Reframing Unity

“Be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil 2:2).

It’s an appeal for unity that sounds tailor-made for polarized congregations today. Churches are divided over LGBTQ+ inclusion, COVID precautions, rights and freedoms, penal substitution, critical race theory… It feels like too many things to name.

When we hear this appeal to “be of the same mind,” we probably think this means being in agreement about a set of beliefs or having the same positions on the important issues of the day. For many of us, this is what unity in the church looks like: it’s when everyone fully agrees on crucial doctrines or pressing social issues.

When there is disunity, then (meaning divisive disagreement on positions or beliefs), the typical appeal is for each side to listen to the other, to understand the other’s point of view, even to seek a compromise position or “middle way” (sometimes mistakenly labeled a “third way”—more on this later). In this understanding, both sides need to give a little if there’s going to be unity.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with listening to others and trying hard to understand their point of view. In fact, that’s crucial to living well with each other in any community. That’s also how we learn and grow.

But I’d like to suggest a different way of understanding unity, a reframing of unity that is better rooted in Paul’s language of being “of the same mind.”

Because here’s the thing: Paul never calls on divided congregations to come to a middle-ground compromise. Even more, Paul’s language of “being of the same mind” is not about “thinking the same way about doctrine or issues.” Rather, it’s about having a particular kind of “mind”: the “mind of Christ.”

The “one mind” we are to be “in accord” with is the “mind”—the way of thinking and living, the way of being—which Jesus displayed. “Let this mind be in you which was in Christ Jesus,” Paul says (Phil 2:5)—and then goes on to describe what this “mind of Christ” is.

This “mind of Christ” is a way of being that divests ourselves of our individual power and privilege for the good of others, just as Jesus “emptied himself” of his divine status and prerogatives in becoming human for our liberation (2:5-7).

This “mind of Christ” is a way of being that enters into the life and suffering of the most disempowered and underprivileged, just as Jesus “took on the form of a slave” and even died a slave’s death, a conquered and oppressed people’s death—“death on a cross” (2:7-8).

This “mind of Christ” is a way of being that does all this to bring about a divine reversal, where those who have experienced oppression by the powers of our age enter with Jesus into his resurrection life and glorious exaltation (2:9-11).

Titian, Christ and the Good Thief

This is the “same mind,” the “one mind” which Paul has called the Philippians to be “in accord” with (2:2). This is the mind which Paul himself strives to enter into, living in Christ’s sufferings in order to enter Christ’s resurrection life (3:7-14). And this is the “same mind” which Paul urges mature Christians to hold—“and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you” (3:15).

There’s no compromise sought here, no middle way between two apparently uncompromising positions. It’s a genuine “third way,” an alternative to two contrasting perspectives, and Paul expects full buy-in to this third-way “mind of Christ.”

Christian unity, then, is not about agreement with a Confession of Faith. It’s not about agreement with a set of positions on social issues. Confessions of faith are useful as theological guides, and it can at times be vital for us to take a particular stance on a significant issue in our world. But Christian unity isn’t found in our strong agreement with a set of doctrines or positions.

Being “united in Christ” is about our shared commitment to walk together in the way of Jesus, his liberating way of love. We are united in Christ when we commit together to hold our power lightly in our interactions with each other, to walk in humility and patience, kindness and compassion, with those who are different from us, especially with those who hold less power or privilege than we do. We are united in Christ when we commit together to pay attention to the marginalized and disempowered among us and around us, to walk in solidarity with these considered “last,” “least,” or “lost” in society toward justice and peace and flourishing life. This is “the Spirit of Christ” in which we are united, the Spirit who shapes us individually and collectively into the image of Jesus Christ.

