Originally published on IgneousQuill.net
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23 NRSV).
The movement of which I am a part was born with two driving objectives: A return to original Christianity and the undenominational unity of all Christians. At the moment I am undecided as two which of these is more naïve.
The conservative position in the Stone-Campbell movement has been that unity can only be found in accepting only what the Bible says and either leaving everything else out (as the Church of Christ claims to believe, though imperfectly in practice) or leave opinions as “non-essential” (per the independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ, a position which also has difficulty in practical application). The liberal angle, as found in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), has been to go for organizational and institutional unity through ecumenical means with other denominations.
All attempts have shown themselves to be failures. So, has Jesus’ prayer failed?
Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples, and not only those who followed him in his earthly ministry. He made it clear he was praying for all of us in every century of this present age. The trouble, in my view, is that we’ve misinterpreted this passage. We’ve assumed that somehow it will be possible to get everyone on board with specific doctrines and practices. Yes, we must struggle to find our commonalities and discover the ground we share together, but I don’t believe that this will be found in any conference or meeting room. It will be found on the mission field…and the entire world is the mission field.
Traditionally, this prayer of Jesus has been read to mean that once we acheive unity, the world will see our harmony, want the peace we find together in Jesus, and be converted. This is plainly not true. In context, we have every reason to believe that Jesus was talking about a practical unity, a unity in mission and not in every detail of faith. It was not institutional unity that Jesus was interested in, but rather missional unity.
A little girl goes lost in the forest. Very soon a rescue team is formed and volunteers join trained workers in the effort. A base camp is established, though it is empty most of the day. A few coordinaters work from there, while teams spread out to search. There is a ground effort as well as a search by air. After three days a couple of searchers on one of the teams spots the little girl next to a creek. She’s tired, hungry and scared, but otherwise okay. A helicopter airlifts her out while paramedics take her vitals and give her juice.
The people on that rescue team may have had a lot of ideas about a lot of things, but they were united in their common objective: Seek and save the girl.
Now, I know that in a church the issues can be far more complicated. We have Scriptures that guide our faith and any number of personal issues to deal with, but we also have our common mission: Seek and save those far from God.
Jesus was not praying that we would be a showcase for love and harmony (though that is a very desirable by-product of working in common mission). He was asking the Father’s blessing for us to be able to work smoothly together in advancing God’s rescue mission to this world. It is only in this way, as we unite our efforts and coordinate our energies, that the world will be effectively reached with the Good News that Jesus is Lord.