After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
– Revelation 7:9-10 (ESV)
We know that God is able to love and account for all of His children, whether they be from Zambia, South Africa, Argentina, Canada, Japan, India, or Denmark. God has no shortage of love, care, and understanding. Yet, throughout history, God’s people have struggled to love and account for each other in the same way.
The Great Multitude of Revelation 7 is a beautiful picture of what it looks like when God’s people are reconciled to one another and join before Him in unity and corporate worship; when our differences of language, culture, and background no longer divide us, but instead unite us.
This unity of the Great Multitude in heaven sometimes seems quite far from our present reality. How do we catch this vision in the land of the living?
If Christian Unity was left to us, we would be forced to say “only a remnant will be saved,” because so few people meet our own standards of what it means to be living rightly with God. Luckily we serve a much more merciful and relational Savior.
Our Problem with Unity
Part of our problem with unity is that we have a very hard time navigating differences. Differences in temperament, spirituality, leadership styles, and even in theological starting points often drive us away from one another.
Paul reminded us in 1 Corinthians 8:2-3, “If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.” We know that truth belongs to God, and yet we would like to think that our personal understanding is likely only “second best” to His perfect judgment. For this reason, we make our own understanding of the Church our reference point for what “worship in spirit and in truth” really looks like. We use this skewed reference point to act, speak, and think in ways that are violent toward others. This violence can be verbal or even physical, but most often it is simply a prideful, self-righteous posture of the heart toward other parts of the body of Christ.
Changing Our Hearts and Growing in Love
How do we break this cycle of violence? How do we grow in Christ to not only accept, but actually value differences in the Church? How do we ask the Holy Spirit to change our hearts and to help us be as holy and loving as the living God?
Part of the practical side of this journey and way of life is to start intentionally exposing yourself to other traditions in the Church. One way of doing this is by reading, listening to, and enjoying fellowship with Christians from traditions different than your own; not randomly or without discernment, but certainly with a heart that is prepared to be challenged and even corrected.
Learn more about the doctrine, worship, and life of Orthodox Christians in The Orthodox Way by Kallistos Ware. Learn more about loving the poor and disenfranchised in Howard Thurman’s book, Jesus and the Disinherited. Consider visiting another Christian service in the next month and suspending judgment when you’re there. Focus on what you have in common with this community of believers, and ask God to help you see how He is working in their context and to show you if there are things that you can learn from them.
Another part of this journey is to begin earnestly praying for Christians from other traditions. Prayer begets love, and love casts out fear and overcomes violence. Rest assured that if you don’t currently feel a burden of love for Christians outside your tradition, praying for them regularly will change that. To be clear, this does not mean praying that they will become more like you. This means praying for blessings, protection, encouragement, and growth for them and for you. A good place to start is by praying the Lord’s prayer over them. Also consider subscribing to Operation World’s prayer newsletter, which features a different nation each day and specific guiding topics to pray for Christians in that nation. Don’t just pray for the Evangelicals and Pentecostals, but also the Roman Catholics and Orthodox communities in that country. Make your prayer, “God, may your will be done and your kingdom come in this land. Help the Church to grow and flourish and be an agent of your kingdom within this culture and people.”
A further step would be to consider giving a financial gift to one or two missions from a different tradition than your own. Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). God is moving through the Church every day around the world, and giving to a ministry outside of your tradition will help your heart to grow in love for those brothers and sisters.
My prayer for each of you is that these small steps will help you on your own path to valuing Christian Unity. My encouragement is that we pursue Christian Unity and make it our reality both in this life and in the life to come. Unity isn’t a topic we can avoid, because at some point we’ll be confronted with the entire Unity of the Kingdom of God. Better to start now, in the land of the living, than to be confronted with our unresolved prejudices in the life to come.