Some feel unity comes through believing the same things. If we create a common statement of faith and get everyone to agree to it, we will have unity. Others think worship styles are the basis of unity. If we get everyone under one roof who likes the Hillsong style or the Bethel style we will find unity. Or forget all that and go back to traditional hymns and liturgy. Still others tell us the answer is to build churches with homogenous groups of people -- the same age group or social group or ethnic group. Or sometimes we think that if can build a movement with a “brand,” that will do the trick. Redeemer, Hillsong, Harvest, Bethel, Acts 29 and so on.
But in truth none of these things will create unity. It is not that doctrine or worship or church order is unimportant. It is just that they don’t constitute the foundation. Ironically, we find the answer in going to the most divided congregation in the New Testament world. Paul teaches those fractious and difficult believers at Corinth that there is only one way to unity. Why are we one body in Christ, he asks in 1 Corinthians 12:12? The answer comes in verse 13: because we have been baptized in the one Spirit and given the one Spirit to drink. What makes them one is their common experience of the Holy Spirit.
Only the Holy Spirit can create unity. There are lots of ways we can hinder unity, but there isn’t a single way we can create it. Only the Spirit can do that.
When you are born into a family, there’s nothing you can do to make yourself part of that family. By virtue of birth, you are part of it, whether you like it or not. And even if you try to leave your family, you will never cease being your parents’ son or daughter, or brother or sister to your siblings, or grandson or granddaughter to your grandparents. Birth places you into family.
Human families can fracture. But something stronger than flesh and blood holds the body of Christ together. And that is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Birth places us into natural family. New birth places us into spiritual family. And the new birth occurs through the Holy Spirit: “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The Holy Spirit has the incredible ability to join people together who otherwise would have nothing in common with each other, and to create one family out of them. The Holy Spirit enables us to travel to the farthest corners of the world and encounter fellow believers with whom we feel instantly at home. What we have in common is always far more than our outward differences.
We need a strong and real experience of the Holy Spirit. Christianity does not depend on an experience. It depends on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. But we are meant to have a tangible experience of the Holy Spirit when we submit to what Christ did on the cross and receive its benefits for ourselves. The Holy Spirit changed Peter from a coward who denied the Lord three times into a man who stood up to testify to his faith in front of thousands, went into the Sanhedrin and rebuked the religious leaders publicly, wound up beaten and in prison and never turned back.
How this comes to you or to me is not something that can be programmed. After all, you never know where the Spirit is coming from or where he is going (John 3:8). How the Spirit met you last year or last week may not be how he is going to meet you today. How the Spirit met your friend is not necessarily going to be how the Spirit meets you. What are the signs of the Spirit’s presence? The knowledge of the love of God (Eph. 4:14-19). The peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7). The joy of the Lord, unspeakable and full of glory (1 Peter 3:8). The presence of a clear conscience (2 Cor. 4:2). And the assurance that the Lord is with you and will never leave you or forsake you (Heb. 13:5).
The purpose of our common experience of the Spirit is not so much that we all get along with each other. No, Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 it is above all that we be formed into one body. Why is this so? Because only in the one body is the fullness of the reality of who Jesus is made manifest to the world. Only when we are all working together is the fullness of who Jesus is in the midst of us made visible.
That’s why unity is so important. The world will only know the love of God when they see it manifest in the unity of his people with him and with each other (John 17:23). Seek a fresh encounter with his Spirit each day and let your joy spill over into the lives of those around you. Then unity will come.