How Much Consensus does Unity Need?

Is there anything as unstoppable as unity? Is there anything as divisive as language? These are issues tackled in Genesis 11. In response to the towering rebellion, God confounded the language of the builders. The reason? When people are united, they’re unstoppable (Genesis 11:6). Though unity makes humanity unstoppable, it is incredibly fragile as it stands on shaky ground: shared understanding; the holy grail of all communication. Thus, by pulling out that single strand, God demolished their daring enterprise and off they went… divided.

In Acts 2, God’s people need unity to be unstoppable in the spread of the gospel thus, God returns the indispensable shared understanding to his people. People from all over are stunned as they hear the message in their own languages, its clarity turning their hearts to Jesus. The message will spread just as Jesus predicted at the beginning of Acts – first in Jerusalem, then in Samaria just before it goes to the whole world. Finally, it seems God will have a growing community of people who love him for who he is and not what he can give.

Satan will certainly not watch idly as the church trudges on his turf. He will apply both external pressure and internal. Externally, he will try to expunge the fiery tongues by moving on the authorities to trample on religious freedom. These authorities will go from issuing stern warnings to whipping and imprisoning the church members and Stephen’s bold testimony will reveal these men’s murderous hearts. Their enraged yelling cannot drown out the testimony of the church as Stephen’s murder and Saul’s subsequent purge of Christians forces them to flee to other cities, taking the gospel with them.

Unfortunately for Satan, even Saul proves receptive to the message he’d travelled so far to eradicate. It is the internal strife that Satan kindles in the church that poses the greatest danger for Satan knows too that when faced with a united enemy, one must attack that enemy’s harmony. The church will find itself putting out fires that threaten to destroy it. The strife will swirl around differences between people and the prejudices that these differences nurture: Jews and Hellenized Jews will fight; circumcised and uncircumcised will tussle till they stop short of ripping the church apart.

The history of the early church shows that consensus is not indispensable as far as unity goes. The church members constantly differed in opinion yet the church still grew exponentially. The church’s success must lie in the work of the Holy Spirit in their hearts – Peter went from impetuous to bold; John changed from a son of thunder to the disciple of love. James sued for peace when the circumcision issue threatened to rip the church into shreds…

“It seemed best to the Holy Spirit and to us not to place on you any heavier burden than these important requirements.”

(Acts 15:28 FBV emphasis supplied)

 

How amazing that distinguished church leaders would write to church members, a letter beginning with, “It seemed like a good idea”. In other words, they were humble enough to admit that they could be wrong. They’d decided that no matter how contentious the issue at hand was, it didn’t outweigh the importance of increasing Jesus’ kingdom by spreading their testimony. Their encounter with Jesus softened their hearts for the Holy Spirit to work on them. They just couldn’t not share this amazing experience and so filled with the desire to share it, they were united not by consensus but commitment. May it be so with us.

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