by Craig Dyer
As politicians and commentators on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean try to explain the popularist democratic trends of the day, the words of Daniel to King Nebuchadnezzar ring true. Daniel famously showed the king both the dream and the meaning concerning great kingdoms whose catastrophic internal weakness would be their feet of iron and clay: “…but they will not hold together, just as iron does not mix with clay…” (Dan. 2:43).
Fragmentation has been core to the human story since the fall in Genesis 3. The outcome of the original act of human treachery was primarily dislocation from God, and then, consequently, from each other. The man blames God for his wife, whose lead he followed, and one of their sons kills the other out of jealousy. To date, there has never been a time when people have been able to live in enmity with God but in unity with each other.
The key to reconciliation and unity in and among families, communities, and nations is reconciliation to God by the gospel of His Son. Unity among people is a beautiful by-product of the gospel, but it is not the gospel’s primary aim.
The Warning of Jesus to His Church
Ahead of His final suffering and death, Jesus prays for His disciples in John 17:14: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.”
So, world peace will never happen. It is an impossibility as long as there are people living in rebellion against God, refusing to submit to His rule and hear His Word and love His Son. It is still staggering for us to hear the expectation of Jesus of the impact of His coming into the world in Matthew 10:34-36:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.
This is a sorrowful and chillingly realistic assessment by Jesus of the fragmenting impact of His gospel on families who have some turn to Jesus and others against Him. Jesus was not intentionally creating disunity, but warning that tragically this would often be the result of His gospel.
The Desire of Jesus for His Church
The gospel first has the power to fragment. But for those who love Him and feel the pain of rejection from those who don’t, the word which draws the hatred of the world also powers the unity of the Church. Jesus tells His father in John 17:8: “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”
There can be no genuine unity where the unifying factor is less than humble, glad submission to God’s word. That’s why the modern ecumenical movement has set itself an impossible task by seeking unity around the lowest common denominator. There is no truth-power that will bring unity there.
Later in John 17 (vv. 20-21), Jesus prays not only for those who were there, but also for subsequent generations of His disciples, of which we are part:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
Jesus asks His Father that those who are His, by receiving His word, will be united by faith to Father and Son, and united in family to each other. That’s the power of the gospel to create unity. And Jesus has an evangelistic purpose in mind—that the world may believe that the Father has sent Jesus the Son. It is as people do so that they are reconciled to God and to others. As we will soon be reminded, it’s giving glory to God in the highest that brings peace to those on earth.
Craig Dyer (@CraigDyer1) is training director at Christianity Explored Ministries and associate pastor at Harper Church, Glasgow, Scotland. Convinced of the power of God’s word to change lives, he summarizes his work as “equipping hundreds to train thousands to rescue millions.”