The Patriarch of the Raccoons spoke first. He told stories of how the Prince of the
had walked among their trails generations ago, and how He promised to return someday. “The time is approaching!” declared the raccoon. “We must prepare for His return! We must be united together for His sake!” Entire Forest
“But how can we be united? We’re so different!” cried a skunk in the second row, and the convocation burst into excited squabbling. How indeed could a group this diverse become united? “Learn to eat nuts!” the squirrels chattered. “Build dams!” cried the beavers. “You must eat bugs” chirped the swallows, and the objections of the spiders and bees were missed in the clamor. The otters just wanted to go play in the river, and the owls were lobbying that the meeting should be postponed until .
It was clear that it was easier to call for unity than it was to get all the animals to agree on how to become united. The discussion went on late into the afternoon until one of the younger coyotes, who had had very little for breakfast that morning, accidentally ate the Vice-Chairman of Ways and Means for the
. He was instantly ashamed, but the damage was done. The rodent species began to leave, the young coyote was barking his apology, and a grey squirrel, not being fluent in the coyote language, misunderstood his intent and chattered an alarm, and then there was pandemonium. Mouse Kingdom
Dozens of animals were left dead on the meadow that night as the moon came up over the trees. There were a number of bloody trails where wounded creatures escaped to the undergrowth.
Hope may not have died that day, but it was seriously wounded. Species didn’t trust each other after that event, and there was bickering within the groups about whose fault it was. The King of the Elk had young bucks lining up to challenge his right to lead the herd that fall. There was no more mention of the Prince of the
coming to walk among them anymore. Entire Forest
I have been privileged to know a number of prophets and apostles over my lifetime. When they have gathered, have been seasons when we have acted like these animals: “Be like me!” one would shout at the others. The intent was sincere: “I’ve discovered this truth! You need to know it too!” For decades, probably for generations, prophets have devoured each other, apostles have snapped at those who don’t see as they see, and teachers have tried to make entire congregations into their image. Those gifted with mercy have been angry with those who don’t grieve over the hurts of others, and intercessors have withdrawn to hide in their caves.
Let me give you an example: Do we rest in God, under the shadow of His wings, or are we to pick up the weapons of our warfare which are not carnal and become the violent ones who take the Kingdom by force?
We know that truth, but we overlook it sometimes. We know that the answer is “Both,” and if someone asks us as clearly as I just have, we can see that. But in the busyness of our daily lives, our focus narrows, and we only remember the lessons that we have learned recently. I think that there must be a rule somewhere: if I’m learning one lesson, then some of the people closest to me are learning the opposite lesson at the same time.
Recently, I was at a gathering of a couple hundred apostles and prophets, and I saw some things beginning that I’ve waited decades to see: I saw gifted leaders recognizing each other’s differences, acknowledging them as strengths, rather than considering them as weaknesses.
The call was still for unity, but – unlike the animals in the meadow, and unlike so many previous gatherings that I’ve seen – there was no value placed on uniformity.
In the past, at least in my experience, the call for unity is usually associated with a cry for some common ground: a common theology, a common lifestyle, a common expression of ministry.
I don’t know if those common ground goals have ever worked to produce unity. If they have, I have not heard about it. I was part of a denomination for several years that codified their theological “distinctives” into their confession of faith: you couldn’t receive their credentials if you didn’t agree with every detail of that doctrine. Our quarterly gatherings were morose and divided; our annual gatherings were full of sharp disagreement and biting criticism. The intention was good, but there was no unity.
I would like to propose a change: instead of building unity around uniformity, rather we build our unity around fathers, around relationships rather than doctrines or practices. (Of course, when I speak of “fathers,” I’m not speaking only of men, just as “the Bride of Christ” is not limited to only women.)
I fellowship with other believers regularly. One of the things we have in common is that we look to some of the same people as “fathers” to our own spiritual lives and in the life of our gathered community. We don’t have common theology, these people I fellowship with; in fact, we have some significant differences of opinion, which I find to be invigorating, challenging, encouraging, because I know that they love me regardless of my doctrinal differences with them.
I’m getting used to people encouraging me to be who God has created me to be, rather than to be like themselves. The prophets among us are learning to walk without the limp. Intercessors are coming out of their caves. Apostles are rising up to lead, though many of them are scratching their heads wondering what their gift is supposed to lead them into, but finally beginning to understand that it’s safe to ask those questions.
In our fellowship, we are not gathered around a common doctrine. We are united in our hunger for “more of God,” and we gather around a person, the one who comfortably fits in the role of “father” among us. Though many of those whom he fathers are older than his parents, we recognize his “fatherness” among us. Odd isn’t it?
As individuals, we gather around one father. As a fellowship, we relate to other fathers that we know and relate with. We are proud of the men and women who are “fathers” among us, but we’re not jealous of other fathers. If you gather around a different apostolic leader, then I’m delighted that you have such a man or woman to lead you!
In the natural – the biological realm – the only time someone will be jealous for another person’s father or mother is when their own has failed them. So it is in spiritual relationships, I’m not jealous for your fathers because my father is a good leader and a good friend among my house. It would be weird for me to long to be parented by people who neither birthed me nor know me as a son.
Unity is a wonderful thing, and I’m looking forward to us (at least in my region) growing more in unity as we gather around fathers rather than doctrines or practices, as we learn to celebrate our differences and focus on our own strengths and responsibilities rather than either conforming ourselves to others’ example, or working to bring them into conformity to our own patterns.