A Statement on our Commitment to Unity in the Body of Christ in WNY
We are living and leading in a challenging time. Decisions around what to do and how to do it in the midst of a global pandemic, political division, and social tension make for a ripe opportunity for the enemy to sow discord among the Body of Christ. And while brothers and sisters of good faith and good will can graciously choose differing routes to accomplish the mission of God and shepherd the people of God, what we cannot compromise is the unity of the Body of Christ.
As the Apostle Paul implored the church of Ephesus to maintain a unity and a peace that utterly transcends the very plight of any existing circumstances - including the very conditions that place him in the jail cell from which he writes – we too in the Church of WNY willingly embrace his exhortation: "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:1-6
As shepherds of the ﬂock of Jesus Christ in WNY, we are eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit and to practice humility, gentleness, patience, peace, and love. In light of the questions before us in our region regarding restricted worship – Do we open our worship gatherings? Do we comply with the government recommendation and remain closed? Do we exercise our rights based on the recent ruling of the Supreme Court? – we want to demonstrate the fruit of God’s Spirit toward one another and maintain the unity of the Spirit even if we choose to answer those questions differently than our co-laborers. Some of us will choose to remain compliant with the local governing authorities in the spirit of respecting the God-ordained authority and honoring that leadership (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-25) and will thus close our doors for public worship temporarily. Others of us may make the same decision, but based primarily on the desire to love our neighbor and consider others before ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40; Philippians 2:1-8). Yet others of us may make the decision based on the spirit of Paul’s statements about his own apostleship and the rights thereof and, like him, will gladly “lay down our rights and endure anything” for the sake of our gospel witness to a suffering community (1 Corinthians 9:12). Still others of us will choose to gather for worship consistent with the Biblical admonition and legally protected right to do so, and in compliance with national governing authorities, in an effort to “not neglect meeting together” (Hebrews 10:24-25) and to mobilize the local body of believers to care well for one another and for those who are not able to gather (Romans 12:9-16). While other decisions based on other Biblical rationales exist as well, the above serve simply to demonstrate the various decisions that leaders will make and some of the Biblical basis for them.
Regardless of the particular choices a local congregation makes, what we are affirming with one another in the greater body of believers in WNY is that we are all instructed to maintain unity, and to do so eagerly, since these decisions are not matters of salvation or first order doctrinal issues. As an extension of that truth, we are also committed to leading the people in our care in that regard since we “are keeping watch over (their) souls, as those who will have to give an account.” (Hebrews 13:17).
Therefore, we affirm the need and desire to protect and maintain the unity of the Spirit in the Church of WNY, especially in such trying times are we are experiencing, and will endeavor to do so strengthened by God’s grace. May the ancient Christian statement be true of the Church of WNY, “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”