By Braeden Storkersen
I’m a follower of Jesus and a pastor. This means I spend the majority of my time doing my best to fuel a warm Christian community that is united around the cause of Christ to seek redemption in the world.
Unfortunately, we as Christians sometimes don’t do too well at the whole community and unity thing.
Take a look out at the world and you will find that there are 34,000 Christian denominations.
You read that right. 34,000 denominations. Christians found reasons to divide into 34,000 different categories! Insane, right?
If we’re honest with ourselves though, this issue of fighting and division isn’t just a Christian problem. This is a human problem.
If you were conscious for 2016, I’m sure you noticed the crazy amount of division that we have right now; not just in America but the whole world.
Spend some time on social media and you will see people verbally crucifying each other. Someone disagrees with them and the immediate resort is to call them a bigot or a snowflake.
There’s something in all of us that finds it radically difficult to associate with others who don’t think like we do. Yet there’s something in us that knows that’s not the way it’s supposed to be.
There’s something in all of us that longs for peace, for people to be able to sit down and have a meal together, to look past their differences and to choose love over hate.
I would call that longing the Way of Jesus. Whatever you choose to call it, the raw emotional desire in all of us is for love to prevail over hate, injustice, and disunity.
So what do we do? There are so many years of divisiveness behind us in Christianity and beyond and we are in a time of intense division once again.
If we desire unity then what do we do?
Here’s what’s interesting…
Everything I mentioned as far as the division in Christianity happened a good 350+ years after the time of Jesus – which means for the first 300 years, Christians had unbelievable unity!
In early Christian communities, people gathered together from different ethnicities, political ideologies, and socio-economic backgrounds and they had meals together. They shared their lives together, they took care of each other, and they sought to take care of the world around them.
There was a saying that if you had no friends or family but you had a Christian neighbor then you would always be taken care of.
There was something different about Christians. Their unity and impact on the world was amazing.
How do we move toward that once again?
To understand this, we have to go back to Jesus and observe the way Jesus started the entire movement that became Christianity.
Jesus started with just twelve disciples. The night before he is going to die, he sits down with them and he says these famous words:
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus says to these twelve people that if they love one another then the world will know that they are his disciples.
If just twelve people can love each other, the world will be changed. There’s something about a small group of friends in unified community that can change the world.
Here’s the thing though. The twelve disciples were not people who would get along.
There was one guy in Jesus’s twelve disciples named Simon the Zealot.
The Zealots were a group of Jewish nationalists who hated the Roman government. There were many uprisings that they led; slaughtering full cities of Romans. In other words, they were terrorists to the Roman government.
Then there was another disciple: Matthew the tax collector – a Jew who worked for the Roman government, betraying his people and working for the oppressors to get wealthy.
You have a government worker and a terrorist who wants to overthrow the government in the same group following Jesus together. These are the people that Jesus looks at and says “love each other and if you do, the world will be changed…” Not a simple task.
On a more petty level, there’s Peter and John. For some reason they didn’t like each other.
In fact, there’s this story at the end of John’s gospel account where John is writing about when Jesus rose from the dead. Peter and John were rushing to see the empty tomb for themselves:
“Both of them were running together, but the one whom Jesus loved outran Peter and reached the tomb first.”
John felt the need to record for everyone that he is a better runner than Peter and he beat him to Jesus’s tomb. He also refers to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved” as if to emphasize that Jesus liked him more.
These people did NOT get along! You have terrorists and government workers; strange rivalries. There’s even more I could go on about, but we’ll leave it at that right now.
Jesus looks at these twelve and says “if you twelve can figure this out and love each other then the world will be absolutely changed…”
Jesus believed twelve people working through their petty differences as well as their deep ideological differences could change the world.
I believe this too. This is why I follow Jesus and why I’m a pastor.
I think if you’ve read this far that you’d like to believe it too. I think you’d like to believe that community is possible.
I think if you’ve read this far that you’d like to believe that unity in the midst of diversity is possible.
The question for you then is this: Will you lead the way? Can you love someone who is different than you in more than just surface-level ways but in deep ideological ways?