the weblog of Alan Knox

Taking steps toward relational unity

Posted by on Mar 18, 2010 in community, discipleship, unity | 3 comments

In two previous posts, I’ve discussed John H. Armstrong’s book Your Church is Too Small (see “Your Church is Too Small – a review” and “Real Unity – Is it possible?“). Armstrong argues that the unity for which Jesus prays in John 17:20-23 is relational unity, not only spiritual unity.

“Relational unity” is visible, palpable. It can be pointed out and experienced. It can also be quenched and grieved.

Few (if any) would argue that the church today rarely shows relational unity across denominations, theological systems, historical traditions, institutions, organization, or even “local churches”. We occasionally attempt to relate to those who are like us and who believe like us (although even this is difficult in today’s church where acquiescence to a set of beliefs has replaced true community).

Thus, the church today is splintered and fractured, and lives as an anti-apologetic to the good news of Jesus Christ.

For those of us who are grieved by this state of affairs, how do we take steps toward relational unity. First, we must realize that we cannot create the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed. God creates unity in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. We can only maintain or quench this unity.

Second, we must realize that we cannot make the choice of maintaining unity for others. I cannot force you into relational unity with me. However, I can make the offer and be open to relational unity, whether you desire unity with me or not. I can love you and serve you, whether you accept me or not.

Finally, we must realize that relational unity cannot be organized or institutionalized. Now, don’t misunderstand me. Organizations and institutions can help or hinder relational unity, but neither organizations nor institutions can maintain relational unity.

“Relational unity” is relational (seems simple enough, doesn’t it). This means that relational unity is based on relationships between individuals and communities. What does this mean for us?

Let me give an example. Let’s assume that two of my neighbors are believers, and each of them are part of different denominations than myself. That makes three believers and three different denominations. If our denominations choose to interact with one another, that choice will not create relational unity between myself and my neighbors. If our denominations decide not to interact with one another, that decision will not destroy relational unity between myself and my neighbors.

So, what is it that creates or maintains relational unity between myself and my neighbors? God creates the unity, and we decide the maintain that unity in the way that we treat and interact with one another. If we decide to ignore one another, even though we say we are brothers/sisters and even though we live next door to one another, we will quench the work that God is attempting to do in our lives in creating and maintaining relational unity.

However, if we choose to spend time with one another (regardless of what our denominations decide), and if we choose to accept one another and treat one another as brothers/sisters, then we are working to maintain the unity that God has created in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.

This is the kind of unity for which Jesus prayed, and this is the kind of unity that Jesus said would demonstrate to the world that the Father sent him into the world.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 3-18-2010

    You nailed it as clearly as any blogger in this one Alan. If readers get the “relational” dynamic they will get beyond the walls we raise. If they think of unity as static and organizational then they will keep raising all the objections. It begins in relationship because our oneness with Christ is relational. If we abide in the relational Trinity then we share life together. The problem is that we find a myriad of ways to refuse coming together to know and love one another. The thesis seems simple because it is. The problems seems complex because we have no faith and lack love.

  2. 3-18-2010

    I believe the Holy Spirit is in the process of tearing down walls and building bridges between people in different denominations to get us ready for eternal life in heaven. If we don’t learn to love our brothers and sisters who are part of different denominations here on earth, then I fear many Christians will be in for a big shock when they get to heaven and can’t find any of the divisions we’ve created here on earth.

    “thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

  3. 3-18-2010


    “It begins in relationship because our oneness with Christ is relational.” Very true. Why do you think we want our relationship with Christ to be “as we are”, but we refuse to relate to others “as they are”?

    Jonathan (jgrubbs),

    I think so too… at least, I think that’s true in my own life and in the lives of some of the people I know.