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Thinking the Faith, Praying the Faith, Living the Faith is written by the PC(USA) Office of Theology and Worship.

Thinking, praying, and living the faith is at the core of ministry in the Office of Theology and Worship. In the following videos, learn more about what thinking, praying, and living the faith means to the leadership of the Office of Theology and Worship. Discover why it matters and what difference it makes in our lives, work, and worship.  

Charles Wiley  
Barry Ensign-George
David Gambrell
Christine Hong 
Karen Russell

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November 1, 2013

Unity is an Action

Unity is an action, not a settled state that we achieve and can rest on.  Unity is a participation thing, not something external to us.  Unity is waiting to be lived today, not something settled in the past.

It is a painful time across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).  Some sisters and brothers, either one-by-one or as congregations, are departing, having decided they can no longer minister faithfully within this denomination.  Other sisters and brothers are celebrating changes in the denomination: new ordination standards, new polity, new initiatives.  Sometimes we are finding ways to talk through grief and celebration.  Sometimes we are angry, bitter, triumphalist.  Rigidity beckons always: rigid about rules and procedures, rigid in condemnation of one another, rigid about possessions, rigid in asserting the righteousness of our group, our side, our way – no matter what “group” or “side” it may be.

In the midst of the noise it can be hard to think well; in the midst of the tumult and struggle hearts are being wounded.  In this place it is particularly hard to think well about unity, and then to live well what has been well thought.  “Unity” gets weaponized, becoming another tool for judgment and condemnation.

The call for followers of Jesus Christ to live unity with one another is clear – Jesus issues the call in the Gospels (especially John 17), the call is repeated beyond the Gospels (for example, 1 Corinthians 12).  The challenge is to know just what that call calls us to, how it is to be lived.

The striking thing about what Scripture says about the unity we’re called to is that it’s not a unity of organizational structures.  It’s a unity of heart.  “If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, . . .” (Philippians 2:1-5, and what follows is the great hymn of Christ relinquishing divine position and power).

Organizational structures, institutions, are among God’s good gifts to us.  When well-fashioned and well-functioning they serve relationship.  Which means they are secondary.  Perhaps that’s why the New Testament does not tell us exactly what organizational structures to put in place in order to be faithful.  The structures are secondary; relationship, of a certain character and quality, that’s primary.  The name for the character and quality of relationship we are called to is love.

And love is something enacted.  Love is a particular kind of relationship, relationship that (as Philippians 2 teaches us) seeks the good of the one loved. It sets aside selfishness and conceit and self-absorption and the need to establish our own righteousness.  Love can only be the things described in Philippians 2, and in 1 Corinthians 13, and in John 17, and in Matthew 28, and . . . when it is enacted, practiced, tried out, lived.  Today. 

We know this.  It is part of the vision that fed and sustained our long reflection on – and adoption of – a new Form of Government for our denomination, our particular little (tiny, in the scheme of things) part of the great Body of Christ.  It is the hope that the unity of our denomination can be a unity of heart, of relationship, served by flexible structures that enable us to live God’s love today, and tomorrow, and into the future. 

Except sometimes we forget this vision or perhaps, in our worst moments, reject it.  In the midst of the noise it can be hard to think well, in the midst of the tumult hearts are being hurt.  Views of who we the PC(USA) are supposed to be are being challenged and falling away.  We wonder why our organizational structures are not enough (after all, they serve my interests - how could they not serve yours?), and the limits we set to the flexibility of those organizational structures sometimes become narrower (so, for example, we are anxious about and suspicious of organizational structures that might cross denominational lines between the PC(USA) and other denominations, especially other Presbyterian denominations - structures that might hold us near one another in spite of how difficult, awkward, and painful that might be).

Organizational structures are not the unity to which the triune God calls us.  Unity – like love, which is so deeply tied to faithful, faith-filled unity – is an action.  If you and I enacted unity yesterday, that doesn’t carry over to today (like the manna in the wilderness).  Which brings some good news: if you and I failed to enact unity yesterday, enacting division and enmity instead, that doesn’t determine today.  If we are really interested in embodying the unity to which Jesus Christ calls us, then we will seek resolutely, stubbornly even, to build relationships that embody it each and every today, building on yesterday and all the past where possible, doing the hard work of unity anew each day.

And we will not do so only internally, within the PC(USA).  We will seek unity as well with the vast majority of followers of Christ who are not part of our denomination, who are part of the Body of Christ though not part of the particular web of relationships found within the PC(USA)’s organizational structures.

Jesus Christ calls us to unity, true unity, unity of relationship, the unity of love.  “God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:9-11)

Tags: action, church, denomination, pcusa, unity

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