I get daily encouragement e-mails from Joel Osteen’s ministry. Sometimes I skip them, sometimes I skim them, and sometimes I actually read them. A few days ago, I read one of them. It was about Christian unity.
Joel was encouraging his Christian readers to focus on the common ground that they share with other Christians, particularly those with whom they may not get along. As an example, Joel said that if both of you believe that Jesus is Lord, focus on that.
The topic of Christian unity came up in my reading another time. I recently read Contagious Disciple Making, by David and Paul Watson. In the book, there was a list of New Testament “one another” passages, which concern how Christians are supposed to relate to one another. One of the items on the list was that Christians are commanded to agree with one another. It referred to I Corinthians 1:10, which states: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (KJV).
On Joel Osteen’s remarks, focusing on my agreement with another believer about Jesus being Lord does not give me warm and fuzzy feelings towards that other believer. Why? Maybe it is doubt of Christianity on my part. Maybe it is because, while I may feel like a believer when I am by myself praying or going to a worship service, I feel like an unbeliever when I am physically around conservative Christians, whose dogmatism gets on my nerves.
How can I feel a sense of unity with them, though? I have felt a sense of unity when I have reflected on how we are all human beings, with desires, emotions, needs, experiences, pain, irritations, struggles, and flaws. When even conservative Christians have opened up about that, I have felt a greater bond with them. From a Christian perspective, I feel unified with them when I recognize that we are all sinners who need forgiveness. That is probably the closest I feel to them when it comes to Christian doctrine.
On that list in Contagious Disciple Making, a part of me wonders if perhaps the Watsons are taking I Corinthians 1:10 a bit too literally. Paul in that passage, it seems to me, is essentially encouraging the Corinthian Christians to get along and to love each other, since there were factions among them. Paul in that very letter acknowledges and appreciates that Christians may find themselves seeing things differently on account of their different backgrounds, for that is what I Corinthians 8 is about: how to navigate lovingly the differences of opinion about whether to eat meat offered to idols. Romans 14 makes a similar point: respect people’s differences.
At the same time, the New Testament does seem to want believers to be on the same page on some things. I struggle here, but, again, I try to focus on whatever common ground I do share with other believers, and I try not to be disruptive.