I heard Dr. William Shaw preach on the theme of Christian unity at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta. Over 16,000 Baptists from all over North America representing 20 million people from every race and region gathered to set aside some of our differences and celebrate our commonalities. He told us that relationship building is a major step towards working together.
I was at another meeting this weekend that repeated the same theme on a smaller scale. Pastor’s from the eastern half of Lake County, IL gathered for a retreat. The agenda was strengthening relationships. Not every pastor was there but the one’s that came represented a diversity that is uncommon in ministerial groups. The diversity was not only racial but also in the size of the churches and the types of communities that they served. A variety of political and theological views were also represented.
Although I tend to prefer action over words, I am gaining a new appreciation for the need to build a strong foundation of camaraderie. Friendship cannot be rushed and genuine accord cannot be faked. The world outside the church (and many of those inside) don’t understand some of the theological arguments that divide our churches. They don’t care about historical decisions that created splinter movements. They see division and often view as hypocrisy.
Churches working shoulder to shoulder in a community balance out the negative stories that can dominate the news. Jesus gave us the secret to differentiate His true followers from the pretenders and posers. The language of hate can be overcome with the language of love.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)