One of the great desires within the heart of every true Christian is a longing for unity. In every age men and women have looked around them and lamented the evidences of disunity and strife within and among the people of God. There is no question that this desire comes from two great truths that we are all image-bearers of a Triune God who dwells in perfect unity with Himself and are brought into fellowship with this Triune God through Christ by the indwelling Spirit. It is also true that the brokenness of this fallen world is seen most clearly in the way sin divides and breaks apart what should be one.
These realities often result in frustrated cries among the beloved of “Why can’t we all just love Jesus?” It’s a good question, isn’t it? Can we overlook all the nooks and crannies of biblical debate that seem to drive us further and further away from John 3:16? My short answer (which is all I am capable of giving) is no. Let me try to use a medical picture to prove my point.
You cannot look past the details of biblical revelation to the heart of the gospel any more than you can relegate arteries, veins and capillaries to insignificant distractions that take the focus off the heart itself. These tiny vessels are the necessary instruments that feed blood into the heart and allow blood to flow from the heart. In the same way, the heart of the gospel in all its glory is shaped and informed by the whole of biblical revelation. This is not to say that the simplest and most child-like among us cannot understand and appreciate the essential truth of the gospel if they have been given eyes to see. But it is to say that they have merely pricked the skin and have much to learn and grow up into to see all that God has prepared and accomplished through Christ.
At the same time, it is the heart of the gospel that pumps life into every word and page of the Scriptures. We see with new eyes. We feel with new hearts. I understand the impulse to stay with the basics. The solitary heart looks very unified and simple in comparison to a picture of the circulatory system which looks very complicated and messy at best. And yet life is found in the whole not the parts. The redemption story with all its twists and turns gives context to the gospel and our faith. The gospel is at the same time the life and power of the story. To put it another way, there would be no forest to miss if it were not for the trees. But the trees find their glory in the beauty and majesty of the whole.
We want to simplify in order to unify. But it produces a false unity. For behind every cry of “I love Jesus” is a vast network of ideas and beliefs that feed into what each individual means by that statement. If a love for Jesus in this simplistic form were the standard of unity, then we as Christians would have to do a better job of cultivating unity with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons, and many Muslims. When you or I utter that phrase “I love Jesus”, there are a thousand truths that define and give shape to its meaning.
Simplicity comes from maturity. The one with the simplest faith is the one with the deepest and best understanding of the redemption story with all its complexities. The teacher who can best simplify algebra for the student is the one who knows far more about the theory of mathematics than algebra requires. Think about the people you know who have the richest and simplest view of life and faith. Do they tend to be older or younger? Exactly.
Unity also comes from maturity. As each part gives way to the whole, not through reductionism but submission, a deep unity begins to work its way into the loaf of life. This kind of unity takes time. It is the kind of unity that happens as we grow up in all things into Christ who is the head. Like much of redemptive history it is messy and slow and filled with peaks and valleys. But “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)
Our Lord will not be content marrying a schizophrenic bride or competing brides or something resembling Solomon’s harem. He has betrothed himself in blood and the Spirit to one bride. And she will indeed be radiant and pure on that day when He calls Her to Himself. Let us not grow weary in the preparation leading up to that glorious wedding day!