One of the more problematic aspects of Jesus’ ministry is the way that unity and disunity are juxtaposed so often in Christianity. Let us take two passages and examine them together. Matthew 10:34-39 tells us: “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Yet Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:1-6: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
At times we need to remember part of this complex message, and at times we need to remember other aspects of it. Yet we too easily forget both aspects of this message. For one, we tend to act surprised when we find enemies within, whether we are looking at our physical families or whether we are looking at the family of faith. So long as we are flawed human beings driven by ambition and so long as we have different levels of understanding and application of God’s ways in our lives, there are going to be differences in what we see and in what we do. We are going to be upset that some people are moving too fast and some are going backwards or not moving at all. We are going to be upset that some people have mistaken ideas and that other people do not apply what they know. And others will find fault with us as well. We ought not to be surprised about the division we find in our lives and in our faith traditions, for it could not be otherwise .
Likewise, we are all aware that there should be a unity of faith that combines us together. There can be no genuine Christian identity that is not catholic (in the sense of universal). There is only one Spirit, the Holy Spirit, that joins us with God and with each other as fellow believers. There is only one hope in one Savior who gave His life one time, one baptism by which we confess our sins, and one God who is the Father of us all, and one family in which we are called. We may struggle with what that unity means and how it resolves itself in our world and in our behavior, but that unity exists no matter how much we may wish to deny it. At some point we will all be called to recognize and act on that unity, although that day has not happened yet, unfortunately. We pray for this day to come, but I am not sure if we really know how to handle it, given that the logistics of this unity are difficult. For if there is one body of Christ, then we are faced with the awkwardness of knowing that our institutional and organizational loyalties and our ultimate identity as children of God are not identical, and that the time will come for one identity to be subsumed into the other.
When we look at each other, it is easy to see the differences that divided us. We do not recognize the same authorities. We have drastically different ideas about God, different conceptions of Him, different ideas about death and the afterlife, about how it is that Christians are to live and worship. We have different languages that we use to discuss our faith and our life. In light of these differences, it is not surprising that we divide so often. Indeed, we divide for all kinds of reasons. We divide because some people recognize some people as authorities and not others. We divide because some people focus more on personal sins and others focus more on social sins, and most people do not accept being pointed at as some kind of great sinners and resent it highly. We divide because we have different ideas of how people should live and what they should not do. And we are all right in our own eyes. All of these things, as well as historical grievances based on our personal experiences, keep us apart.
And yet if we look, we can see striking similarities in being outsiders and in feeling out of place and out of step with the world around us. We have our stories of persecution, our awareness of the gulf between our hopes and aspirations and our reality. We know that we are both sinned against and sinning, even if we will not admit it to ourselves or anyone else. We know that we are united with those who have the Holy Spirit, even if we do not know how that unity will eventually be made plain. We know that we will eventually come to the same understanding and show the same godly practice, even if that unity is only to be known by us in the world to come. We may imagine that world but we are given very few details about it. And I think that is for the best. Perhaps it would be too depressing if we knew too much about how it is that God would work that unity in us, that we would not stick with the program if we knew what was going to be asked, and how we would be expected to humble ourselves in the face of God’s ethical demands on us. We know that someday we’ll be together, even if we don’t know how or when. But that is enough, at least for now.
 See, for example: