The local church’s greatest vulnerability is the same as the greatest vulnerability of musk oxen in the Arctic. What? Stay with me. Recently my kids and I watched the National Geographic special The Kingdom of the White Wolf. It follows a pack of white wolves as they struggle to survive in the harsh arctic wilderness.
One of the most powerful scenes is the wolves’ attempt
to hunt a herd of musk oxen. At the first sign of the wolves, the musk oxen immediately form what is called a rosette — a defensive circle.
This rosette formation is impossible for the wolves to defeat. Each musk ox weighs as much as 10 wolves. On every side, all the wolves see are massive heads studded with sharp horns.
The wolves only have one strategy to defeat this impenetrable formation: fear and stampede. As long as the oxen stand firm together the wolves are helpless. The only way the wolves get a meal is if they stir up enough fear to start a stampede. Fear fragments the herd and causes chaos. As soon as the fear takes over, disunity sets in, panic grows, the herd divides, and the wolves eat.
Friends, our greatest threat in 2021 is disunity fueled by fear. When the church stands together in unity it is an impenetrable fortress against the Evil One. But the moment we allow disunity to creep in, we are deeply vulnerable.
There are only two options for us this year: fall apart or stand together.
Option 1: Fall apart in division
Let’s look at the first option: fall apart in division. This is Satan’s goal. He is a roaring lion looking for church communities to destroy (1 Peter 5:8). He knows his only chance to feast on the vulnerable of the church is to cause disunity fueled by fear and suspicion.
The church has always faced challenges of division — over which teachers and preachers they like best (1 Corinthians 1:10-17), over culture, ethnicity, theology and missiology (Acts 15:1-41), and over interpersonal conflicts (Philippians 4:1-3) — to give just a few biblical examples. And this past year we could add to the list: masks, elections, economics, vaccines, and whether baby Yoda eating those eggs was adorable or horrible!
This past year I have watched disunity fueled by fear threaten the mission and witness of the church at large, and yes, even at times threaten Christ Community.
How do we respond to this threat? How to keep from succumbing to fragmentation and chaos? How do we stop the lion?
Option 2: Stand together in unity
We stop the lion the same way the musk oxen stop the wolves. We stand together in unity. Not in a diversity-erasing uniformity. No. We stand together in a division-healing, enemy-reconciling love. Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul who is calling the Ephesians (and us!) back to ourselves, back to the unity we have in Jesus because of the cross:
Therefore I, the prisoner in the Lord, urge you to walk worthy of the calling you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope at your calling—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1–6 CSB 2017)
That gospel oneness then empowers us to stand together against evil. Look at what Paul writes later in Ephesians chapter six. Note that Paul is addressing the church as a whole, not just speaking to an individual. The commands are plural.
Finally, (you all) be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. (You all) Put on the full armor of God so that you (all) can STAND against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. For this reason (you all) take up the full armor of God, so that you (all) may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your STAND. (You all) STAND, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace. (Ephesians 6:10–15 CSB 2017)
So how do we stand together in 2021? I believe there are three key ways. We stand together in…
- Humble dependence. Standing together begins by recognizing we need one another. As long as we live life as though we don’t need one another, that we are fine on our own, disunity will triumph every time. Unity is based on a shared identity with Jesus born of a humility that recognizes our deep need for Him and one another.
- Spirit-empowered effort. Standing together is not passive. Several years ago I got a standing desk, which I love! But you quickly realize that using a standing desk takes effort — a lot of effort. Sitting is passive. There’s a reason Paul doesn’t say, “Sit, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist…” Standing takes work. Unity takes effort. A lot of effort! Paul tells us to make “every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” The good news is this effort is empowered by the Spirit whose fruit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
- Patient persistence. Time is on our side. The victory has been secured. The enemy is doomed. The wolves will leave every time if the musk oxen will just wait, just stand firm together. It is when in impatience and fear the herd loses its steadfastness that the stampede starts. The oxen are so much more powerful than the wolves if they stand together and don’t give in. So are we.
Bottomline: musk oxen fight and win by standing firm and so do we. So, Christ Community, in 2021 let these words of blessing from Romans 15 be our prayer for the church:
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 15:5-6 ESV)
Happy New Year, brothers and sisters! Let’s be like the musk oxen and stand together.