Though Christianity looks at times to be more fractured than ever these days, with all sorts of big and small things causing great discord in the church (see my list of the 6 biggest things dividing Christians), this is only half the story. There are also a good number of things bringing Christians together in the positive direction of unity. Below are 6 things that I see as potential unifiers in the current trajectory of the church.
1) Secularism. This is bringing Christians together in the “common enemy” sense. As the western world becomes increasingly post-Christian/secular, denominational squabbles and petty infighting will seem more and more secondary to the primary challenge at hand: a populace increasingly averse to believing in any sort of supernatural creator. People of faith are going to find that faith itself is under attack, and those who believe will have to band together—ecumenically, transdenominationally—if they want a culture of belief to survive at all for the next generation.
2) Service. Here’s something that almost all Christians can agree on: We are called to service. We are called to serve our neighbors and respond to need. The term “social justice” might divide some, but the core impulse to respond with compassion to local and global humanitarian needs is a tie that binds Christians of almost every stripe. You see it in the way Christians mobilize in response to tragedy; you see it in the huge amounts of aid that Christian nonprofits regularly distribute and in the impressive (though still not impressive enough) percentages of people of faith who give to charity. We may still differ on the means and the politics of it, but the core principles of Christ-like service bring the Bonos and the Billy Grahams of the world together.
3) Creation Care. This might be a stretch, but I really do think creation care—a heightened sense of the importance of environmental stewardship—is one area where we can find a growing consensus among Christians. Long the terrain of liberal “progressivism,” creation care is now a term you can hear championed from conservative Baptist pulpits in Middle America. Whether man-made or natural, global warming and deteriorating environmental conditions are causing all sorts of Christians to consider the morality of sitting idly by while the future flourishing of creation is thrown into doubt.
4) Technology. I sort of hesitate to include this, because clearly some aspects of technology have and will continue to cause havoc and fragmentation in the church. But no optimistic forecast of Christianity’s ideally unified future would be complete without a nod to the promise of technology, which includes things like Internet evangelism (reaching previously unreached geographic locations via technology), networked blogs, online communities, and the ease of information-seeking (theological resources, Bible studies, preaching tips, etc). The Internet has made it easier than ever to connect with others who share a belief, and while this can indeed be a two-edged sword, it can also be a great boon to a global church of isolated pockets of believers longing to connect, share resources, and charge forward with wiki-fortitude in an increasingly hostile world.
5) People like Tim Keller. I don’t want to throw the whole heavy burden of unity on one man’s shoulders, but I do think that Keller—author, church planter, public intellectual and NYC pastor—is a model for the sort of Christian leader who will build consensus and spark enthusiasm among a diversity of Christians in the years to come. Why? Because Keller manages to combine a commitment to sound doctrine and orthodoxy with a creative and daring spirit. Because he is a true intellectual, clearly loves academic pursuits and reading books, and is able (and willing) to quote Sarte and Susan Sontag in the same sermon as a reference to So You Think You Can Dance. It is figures like this—who can ably combat secularism by gracefully embodying a robust intellectual and culturally astute faith—who will inspire weary believers and win over new ones in the years to come.
6) Resurrection Hope. Though eschatological systems and interpretations of Revelation will doubtless continue to divide Christians until the end of time, one thing does and will continue to be agreed upon by all Christians: there is reason for hope. However it all shakes out in the end, a few things are agreed on by pretty much every Christian. 1) Christ will return and reign, 2) Evil will be defeated once and for all, 3) Justice and peace will abide, 4) The dead in Christ will rise, and 5) A new creation will ensue. In a world of seemingly increasing anxiety, terror, sickness, tragedy and meaninglessness, the sort of resilient hope that defines Christianity will be a true mark of distinction and unity for believers of all sorts.
What else do you think will bring unity to Christianity?