Rather than asking two opposing “sides” in a congregation to get together and find a compromise position for the sake of unity, we’d be much better off with the whole congregation asking a few pointed questions:

  • What power and privilege do we hold—do I hold—within this congregation, within this community, this society?
  • How can we—and I myself—hold that power and privilege lightly as we walk with each other in humility, patience, kindness, and compassion, especially with those who are different from us?
  • Who are the genuinely disempowered and underprivileged, those who have historically or regularly been most vulnerable to actual physical and mental and spiritual harm, among us in this congregation and around us in this community?
  • How can we—and I—give up our power and privilege in order to empower these disempowered among us and around us, in order to walk in solidarity with them—knowing we will suffer with them, knowing we will be changed in the process—in order to bring about greater justice and more flourishing life for them and ultimately for all of us together?

When this is our shared stance, our shared way of thinking and living, our shared way of being—our “one mind”—then we can truly say we have discovered “unity in Christ.” May we, like Paul, “press on to make this our own, because Christ Jesus has made us his own” (Phil 3:12).


Edited since originally posted. For some thoughts on parallels in other Pauline letters, including thoughts on how diversity works within this unity, see my comment below.

Christians, Freedom, and Human Rights

Over the past two years, many of us as Christians have forgotten our baptism.

Oh, sure, we might remember when we were baptized, or maybe we have the certificate or pictures to prove it. But we’ve forgotten what we were baptized into. We’ve forgotten what our baptism means.

The Christian understanding of freedom and human rights, like pretty much everything that is meaningfully “Christian,” grows out of our understanding of Jesus: his teachings, his way of life, his death and resurrection.

Jesus looked to his Scriptures, the Tanakh (what Christians call the Old Testament), and he read them with a highlighter. He highlighted passages like “Love your neighbour as yourself,” claiming that this was bound up with the command to “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” We show our love for God by loving our neighbours as ourselves.

And Jesus defined our “neighbour” broadly, yet with special emphasis. The neighbours we are to love include anyone we come across as we go through life, even if that includes the stranger or the foreigner—the outsider to our circles, the socially “other.” Yet Jesus, following the Torah and the Prophets, emphasized love for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the enslaved, the downtrodden—those especially vulnerable to harm, the socially powerless.

This comes through in another passage Jesus highlighted in his Scriptures, a passage from the Prophet Isaiah which he took as his life’s mission:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Jesus didn’t just teach these things, he lived them.

As the Apostle Paul puts it, Jesus set aside his own divine privileges—his own “rights” as God, you might say—in order to serve humanity in love. He sought out the powerless, he healed the sick, he blessed the poor, he spoke out against oppression and abuse of power against those most at risk. Jesus walked in solidarity with the lowest of the low, even dying a slave’s death, an oppressed and colonized people’s death, executed by the state on a cross. All out of love of neighbour.

This is the basis for a Christian view of freedom and human rights. Human rights are about ensuring basic rights for all people, for all people are created in God’s image. Yet in considering human rights Christians follow Jesus in seeking especially to ensure the rights of those most vulnerable to harm by powerful people and those most prone to oppression or marginalization by the powers that be.

And no, Christians in North America, that’s not us.

And freedom for Christians is about freedom to love our neighbours as ourselves, freedom to walk in Jesus’ way of love, again paying special attention to the socially “other” and the socially powerless. This is what true freedom is: loving others with the liberating love of God, so that they might be freed from all forms of bondage and oppression.

And no, Christians in North America, we are not being oppressed.

Here, then, is where too many of us as Christians have forgotten our baptism.

We have been baptized into Christ to follow the way of Christ, Jesus’ way of love. We have been baptized into Christ to walk in the freedom Jesus brings: liberated from the power of sin, our selfish ways of harm, to walk in Jesus’ way of love. In Christ we have the freedom not to pursue our own self-interest but the interests of others. In Christ we have the freedom to set aside our own rights and privileges to serve one another in love.

If you consider yourself a Christian, I urge you to remember your baptism. Remember the calling to which you were called. Remember the freedom for which Christ has set you free, and don’t settle for some pale imitation of the real thing. There are a lot of Christians right now peddling this fake freedom, and doing so in the name of Christ—don’t buy it, it’s not of Jesus.

And for God’s sake, and your neighbours’, get vaccinated if you can and wear a mask when you need to.