By Skye Jethani – I highly recommend subscribing to his daily devotional for more thoughtful wisdom in your inbox each day.
Where God’s Spirit is present, you will find a community that transcends differences. People will be bound to each other in a way that makes no earthly sense. The ordinary bonds of unity like culture, politics, class, or ethnicity will be insufficient to explain what connects the people of Christ. In his church, enemies will be friends, divisions will be mended, hatreds will be healed, and offenses will be overcome.
Where God’s Spirit is not present, however, a “Christian” community will accept a counterfeit kind of connection; a perception of unity that comes by forcibly eliminating all differences. What human efforts produce is mere uniformity where external behaviors, appearances, and preferences do not deviate. In such communities, everyone thinks the same, speaks the same, prefers the same music, and pursues the same goals. In other words, human power alone can produce a community that would probably exist even without the supernatural presence of God’s Spirit, and it may even be an effective organization—but it would not be a church. As A.W. Tozer said, “One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men make a football team.”
A few years ago, I was passing through the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. In the middle of the terminals were large glass boxes, about eight feet square, with a door. Above each box was a sign that said, “CAMEL.” They were smoking chambers sponsored by Camel cigarettes. Smokers were crammed inside like animals in a zoo exhibit, while other travelers stopped, pointed, and even took pictures of the strange humans on display in the smoked-filled habitats.
A church built on human uniformity rather than the Spirit’s unity is like those smoking chambers. At first glance, these churches appear to be a tight community of people all committed to the same activity. Look more closely, however, and churches without the Spirit’s power are just a group of strangers who gather occasionally in a box, blow smoke at each other, and appear very odd to those on the outside.
When the Spirit builds a church, on the other hand, it is possible to experience far more than just uniformity. The Spirit fosters a unity that rests far deeper than conformity to social, cultural, and behavioral preferences. It’s a oneness rooted in communion with Jesus himself. Again, A.W. Tozer captures the truth well:
“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”