“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.” ~Mark 3:24-25 (NRSV).
There are many similar clichés alluding to Jesus’ truth above. For instance, ‘Divide and conquer’, or ‘United we stand, divided we fall’.
There is no more important a concept for the church than unity.
Many Christians may have memory of times when they met at church, perhaps during members’ meetings, and disparate persons, set with their own agendas, railed against votes on pastors, major church plans, and progress toward unity. They believed staunchly in the ideal church.
Whilst unity is fundamental to the workings of God’s grace within a fellowship, the unswerving goal of ideal will divide that house and it will not be able to stand.
Ideal must be tempered by real.
If we are to achieve unity we must live with a tension; we must bridge the real-ideal gap. In other words, whilst we strive for the ideal, we must accept the real. Church, like any other human organisation, is riddled with imperfection: imperfect pastors, overly gregarious door greeters, gossipy small groups; faults with fellowship.
Let us not forget, Christ has not made his church perfect, yet. “Yet” is the operative word.
Bridging the Real-Ideal Gap
Presuming you already belong to a church of fellowship, you will already know that that group of believers, as a collective, is far from perfect. Indeed, there are known instances of people being hurt, of the occasional poor decision, personality clashes, inappropriate timings for things, disagreements, doctrinal differences etc.
The interesting thing is if your church hasn’t been afflicted with the occasional problem—which are opportunities for conflict resolution—then it may be a case of stale, overly safe fellowship. People are unlikely to grow in such an environment.
Church—this side of the Parousia—was always meant to be real, not ideal.
As we bridge this gap we hold the real and ideal balls in the air simultaneously.
We understand, and even expect, and accept, that the people we meet at church will have similar fears, faults, failures, and hurts holding them down as we do. Their minds may be burdened as ours often are. They are tempted to fixate on one inappropriate gesture or a coarse word just like we do. They, also, like us, struggle not to judge, particularly those ‘who should know better’. We should expect to be tested by the Lord’s enemy these ways; to be aware of any form of conflict set on division.
We go to church expecting imperfection, mistakes; human beings plying their craft.
Yet, as persons, and within our groups, we do our best, accepting that less than our best is mostly good enough.
Church is a place where perfect people are not welcome because they will be incompatible with those they find there. The real person, who knows they’re imperfect, fits right in. They know they live in an imperfect world. They also know that the church, in this worldly age, before the end comes, is a microcosm of the world. They value unity well over perfection.
© 2011 S. J. Wickham.