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Better Together: God Reveals His Plan for Church Unity
How do we know unity is God’s plan for His church? God reveals His plan for church unity both in creation and through His Word.
By Karen K. Cook
Orcas can hunt anything, but nothing hunts them. Intelligent, social, and diverse, these magnificent animals live in family units called pods. Females transform into grandmothers in their mid-forties and retain the pod’s collective knowledge about survival, food sources, and generational hunting techniques. Sometimes that knowledge will lead them to hunt impressive prey.
Blue whales, as the largest animal to have ever lived on earth, weigh up to forty times as much as orcas. Yet one group of orcas off the coast of Australia hunts blue whales with frightening efficiency. How can orcas possibly hunt blue whales? Community.
God reveals His design for unity
As a neuroscientist, I learned about how God displays His design in all creation. And God used my love of zoology to help me understand and appreciate His plans. The complexity and beauty of animal life evidence God’s creativity and intelligence. As a seminary student, the more I learn about God in an academic setting, the more I see Him in creation. Theology and science aren’t separate from one another. Rather, they support each other in the discovery of God’s absolute truth. Theologically, I know the love of the triune God spilled over into creation so all nature witnesses God’s extravagant love. We see God’s character and attributes in all He made. God reveals Himself through both science and theology. Studying zoology and neuroscience make me a better theologian, and studying theology makes me a more observant scientist.“Theology and science aren’t separate from one another. Rather, they support each other in the discovery of God’s absolute truth.” — Karen CookCLICK TO TWEET
As I learned about unity and community among orcas, I saw that this is also God’s design for humanity. But humans—even Christians—often fail to live out the tight-knit unity orcas share and Christ calls us to. Orcas display God’s creative plan for unity in action. How do we know unity is God’s plan for His church? Paul describes God’s extravagant love and His plan for unity among Christians in a letter to the Ephesians. For those who follow Jesus, love for Him mobilizes unity among believers.
Paul writes his prayer in Ephesians 3:16–19 to help believers grasp the dimensions of Christ’s love for us—which calls to mind the width, length, height, and depth of the ocean. Paul wrote his letter to highlight God’s reconciliation through Jesus. God reconciles the cosmos and humankind to Himself vertically. He also reconciles Jews to Gentiles horizontally. Unity in Christ—in the cosmos and the church—is the central theme of Paul’s letter.
Unity rooted in Christ
In the beginning of his prayer, Paul elucidates how Christ captains our faith-filled hearts, so we can steadfastly follow Him. He writes: “I pray that he may grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with power in your inner being through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” (Ephesians 3:16–17a, CSB). This Trinitarian expression points us toward a faithful walk with Jesus. The Father strengthens believers through the power of the Holy Spirit so that Christ can live in our hearts, preparing us to love others in unity.“The Father strengthens believers through the power of the Holy Spirit so that Christ can live in our hearts, preparing us to love others in unity.” — Karen CookCLICK TO TWEET
We see a picture of this as orcas live in unity within their pods. The grandmother’s love and commitment guarantee the survival and flourishing of her descendants, much as the love of Jesus promises human flourishing.
Unity rooted in love
As he continues, Paul illuminates how empowered saints of love grasp the dimensionless love of Christ, so we can experience and participate in this unfathomable love. He says: “I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the length and width, height and depth of God’s love,” (Ephesians 3:17b–18, CSB). The Greek tells us we must be rooted like a tree and established like a foundation in love with other believers so that we can comprehend Christ’s love. Two separate phrases—“being rooted and established in love” and “with all the saints”—indicate our need for horizontal love to help us grasp vertical love.
Similarly, orcas demonstrate great love for one another. Using their unique dialects, orca pods spread their social consciousness around the group so they can operate as one when hunting. Orca behaviors and communication set each pod apart within their species, reflecting God’s design in setting the church apart from the world. God desires this intensity of unity for His church.
Unity rooted in the fullness of God
Finally, Paul reveals how God animates unity in the church with His fullness so we can succeed in His mission as His body. “And to know Christ’s love that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19, CSB). We will experience Christ’s love even though we cannot fully understand it. Then God will fill us to the measure of Himself, animating unity in His Church. When Paul refers to God filling us with His fullness, he looks back to the Old Testament tabernacle and temple, which God filled with His physical, holy presence. In the New Testament church, God fills believers corporately, as His temple, with His character, attributes, strength, holiness, love—all that describes Him.
“In the New Testament church, God fills believers corporately, as His temple, with His character, attributes, strength, holiness, love—all that describes Him.” — Karen CookCLICK TO TWEET
Though God does not fill orcas with His fullness, He designed them to experience social unity that establishes them as apex predators with a successful life story. Similarly, in the body of Christ, unity is the root of success. Once again, we see God uses orcas to model His design for humans to have success in unity.
Karen is a seminary student at Dallas Theological Seminary.
With thanks for permission to republish this article from Lifeway.com