, in the video taken from the camera on your foot, it will look like a monster, but in the others it won’t be so intimidating.
If you go up to a waist-high wall, the cameras on the feet and the knees won’t see anything but the wall. The video taken at waist level may just be able to see something over the top, the videos from the shoulder and head will see a wider view and the one from your back won’t even see the wall.
And yet your body is in the exact same place.
The body of Christ
This reminds me of something Paul says in his letters to the Christians in Rome and Corinth (see Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12). He addresses the simple fact that everyone in the church has a different place and function.
He metaphorically describes the church as “the body of Christ.”
Just as each part of the human body has a different place and function that coordinates and contributes to the whole, so in the body of Christ, all believers have a unique place and a function that no one else can fill, different gifts, talents, and abilities.
Paul encourages all of us to work together in harmony and appreciate how all the different gifts work together as a whole.
Unity in the body of Christ but with different perspectives
Just as a cat may appear as a monster at foot level, so a challenge may appear to some in the body of Christ as a terrible demon that is about to devour everything that is good. But to others, the same problem is just an opportunity to express love.
Just as the feet and knee videos can’t see over a waist-high wall, some members in the body of Christ may say, “We’re just not meant to understand these things.”
Similar to the videos taken at shoulder and head height which show what’s beyond the wall, other Christians have a more expansive sense of what is going on.
And as the video from the back doesn’t even see the wall, some Christians just don’t even see something as an issue or they’re not even aware of the situation.
Perhaps some of our theological differences are not so much in disagreement with each other as they are differences of perspective in looking at the same thing.
Which of those six videos is correct?
Whose theology is correct?
I used to get all up in arms when I found someone I disagreed with theologically. I was a nitpicker. I knew the salt was on the right and the pepper on the left. End of story. No discussion necessary. Well, except to try to prove I was right and someone else was wrong.
Funny thing, that never went too well.
Maturity in Christ to the rescue
But as I have matured in Christ I, have come to love all members of the body of believers, even if I radically disagree with some of their theology. I can still appreciate that they are part of the whole.
And I am grateful for them.
Maybe you’re in a church that is the very right hand in the body of Christ. That doesn’t mean that everyone else has to be just like you.
But isn’t that how many Christians think? They know they are sincere Christians and falsely assume everyone must be just like them in order to be Christian. They have defined “Christian” as being the right hand. They even have their suspicions of the left hand: “I mean really, they have everything backwards.”
And too bad for Christians in the left foot of the body of Christ. The right hand Christians think they have to convert the left foot Christians to be just like them.
The body of Christ has more than one part
But the body of Christ is not and cannot be a giant right hand.
There are many members or parts and each has a unique place, perspective, and function. Each has something different to offer to the whole that no one else can.
Paul really explores this analogy of the body of Christ
If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 1 Corinthians 12:17-19
What if all those who believe in Christ could appreciate all others who do?
Instead of arguing over our differences, we need to appreciate what everyone else is bringing to the table.
Instead of arguing over whether the hand or the foot, the knee or the elbow is right, we need to rejoice in the wholeness and unity of our faith in Christ.
Is Christ divided?
Paul asks this exact question (see I Corinthians 1:13).
How would the world respond to Christ if it felt the unity among the members of his body instead of all the bickering that sometimes goes on today?
The perception that the body of Christ is divided comes when we look at things from our perspective in the body of Christ.
Your body does not have eyes on its shoulders, waist, knees, feet, and back. The eyes are in the head.
So it is with the body of Christ. Paul says,
Christ is head of the church. Ephesians 5:23
Christ is the head of the body, the church. That’s where the eyes of the body/church are.
That means we must give up the assumption that the perspective from our place in the body is more valid than what Christ sees.
We must subordinate our view to see what Christ does.
It takes humility
This is how Paul could say in humility,
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” 1 Corinthians 13:9, 10 KJV
In other words, we only see part of the picture from our own place in the body of Christ, but when we let Christ show us what he sees, we’ll see the whole picture and our partial view will disappear.
Christ is not divided
Let’s come back and answer Paul’s question, “Is Christ divided?”
I have slowly come to realize that the true body of Christ is not divided. We are not a bunch of body parts flopping all over the place.
We cannot operate as separate parts or without all parts combined in one.
The unity of Christ’s body already exists. We just need to notice and appreciate it.
But we can’t see it when we’re looking at things from our perspective or through the lenses and filters of our opinions and preconceptions.
An invitation to unity in the body of Christ
Even if you disagree heartily with a fellow Christian’s theology, I invite you to appreciate their place, function, and purpose in the body of Christ. Maybe you feel they are not even Christian.
But you cannot see their heart the way Christ does.
The next time you have the opportunity to talk to someone you disagree with theologically, take the time to actually listen to their heart and understand where they’re coming from and why they believe what they believe instead of trying to prove they’re wrong or just dismissing them as heretics.
Okay, they may have a little mud on their kitchen windows, so to speak. But maybe you do too.
I guarantee you will learn more from this conversation than you would ever imagine.
We all need the whole body of Christ
If you are the right hand of the body of Christ, whether you like it or not, you need the left foot, the right foot, the knees, the elbows, etc., to function completely and fully as a Christian, as a member of Christ’s body.
And if you are the left foot, don’t let the right hand convince you or intimidate you that you should be exactly like them. Each member of the body of Christ is equally important.
We may not agree on whether the salt is on the right or the left, but we can agree that the salt and the pepper are together.
We may not agree on every detail of doctrine, or on very significant theological issues, but everyone who believes and confesses that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Son of God, I will cherish as a member of the body of Christ. I hope you will join me.
One fold and one Shepherd
Again I ask: What would happen in the world if all of us who believe in Jesus, all who consider themselves to be Christians, would embrace this sense of love and honor for all others who believe in Jesus?
The world would change overnight. It would be a completely different place.
And Jesus’s prophecy would be fulfilled,
…there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. John 10:16
The solution to the divisiveness in the Christian church today is not complex. But it is not easy.
It requires immense humility.
Do you really want unity in the body of Christ…
…if it means letting each member of the body of Christ be themselves? Or do you still want everyone to be just like you?
We need to let go of our personal perspectives and opinions and see things from Christ’s perspective. And we have to let the Holy Spirit wash our mental and spiritual “kitchen windows” that we don’t even realize are dirty.
When we do this, we will be able to say with Paul,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: [and we could add: neither protestant or catholic, fundamentalist, evangelical, or liberal,] for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
James Early, the Jesus Mindset Coach, is a Bible teacher, speaker, and podcaster. He conducts Bible workshops online and in person. His focus is on getting back to the original Christianity of Jesus by embracing the mindset of Christ in daily life. Contact him here.
Bible references in this episode
1 Corinthians 12:17-19 NKJV
17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling?
18 But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased.
19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be?
1 Corinthians 1:13 NKJV
13 Is Christ divided?
Ephesians 5:23 NKJV
23 Christ is head of the church
1 Corinthians 13:9, 10 KJV
9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
Romans 12: 4, 5 NLT (New Living Translation)
4 Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function,
5 so it is with Christ’s body. We are many parts of one body, and we all belong to each other.
John 10:16 KJV
16 …there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.
Galatians 3:28 KJV
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.