Scripture describes the relationship between God and us, and among fellow Christians, as the Body of Christ. Both vertically and horizontally, this signifies a unity that is unprecedented. Just like how the whole body is affected by one single part of it, the Church of Christ has been called to be one big family under God. What affects our brothers- and sisters-in-Christ should therefore also affect us.
However, when we take a look at the various denominations and church cultures today, is there a possibility for true unity? What is Christian unity really like? These are the questions posed by Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung in the recent 13th SEAPC Conference.
The SEAPC conferences are held annually and in a rotation of nations, with a primary purpose to unite the Christians of South East Asia in intercession for the region. Fellow believers from throughout the region, 11 nations in all, come together in fellowship and prayer for the region, transcending national barriers.
Indeed, the Bible has enjoined us to be united in Christ. In Ephesians 4 we see a great exhortation for this. One Body, One Spirit, One Hope. One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism; no matter the number of denominations. And over and through and in it all, one God and one Father over us all.
‘This unity is something that is foundational to our faith,’ Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung conveyed. ‘Without this Oneness that has been given to us, there is no Christian faith.’ Recognizing the supreme importance of this, Paul urges the Ephesian church (and in extension the Church) to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
But unity is not something that exists by itself. We all need to work, to put some effort, into it. How then do we build up unity? Paul wrote in v1-3 of the passage; firstly, live a life worthy of the calling we have received. Secondly, be humble and gentle in spirit. Thirdly, be patient and gentle, bearing one another with love.
Within the Asian context, we have been taught since young to live a life that will bring honour to our families. It is the same context within our spiritual family. We ought to live authentic, genuine lives before our God. 1 Peter 2:9 reminds us of our calling: we are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s very own possession, that we may declare the glory and praises to the One who brought us out of darkness into the light.
As Christ’s ambassadors, we are called to live lives in such a way that it will demonstrate to the world through our good works the glory of God. Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung offered a few points to ponder on. It is not just about our conduct, he said. What is our inner motivation? Whose approval do we see? Are we hungry for earthly popularity or are we more concerned with the approval of God that is eternal?
Whenever and wherever we are gathered, we must ask ourselves; where is God’s presence? Is He present among us? For if He is not, then there is no purpose to it all. Can the Holy Spirit work in our lives?
Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung expressed that one of the sad things that have afflicted the modern churches is that many are now seeking for the world’s status. Wealth, prestige, and so on. ‘These are things that will not last,’ he said. When our lives are not right, the Holy Spirit withdraws. Churches stagnate and stop progressing, and soon go into decline.
God honours His children who searches for Him and walks in His ways with a genuine heart. In Matthew 6:1-6, Christ has already said, do not practise our faith in the way the world does. Do not our good works or do our prayers for the sake of the praises of men. For with such people, they have already received their reward in these praises but it is not from God.
This is why Paul has also written that we ought to have humility. ‘Humility is so important in our church leadership,’ Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung said. Christ spoke about servant leadership. ‘Servant leadership mean in order to get ahead, we serve others. Do you know the Bible does not speak about leadership but about servanthood? This is not because the Bible does not believe in leadership. Great leaders always lead by serving others; by following in total obedience the great example of Jesus. Church leaders cannot be motivated by self-seeking motives.’
Paul also wrote that the Church is united through love. Churches must not be run like industrial corporations. Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung expressed that he has come across churches that taught if a cellgroup does not grow, kill it and start again elsewhere. Where is the church’s call for nurturing and love? Churches are the places where broken and sick people can come to find love, hope, and acceptance. We must not just be concerned about competition and growth. If we want our churches to grow, we must learn to bear with one another in love.
Unity is so important to the Church but to maintain that unity is very hard work and requires intentionality to live a life that would please God and Christ. A life that is distinguished above all with a heart to honour God; full of humility and love. But if we do not put our effort into building up such a life and to build up our unity, it will break up. It has sadly happened in many families and it will happen to the Church as well. ‘We must have a daily prayerful dependence upon God,’ Bishop Emeritus Hwa Yung articulated.
NOTE: All pictures from the conference kindly provided by the organisers of the conference.
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