Pursuing Unity and Joy in Christ our King.
First, the importance of unity is rooted in the triune God. God is one God in three persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God has also created mankind to reflect his image throughout all the earth. God displays his unity in essence and distinction in persons by creating man and woman. God sees that it is not good for man to be alone and, therefore, creates someone who is equal to him, different from him, and complementary to him. So from all of eternity and in the creation of the world, we see unity as an essential element in displaying the character of God.
Second, we believe true unity happens only through the power of the gospel. Diverse groups of people can come together around food, music, and sports, but all these things are very superficial to the reality that, through the gospel, God is creating a community from all cultures under Christ. The power of the gospel unifies in such a way that all people from every culture and every socioeconomic background can call one another brother or sister because of their common bond through faith in Jesus Christ. The glory for this type of unity belongs to Christ alone.
Third, we see that Jesus prayed in John 17 for the unity of his disciples because their unity would testify to the truth that the Father sent the Son. John 17:22-23 says, “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”
Fourth, Paul saw unity as an essential characteristic to the early church’s life. Philippians 1:27-28 says, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of
Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” Paul goes on in Phil. 2:1-5 to say, “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.”
According to Paul, the unity of the church shows that, even in the face of a persecuting world, their persecutors’ destruction is sure, and that the Christian’s salvation is sure. Also, unity displays and fosters the attitude of Christ. Unity fosters an attitude of humility, where the people of the church are not thinking individualistically, but are considering the interests of others.
Fifth, it should be noted that the emphasis on unity, and even the naming of this church as a “Community Church,” is not an attempt to devalue theological convictions. We are Baptists in our theological convictions, but our emphasis on unity is an attempt to say that our theological convictions mean nothing if we have not love for one another. We believe, though, to devalue theological convictions in order to be unified is not a true unity.
First, we emphasize joy because we agree with the Westminster Shorter Catechism that “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” We believe this is why God created man, but man rebelled against God and sought to enjoy things according to man’s own wisdom.
Second, we believe that joy comes through experiencing the forgiveness of sins. Psalm 32:1-2 says, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” We therefore believe that it is impossible to experience deep, satisfying joy outside of union with Christ. We believe many can give thanks to God and enjoy the wonders of creation, but what satisfies the soul is being forgiven by the God we have sinned against. What brings us daily joy is knowing, because of our faith in Christ, we always have fellowship with the Father.
Third, we believe there is great joy in following Jesus in obedience, namely, to love as Jesus loves us. Jesus says in John 15:9-11, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” We believe joy and obedience are, therefore, counter-cultural to a world that believes joy can only be experienced by impulse and not by obedience.
Fourth, we believe we will suffer and experience trials, but we do not believe that we will suffer as the world suffers, which is without joy. James teaches in James 1:2-3, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” Jesus also teaches many things in the Beatitudes in the Gospel of Matthew that are contrary to the world’s concept of being blessed/happy. For example, Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Jesus goes on in Matthew 5:10, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Fifth, we believe by the way we emphasize joy that we will shine as light into the darkness. Particularly our city, the city of New Orleans, is a pleasure-seeking city, and for good reason. New Orleans features some of the best food, music, art, and festivals. As people of the city, we hope to enjoy all these things as good gifts from God, but we believe that they should not be enjoyed as idols of worship. We believe rather that the goodness of New Orleans should draw our attention to the Creator of all good. Many in our city will seek sexual immorality, drunkenness, and gluttony for joy, but we want to stand counter-culturally to these things and speak as Jesus spoke to the sexually immoral woman at the well in John 4. More specifically, like Jesus, we want to point people to the Living Water, who will fully quench mankind’s thirst for joy and fulfillment. True joy, therefore, comes from forsaking our sin to follow Christ by faith.
Jesus Christ came preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It is clear before Pilate that Jesus believed this Kingdom was his Kingdom, as he said, “my kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus is a King, but he did not come to reign as his disciples wanted him to reign. Rather Jesus came to save his people from their sins. The climax of Jesus’ kingdom work is taking on the wrath of God at the cross and defeating sin and death through his resurrection.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:17, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” Our only hope for experiencing unity, joy, and the ministry of the saints, is founded in the truth that Jesus is our risen King. Paul says in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” Christ has authority over heaven and earth and is exercising his rule and reign through the Church. He empowers and equips the church for this great work by giving them the Helper, the Holy Spirit.
Since Jesus is our risen King, we submit ourselves not to cultural novelties, idols, or our own flesh, but we submit ourselves to his authority by living in obedience to his word, until he comes to consummate his Kingdom.