“Belhar’s relevance is not confined to Southern Africa. It addresses three key issues of concern to all churches: unity of the church and unity among all people, reconciliation within church and society, and God’s justice.” ~ From The Belhar Confession’s Prologue
Over the next couple of weeks we’ll be talking about The Belhar Confession.
Unity. The word itself evokes a feeling of something worthy to attain. If we could hold church history like a time capsule in our hands we’d find a life filled with schisms over varying Scriptural interpretation and understanding of doctrine. Even today, something noble and righteous like addressing forms of injustice within church and society cause division. How do we achieve unity when our differing viewpoints and convictions seem to naturally collide?
There are many definitions of unity but there are two that I love. The first describes unity as a condition of harmony. The second defines unity as the quality or state of being made one. Jesus knew that believers would struggle to become HIS unified church. Unity is one of the central characteristics of the church that reflects the very nature and essence of God. Jesus prays, “Make them one as you and I are one.” There is a lingering hope in Jesus words from John 17. Unity is needed to spread the gospel message—that Jesus was sent into the world by his Father.
Unity is a type of force that not only reflects oneness between Jesus and his Father, but is a key part of Spirit force that transforms church and society alike (I talk about unity as a sort of spiritual force like Martin Luther King considered nonviolence as moral force that makes for social transformation). Commitment to unity in God is a commitment to becoming one. The church must willingly enter into this journey of formation with Christ. It would be foolish to think that the church could live into unity outside of Christ’s reconciling work. Unity is not only a “mark” of the church but is the soul force of the church manifested and active in “doing justice, loving kindness while walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8)
When Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, he gave a lecture in which he praised humanity for advancement in science and technology. However, like a prophet calling a nation to repentance, he said:
There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers.
King’s words are timeless. Today’s American church is still plagued with forms of poverty in spirit. Such a spiritual condition shines through when our varying convictions and perspectives hinder us from entering into the state of being made one. That oneness is in Christ.
South African Christians, who wrote the Belhar Confession, and even King, were the answer to Jesus prayer. “Make them one as you and I are one.” I want to be a part of the answer to Jesus prayer. I want to enter into the state of being made ONE. A place for us to enter into the journey towards unity is to pray and live the prayer of Jesus—i.e. become the answer.
Rev. Kenita Ruth Harris serves as Pastor of Spiritual Formation & Leadership Development at Christ Memorial Church in Holland, Michigan.