Our Lord prays “that they may be one.” Thus, this week has been set aside by those who would like to see that unity more visibly realized as “the week of Christian unity.” It is a noble desire that the sad divisions of Christendom would cease. So, how do we overcome them?
This is the wrong question, and because the wrong question gets asked, the wrong answers are usually arrived at. Often, the answers are some version or another of this: “We are divided by doctrine and practice. So, let us pay less attention to doctrine and practice, let us ‘put them aside’, and just agree to be united.
It gets called “unity in diversity,” or “agreeing to disagree.” That may allow us to be civil to each other, but it is a far cry from the true unity, the “being of one mind” that the Holy Scriptures enjoin. We have asked the wrong question. How do “we” do it? “We” can’t. The same Spirit which breathed the call to oneness of mind must Himself create that oneness.
So the right question is, “How does the Lord undertake to create the Christian unity to which He summons us, and we as His faithful children desire?” The answer is “through humble obedience to His Word.” Now that is no small matter. He has said much to us in His Word, and departure from any part of it portends the shattering of Christian unity. Nevertheless, pretending to agree when we don’t, or acting as though doctrine that the Lord has given to us is somehow negotiable . . . this is not a formula for unity, it is a formula for apostacy!
I have just concluded one week of teaching at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Novosibirsk. One week down, two left to go. But in being here, I am struck by this simple truth: we do not create unity. We discover it. God creates it through His Word. Here on the other side of the world from my beloved adoptive home State of Texas, I find believers with whom I have genuine unity: Unity in the Gospel in all its articles, unity in the Sacraments administered according to our Lord’s institution, unity in the liturgical expression of those precious gifts in the Divine Service. What joy. And the joy is real, because the unity is real . . . a gift of the Lord, not a contrivance of man.
The high temperature today is supposed to be somewhere around zero (F). It’s snowing today, which is adding a layer of white to the layers upon layers of white that everything was already covered in anyway. But not all the feelings of missing home and not all of this alien cold weather dampens in the slightest the love that I have for the Siberian Evangelical Lutheran Church and the faithful work they are doing in this part of the world.
To my dear sheep in Burleson, Texas: I know how hard it is to be faithful, especially faithful in this matter of Christian unity, when there is so much disunity among American Christians and even within our own denomination. The temptation is ever before us to compromise, to manufacture a negotiated human unity with our fellow Christians with whom we do so very much long to be united. In the big picture of visible Christendom, it’s tough to feel so marginal.
Take heart. I said earlier in this article that the same Holy Spirit who enjoins unity must Himself create that unity. Dear ones in Christ, He does! The Lord still gives His gifts of salvation . . . the Words spoken by Christ’s mouth, and the saving Baptism and the Holy Sacrament of His Body and Blood flowing from His crucifixion wounds. The Lord has those who receive these gifts with you, all over the world. The Lord is with us, and His holy angels also, and that’s a far cry from being marginal. Stand firm, let nothing move you. And God grant that by uncompromising faithfulness to His Word, those who have compromised will hear the invitation to receive the pure teaching and gifts of our Lord, and join with us in expressing true Christian Unity.
Your unworthy servant in Christ,
Pastor Kent Heimbigner