Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all. (NLT)
We often hear of pleas for more unity between churches or within churches. We can make two mistakes with such pleading. One is that we think of unity in terms of restructuring organisations, getting denominations together. As if committees can produce unity.
The other mistake is to confuse unity with uniformity. Some pleas for unity are really about pleading for other Christians to agree with us, to tick our boxes, to join our favoured tribe.
Our text provides a better perspective. First, Christians already are united to God through the work of Jesus and the presence of his Spirit. No need to create unity: it is already there. We need to maintain it, to live it out. And Paul’s description of qualities like humility, gentleness, patience and forbearance gives us the clues we need to do this.
We live out our unity by displaying just those qualities. These allow us to agree to disagree, to learn from one another, to even celebrate our diversity. This is far removed from a bullying agenda which urges us to “get onboard” and “join the team”. Or the futility of forming committees to create something we already have. Changing structures may do some good, but only changing hearts sustains unity.