By Terri Prahl
A few years ago, we welcomed two girls into our home who had entered the foster care system due to parental addictions.
Over time, these girls felt at ease in our home that looked starkly different than their own, but they still longed for their family of origin.
They felt loved but never truly at home; they were in a place of transition and waiting.
Inwardly, our foster girls were searching for people who looked like them, had their mannerisms, shared their culture, and were identified by the same name.
Instead of being welcomed guests, they desired to be united as family.
Isn’t this the cry of all our hearts? To be understood and known for who we are—a permanent part of a loving family?
This is God’s plan for us. He wants us to be unified and united as family through our faith in Christ.
Through salvation, we become eternal members of the household of God.
The world will not welcome nor understand this, but Christ is the foundation of an eternal community.God wants us to be unified and united as family through our faith in Christ.
Ephesians 2:19-21 HCSB says, “So then you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints, and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. The whole building, being put together by Him, grows into a holy sanctuary in the Lord. You also are being built together for God’s dwelling in the Spirit.”
Unfortunately, we live in an era when many look at the Church with bitterness instead of love.
Rather than viewing other believers as family, we are quick to form camps that replicate our own image.
In many ways, believers today are being conformed to the divisive nature of the world rather than the humility of Christ.
Community is complicated because it’s full of fallen human beings.
Even Christians are “works in progress” who need grace to function as Christ intended–to love and care for one another deeply.
With Christ, all things are possible. Through the power of the Spirit indwelling believers, we can live in unity while honoring individual diversity.
God can even grow us to admire and love all those He loves.
What is the Universal Church?
“‘Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?’ He said to him, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Matthew 22:36-39
The greatest command in Scripture is to love God and love others.
We can’t fulfill this decree if we reject the Church. Because God loves the universal Church, we must find a way to reflect His heart in our interactions with the Church.
The universal church is more than a building or community of Christians—it is every single person who professes the name of Christ.
Some Christians walk out their faith like welcomed guests rather than essential members of the body (1 Cor 12:12-27).
They never move into the familial place God designed His Church to be.
Christians are more than friends, more than community members—we are siblings in Christ (1 Tim 3:15)! Our shared mannerisms come from living out the truths of Scripture and reflecting the character of God.
As members of the universal Church, we are united in purpose and name though we represent diverse nations, tribes, and tongues. We battle the same enemy, uniting us to rally in prayer and community to hold fast through it all (Heb 10:25).As members of the universal Church, we are united in purpose and name though we represent diverse nations, tribes, and tongues.
Without the Church, we will never reach the level of flourishing God intends.
Christ died to redeem us and built the universal Church as a holy nation unto Himself (1 Pt 2:9). There is beauty in the body because Christ is in the body (Col 1:18).
The problems we experience in the local church are often temporal and do not reflect the nature and character of Christ.
Wounds may require us to seek new worship communities, but we must never abandon the universal Church.
To separate from the body of Christ because of the sin of men is to negate the purpose of God for fulfilling His kingdom work in the world.
Our distance keeps the body from functioning at optimum strength, diminishing the beauty of the gospel message to a watching world.
Why Unity is Essential in the Universal Church
We all long for a simple, genuine community of faith, and it pleases the Father when we work towards it.
It begins with our own hearts and minds being committed to walking in the ways of Jesus and then coming together to encourage one another to good works.
Psalm 133 reminds us of God’s intent for harmonious relationships among His people. In unison, the diverse pilgrims sang these words:
“How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony! For harmony is as precious as the anointing oil that was poured over Aaron’s head, that ran down his beard and onto the border of his robe. Harmony is as refreshing as the dew from Mount Hermon that falls on the mountains of Zion. And there the LORD has pronounced his blessing, even life everlasting.” (NLT)
From this passage we can see:
- Unity is good and right.
- Community is part of God’s design.
- Harmony is pleasant and desirable.
- Unity is as precious as forgiveness.
- Harmony refreshes the people of God in a dark world.
What are some practical ways to build unity among diverse people?
In Acts 2-6, we see beautiful moments of community demonstrated in the early formation of the Church.
Even so, they were far from perfect. The apostles wrote many letters (Epistles) encouraging them to remain steadfast in the faith, correcting their theology, and asking them to work out their human squabbles.
Yet, through the power of the Spirit, they also illustrated what Christ intended for His bride to look like—a reflection of His eternal kingdom and deep love for the saints.We all long for a simple, genuine community of faith, and it pleases the Father when we work towards it.
5 Ways to Build Unity Within the Universal Church
Here are five lessons from the early Church on building unity among believers:
1 – Show hospitality (Act 2:46).
When we invite others into our personal spaces, we open our hearts to them. They receive a glimpse into a more intimate picture of who we are and how we live as a family. Feeding, sheltering, encouraging, teaching, and even nursing back to health are all means of serving God’s people.
2 – Practice sincere love (Act 2:44-45).
When we show a Christ-like, sacrificial love for others, we create a bond with those we serve. The early church ensured they all had what they needed without partiality.
3 – Live in unity (Act 2:42).
We don’t have to agree on everything to pray, worship, serve, and encourage one another. It’s not about us; it’s about Christ.We don’t have to agree on everything to pray, worship, serve, and encourage one another.
4 – Focus on the Mission (Act 4:31).
The early church knew how miraculous salvation was and what their mission was. Remembering the call to go and make disciples can help us focus and maintain unity around the teachings of Christ and His love for the world.
5 – Walk in Humility (Act 6:1-5).
It’s hard to understand people who are different than us, and it takes listening with a spirit of humility and putting others above ourselves. We cultivate an environment where unity can flourish when we walk in humility.
These truths illuminate how we should approach our relationship with the universal Church—desiring the best for our siblings, stepping out of our comfort zones, and persevering with grace in love.
The name and character of Christ unifies and strengthens the universal Church.
No matter what earthly family we are born into, Christians have a unique bond that transcends time and place, even though we don’t always act like it.
Our home became a safe refuge for our girls as we all learned to live in harmony in the waiting.
God allowed healing to take place, and the girls were eventually reunited with their mom, which is such a gospel picture of our journeys through this life.
Both girls gave their lives to Christ while in our home, forever linking their hearts of faith with ours.
We may not be biological parents, but we are spiritual ones who will pray for and cheer them on as they grow and walk with God.
Just as our foster girls rightfully longed for their birth parents, so believers long for the eternal home we were always created for and will one day experience firsthand.
Authentic Christian community is vital to our spiritual health because this world is not our home.
God designed the Church to be a grace and place of refuge in this dark world.
We are more than welcome guests; we are forever family.
Let’s start living like it!
Terri Prahl is a writer and first-time author of a new release titled, Consider: Reflecting on the Words of Scripture. She is passionate about encouraging believers to persevere in faith and drawing them back to the beauty of the Church. When she is not writing, she enjoys mentoring younger women, baking, reading, and perusing vintage markets for her growing milk glass collection. Terri writes weekly on her blog, sharing insights and free resources from her own time in the Word. You can also follow her devotions, book suggestions, and personal stories on her Instagram account.