ONE OF MY favorite jokes is about the man found after spending years shipwrecked alone on a desert island. As his rescuers sail away with him, they ask why there were three huts on the remote patch of land.
“Well, that one was my house,” he tells them, pointing to the one on the left. “And that one was my church,” he adds, pointing to the middle one.
“What about that one?” asks one of the rescue party, pointing to the hut on the right.
“Oh that?” answers the man. “That was the church I used to go to.”
The desert island disciple must have missed Paul’s encouragement in Ephesians 1:4 to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” But that charge is interesting on two counts. First, it acknowledges that preserving unity is going to be tested: the potential for division is a given.
But Paul also says that we are to maintain that unity. Not reach for or achieve it, but hold onto it. It is not an impossible goal, it is our starting point. It’s something we are given, not something we have to try to get—just like grace.
Having been around churches of different bents and streams over the years, I’m convinced that the biggest single problem they face in maintaining unity, whatever their stripe, is simply keeping the main thing the main thing: Jesus.
He spoke to that in Matthew 18 when talking about how people should handle situations in which they got hurt by another believer—and, no, it wasn’t to leave and go build another hut somewhere else. It was to press in and work things out.
He went on to say that where two or three are gathered in his name—and that’s church, right?–then He is there (verse 20). In the King James Verse, it says “in the midst of them.” At the center.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes Jesus gets pushed off to the side and something else becomes the center. Interestingly, other translations like the New International Version render that same verse only with Jesus being “with them.”
Sort of, in the room, but not central.
If He is really in the midst of our life together, the prism through which we see others and the filter through which we hear them, maybe we won’t need to go build another hut.