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Did it take this?

There is power in the unity we have in Christ.

Readers of these pages will know that I have frequently decried the lack of visible unity among the various communions of the Body of Christ.

I know that it is difficult to actualize and sustain visible expressions of the unity all Christians have in the Spirit of God. But, though achieving such unity be hard work, the Apostle Paul expected it of us (Eph. 4.3).

Undoubtedly, our lack of visible oneness is a hindrance to our witness to the reality of Christ's incarnation and saving work (Jn.17.21). This probably helps to explain the languid state of evangelism among most congregations, as well as the continuing slide of the rosters of church membership as a percent of the overall population in America.

So needless to say I was much cheered to receive a report that, in one part of our country, churches have begun to share their facilities for worship, to use their campuses in joint efforts to provide for the needy, and to support one another's ministries in a ways sufficiently visible and remarkable as to catch the attention of the Associated Press.

But what has brought about this sudden and dramatic, highly visible collaboration in work and worship on the part of congregations who previously had next to nothing to do with one another? A fresh upwelling of the Holy Spirit? Sudden revival and renewal? Simultaneous discovery, on the part of local pastors, of the real meaning of the phrase, "I believe in the communion of the saints"?

No. What has occasioned this wonderful joining and working together is the worst tornado outbreak in 37 years. As Eric Tucker reported on Saturday, church leaders in north Alabama "say the disaster has a chance to bring closer congregations that generally had little connection" ("Ala. churches forge bonds after deadly tornadoes," May 7, 2011).

Mr. Tucker is clearly impressed, and rightly so. Churches are working together to bring relief to their beleaugered communities. Even more, he notes that, as a result of these terrible storms, churches are "offering up worship space for congregations that lost theirs in the storm, collecting food donations for churches in hard-hit areas to give to their communities and forging relationships that in some cases span denominations and styles of worship." Churches are joining together for worship and laboring together with private and federal agencies to make sure that everyone has a place to stay and enough to eat.

Some denominational affinities remain in tact, it's true; Assembly of God churches prefer worshiping with one another rather than, say, with the Baptists, whose worship is not sufficiently lively or spontaneous for them.

Still, the unity of the Body of Christ is visible in north Alabama in dramatic and remarkable ways. Give thanks to God!

But it did it take the costliest and deadliest tornadoes in years to bring this to pass? Is it not enough that the Scriptures commend and command that we seek the unity of the Body of Christ, regardless of how hard it is to maintain?

It makes me wonder what might happen if, following the recovery from this tragedy, the churches there lapse back into their old familiar ways of denominational and congregational isolationism.

Or if churches throughout the rest of the country continue to ignore, deny, or disregard this clear Biblical mandate to work for oneness.

There is power in the unity we have in Christ. We are without excuse if we fail to pursue it, not just at times of tragedy, but as a normal part of our love for one another and our Christian witness to the watching world.

Additional related texts: John 13.1-15; Acts 4.32-37; 11.27-30; 1 Corinthians 12.7-11

A conversation starter: "Why do you suppose - especially in the light of Jesus' teaching - churches have such a hard time maintaining any visible unity?"

T. M. Moore

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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