Maintaining Our Christian Oneness
“IMAGINE you are called brother or sister,” wrote Catholic writer Domenico Mosso, “not by the priest, but by the middle-aged gentleman next to you or by the fair young lady who has just arrived at your right. ‘I beg your pardon?’ ‘I said, good morning brother.’ ‘How do you dare . . . I don’t know you at all, so how come all this familiarity? After all, we are in church.’”
A real sense of brotherhood is indeed missing within the churches of Christendom. This reflects their lack of Christian unity. Not so with Jehovah’s Witnesses, however. Like early followers of Jesus, we freely call one another brother and sister. (2 Peter 3:15) No matter where we go in the world, a warm, brotherly reception is as near as the closest Kingdom Hall. Unity is also manifest in the fact that all congregations follow the same pattern of instruction and that all Witnesses are engaged in the preaching of the “good news of the kingdom.”—Matthew 24:14.
On the night before he died, Jesus Christ prayed: “I make request . . . concerning those putting faith in me through their word; in order that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me and I am in union with you.” (John 17:20, 21) The Bible record shows that Jehovah God answered Jesus’ prayer. Among early Christians, long-standing animosities between Jews and Gentiles dissipated through the unifying force of Christ’s teachings.—Galatians 3:28.
However, it took effort to maintain this unity. The apostle Paul entreated his fellow workers “to walk worthily of the [heavenly] calling . . . earnestly endeavoring to observe the oneness of the spirit in the uniting bond of peace.” They were not to split up into various sects. No, “one body there is, and one spirit, even as you were called in the one hope to which you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all.” The apostles, shepherds, and teachers in the congregation were provided to help “all attain to the oneness in the faith.”—Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-14.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in modern times have successfully maintained this “oneness.” However, various factors—the spirit of independence, cultural and racial differences, various flaws and imperfections among fellow Christians—could threaten our “oneness in the faith.” How can it be maintained?
Feeding at the Same Table
Jehovah does not illuminate each Christian individually. Rather, Christ appointed the “faithful and discreet slave” class to provide Scriptural study material and timely counsel to Christians throughout the world. (Matthew 24:45-47) The Watchtower is thus published in 103 languages to help meet that worldwide need.
Feeding at the same spiritual table has done much to produce and maintain oneness of faith. At times, however, some of the counsel may not seem to apply in certain lands. Should we feel that we do not need this information? Hardly. Some of the warnings of Paul to Christians living in the immoral, idolatrous city of Corinth may not have seemed fully applicable to Christians living in the rurals. (1 Corinthians 6:15, 16; 10:14) Yet, Christians everywhere viewed Paul’s writings as part of “the Scriptures.”—2 Peter 3:16.
Likewise today, certain articles may not seem as applicable to local circumstances as others do. But we should still welcome the advance warning, knowing that in our age of fast communication, unhealthy trends started in one part of the world can spread quickly!
Imperfections and Extremes of Viewpoint
Said the disciple James: “We all stumble many times.” (James 3:2) Because of imperfection, humans are also prone to extremes. This may not seem to be a problem if people share the same viewpoints. For example, two extremely fastidious individuals may get along just fine. But if one is slovenly and the other fastidious, there could be no end of quarreling!
Jehovah’s Witnesses come “out of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Revelation 7:9) As a result, individuals among us may have vastly different ideas about such matters as diet, clothing, health care, and even social etiquette. Such contrasting viewpoints need not drive a wedge between us. The Bible warns against extremes and encourages us to work toward balance and reasonableness. “The wisdom from above is . . . peaceable, reasonable,” says the Bible.—James 3:17.
True, the Bible does very specifically condemn certain practices. But often it simply encourages us to take a middle course between two extremes. Consider what the Bible says on the following subjects:
Socializing: “By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.” (John 13:35) “Make your foot rare at the house of your fellowman, that he may not have his sufficiency of you.”—Proverbs 25:17.
Child Rearing: “The one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.” (Proverbs 13:24) “Do not be exasperating your children, so that they do not become downhearted.”—Colossians 3:21.
The more our viewpoints are balanced rather than extreme, the less conflict with other Christians we will experience. But what if disagreements still surface because of imperfection? Remember Paul’s words at Colossians 3:13: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint.”
‘He Stumbled Me’
Some in the congregation, however, may tend to be extremely sensitive, reading unkind motives into innocent words and gestures. Perhaps this is due to their background. Whatever the case, how regrettable it is when such overly sensitive ones allow themselves to be offended by trifles or, worse yet, disturb others about the matter by sowing seeds of disunity!
True, the Bible condemns conduct that could stumble other disciples. (Luke 17:1, 2) And mature ones should be sensitive to the feelings of fellow Christians. At the same time, the Bible strongly counsels us against being overly sensitive and magnifying offenses in our mind. (Ecclesiastes 7:9) Furthermore, spreading discontent among our brothers by exposing someone’s shortcomings is one of the things “Jehovah does hate.”—Proverbs 6:16-19.
God’s spirit can help us overcome oversensitivity. Rather than dwelling on our brothers’ flaws, we can, with the spirit’s help, think positive, upbuilding thoughts. (Philippians 4:8) This promotes unity.
Unity Is Not Uniformity
Worldwide unity, however, does not mean the stifling of individuality or the crushing of initiative. Where Bible principles apply, we are glad to forsake the independent thinking patterns of this world and to accept the leading of Jehovah’s spirit. Still, in carrying out our commission as preachers, there is much room for individuality and, yes, imagination. Indeed, our brothers often use great ingenuity in adapting their methods of witnessing to local circumstances.
Then there is a wide field of activities where Scriptural principles are not directly involved, including certain local customs. In continental Europe, people frequently shake hands. In parts of the Far East, they bow. Either is acceptable to Christians. Or consider dress and grooming. The Bible gives only basic guidelines of modesty and balance. Within those, we may follow our own preferences, while exercising “soundness of mind.”—1 Timothy 2:9, 10.
Thus, elders should be careful always to give counsel on the firm ground of Bible principles instead of on personal preferences. Of course, when it comes to spiritual matters, they will be at the forefront of promoting real unity. We can do our part too. We can ‘keep testing whether we are in the faith’ by regular study of the Bible and the publications of the ‘faithful slave.’ (2 Corinthians 13:5) We can maintain oneness in works by boldly making a “public declaration” of our faith.—Hebrews 13:15.
In this way we will heed the inspired counsel: “Now I exhort you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ that you should all speak in agreement, and that there should not be divisions among you, but that you may be fitly united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.”—1 Corinthians 1:10.
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Maintaining good relations, even when one has a basis for taking offense, is vital to unity