These thoughts on unity in the church were compiled from the talks and personal correspondence of Bruderhof pastor J. Heinrich Arnold after his death.
In Matthew 23:37 Jesus says, "How often have I wanted to gather you to me as a hen gathers her chicks, and you would not." This plea, along with the plea in Jesus' last prayer - "May they all be one, Father, even as I am one with thee" - is a decisive and constant challenge to us. It calls us to a way of complete brotherly love and oneness in Jesus, and it calls us to follow him in unity so that the world may recognize we are his disciples.
Nothing binds or unites people more deeply than having the same hope, the same faith, the same joy and expectation. It is very sad, therefore, when individual believers stand alone. There have always been people who had to stand alone on account of their faith - some of them in prison, for years. But where there is true expectation, people are usually drawn together; their common faith leads to community, and they can strengthen and encourage one another. Standing for God always has a unifying power. Let us pray that we may be gathered together with all those who live in expectation of him.
From a letter: Jesus' first commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and being, and then to love our neighbor as ourselves. In this individualistic age more than ever, a church of people committed to one another in such love and faithfulness is an absolute necessity. Jesus stresses the importance of love and absolute unity - unity such as he has with the Father - again and again. I do not think we have ever reached this ultimate state of unity, even in our holiest moments; only God knows. Yet we want to live as a witness to it. We cannot separate dedication to Jesus from dedication to our brothers and sisters.
From a letter: It is true that Jesus can be served anywhere. But what a special gift it is when through him two or three or more people become of one heart and one soul! This cannot be manufactured; it is a gift.
God does not contradict himself. He does not say to one, "Thou shalt go to war," and to another, "Thou shalt not go to war"; or to one, "Thou shalt be faithful in marriage," and to the other, "Thou art free to divorce." If we are open to the truth - if we listen to God in our hearts - we will find that he says the same thing to all, also in practical matters. We do not believe in the rule of a majority over a minority. We believe in the unanimity brought about by Christ, who wants to speak the same truth in every heart. This unity is a grace and a miracle we experience again and again. But if we are unfaithful to God and to each other, it can be taken from us.
The unity of all believers is the only criterion for truth. When true unity is lacking, charisma - the power of individual persons or personalities over others - takes its place. People listen in a human way to others merely because they are strong personalities or leaders. Charisma is not only the wrong foundation for community; it is altogether dangerous ground.
The attempt to reconcile different churches and confessions is without any doubt good. But true unity - the unity that breaks down all barriers - starts with repentance. When the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost, people asked, "Brothers, what shall we do?" They were deeply struck in their hearts, and they repented for their sins and became of one heart and one soul. Unfortunately, in today's ecumenical movement barriers or fences often remain, and people shake hands over them. But we must testify to the possibility of true unity among men. It comes only through repentance and through personally facing Jesus - as man, as living spirit, and as Lord.
Jesus said more than once that a tree is recognized by its fruits. We must never forget this. All of us can see what kind of tree today's society is: its fruits are murder, injustice, impurity, unfaithfulness, and destruction.
What were the fruits Jesus wanted to see? The first fruit is unity. How else shall the world recognize his disciples? Jesus said, "May they all be one, Father, even as we are one."
This article is composed of excerpts from "Discipleship" by J. Heinrich Arnold.