God does His best work in the midst of unity. In fact, so essential is the issue of oneness in the church that we are told to be on guard against those who try to destroy it (Rom. 16:17). God has intentionally reconciled racially divided groups into one new man (Eph. 2:14-15), uniting them into a new body (Eph. 2:16), in order that the church can function as one (Eph. 2:13). When the church functions as one, we boldly brag on God to a world in desperate need of experiencing Him.
But how do we as a church function as one? We don’t. He does – both in us and through us.
When we got saved, we were baptized into the body of Christ. No matter what our race, gender, or class is, when each of us came to faith in Jesus, we entered into a new family. We didn’t create God’s family. We became a part of it.
That is so important to realize because far too often we are trying to force unity when authentic unity cannot be mandated or manufactured. Instead, God says we are to “preserve the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3). The Holy Spirit has created our unity. It is our job to preserve it.
The reason why we haven’t solved the racial divide in America after hundreds of years is because people apart from God are trying to invent unity, while people who belong to God are not living out the unity that we already possess. The result of both of these situations has been, and will continue to be, disastrous for our nation. Let alone disastrous for the witness of Christ to our nation.
To be fair, we have come lightyears away from slavery, Jim Crow laws, and other ongoing, overt displays of racial hatred. But tolerance is still a far cry from reconciliation. The mere fact that we remain relationally separated most of the time, only coming together for an event or cross-cultural seminar shows how far we need to go. The proof of this is that we are not having a collective restoring effect in our society. We have limited the degree to which God’s presence will flow in us and through us because if what we call unity is not transforming individuals, churches and communities, than it is simply sociology with a little Jesus sprinkled on top.
Unity can be defined in its most basic of terms as oneness of purpose. It means working together toward a common goal. Unity is not achieved through seminars, but rather through service – together. Unity is not uniformity either. Just like God is made up of three distinct Persons – each unique and diverse – unity does not negate individuality. Unity embraces diversity to create a stronger whole.
My son Jonathan played as a fullback in college and for a few years in the NFL. But if Jonathan were to have shown up at practice and start playing like the quarterback, or the center, or even the wide receiver, he would have beeen kicked off the team before practice was even over. Jonathan was a fullback, and if he didn’t play like a fullback then the team would have been worse off because of it.
A football team is eleven unique players working together to reach the same goal. The body of Christ is no different. We are each gifted with certain strengths and skills, but unless we intentionally (and with race in America, we must be intentional) bring these together under the over-arching purpose of God, we will continue to run in circles on the field and never cross the goal line together. We’ll have programs, without power.
Sticking with football – my favorite sport - a problem would also have happened if Jonathan didn’t know what the quarterback did, or could do. Or if the wide receiver didn’t know who the quarterback was, or what he was supposed to do. A successful football team is made up of players who not only know who they are, but who also know who everyone else is.
Without an authentic self-awareness, African-Americans often struggle as we seek to play on the same team toward the same goal in the body of Christ. But just as relevant is the need for awareness among my white brothers and sisters concerning who we are, and who God has created and positioned us to be at this critical time in our world.
When we intentionally familiarize ourselves with each other in such a way that enables us to embrace our diversity to its fullest, we put unity to use for good. As we do that – as we knowledgeably serve side by side – there will be no stopping what we can do together in the name of Jesus Christ.
Anyone who knows me knows that I love football. One reason I love football is because football is pregnant with illustrations, and – as you know - preachers love illustrations. Another reason I love football is because it is a place unlike many others where a player’s distinct attributes are able to be expressed displaying strength, determination, self-control, skill and power in concert with others forming a collective impact without the denial of individual contribution.
Football is oneness in action. When played well, it is unity on display. Players come from different races and different backgrounds. However, when they get on the field, they harmonize their differences toward a common goal. They do this because the goal is larger than their individual preferences. The moment that a player’s individuality becomes more important than the team, he is of no use to his team. But the moment that his individuality loses its unique skills and attributes, he is also of no use to his team.
God has a team. It’s made up of African-American, Anglo, Hispanic, Asian, Middle Eastern, and a variety of other people and cultures. He never wants you to make your distinction, your history or your background, so precious to you that it messes up His team. Nor does He want you to ignore or diminish your distinction, your history or your background, thus leaving little with which to contribute to His team.
The reason is that God has a goal. He has an agenda—a kingdom agenda. He has given us the playbook for His kingdom agenda, and it is called the Bible. He has done this so that we, when executing His plays, will put His glory on display. One way this occurs is when the world looks on and sees brothers and sisters in Christ huddling together across racial, cultural, and generational lines.
But just like in an NFL football game, the huddle is not the play. The huddle accomplishes nothing on its own. In fact, if the huddle lasts much longer than twenty-five seconds, those watching will lose interest and complain, because that’s not what they paid seventy-five dollars a ticket to come and see. Instead, they want to see what difference the huddle will make. They want to know, now that you’ve huddled, can you score? They want to witness what you are going to do as a team with the eleven other men on the other side of the ball daring you to go public with your private conversation.
Our nation doesn’t need to see any more huddles by the body of Christ. What people need to see is the church of Jesus Christ, made up of men and women from all backgrounds and cultures, scoring touchdowns for the kingdom of God. This can only be accomplished when embracing oneness enables us to make God’s purposes and God’s agenda more important than our own individuality, race, culture and preferences while not negating the same.
What God wants is for us to live by His rules, resulting in the receiving of His blessing and power. When we as Christians, celebrating our differences, join together as the house of God representing the kingdom of God for the glory of God, we get the response of God to our presence in history. We get to experience the power of oneness.
Dr. Tony Evans is one of the country’s most respected leaders in evangelical circles. As a pastor, teacher, author and speaker, he serves the body of Christ through his unique ability to communicate complex theological truths through simple, yet profound, illustrations. The first African-American to graduate with a doctoral degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS), Dr. Evans served as an associate professor in DTS’ Pastoral Ministries Department in the areas of evangelism, homiletics and black church studies. Through his local church, Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, and national ministry, The Urban Alternative, Dr. Evans promotes a Kingdom agenda philosophy that teaches God’s comprehensive rule over every sphere of life as demonstrated through the individual, family, church and society. Visit his website at TonyEvans.org.
Dr. Evans Alternative View daily devotional is available for email delivery through Crosswalk.com.
Publication date: June 23, 2015