"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Jesus wants His Church to be perfectly one

In John 17 we see that Jesus wants His followers to be perfectly one with each other. He wants His Church to be perfectly one. As long as we are in different denominations, we are not perfectly one, because we are still divided. As long as we are divided in different denominations, we pain the heart of Jesus.

Ask yourself this question: What am I doing to bring about the unity of all Christian denominations?

Many Christians seem to be content with the divisions in the Church. Or they seem to think that there is nothing that can be done about those divisions. Or they think that their separation from all other denominations is required by verses such as 2 Corinthians 6:17, where St. Paul writes, "Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate, says the Lord."

But St. Paul is saying there not to be yoked together with *unbelievers*; he is not contradicting Jesus's prayer in John 17. St. Paul himself wrote in his first letter to the Corinthians, "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment." (1 Cor 1:10)

What can you do to help bring about the unity of the Church, a unity that Christ deeply desires His Church to have? You can pray for the unity of the Church. Meditate on John 17 until Christ's desire for the unity of His Church becomes a burning passion in your own heart. Commit yourself to dialogue with Christians in other denominations about ways to reconcile the various divisions in the Church. Listen carefully and sincerely to the positions, beliefs, objections and perspectives of others, and learn them. Call the attention of other Christians to the disparity between the present divided state of the Church and Jesus's prayer for unity in John 17. Don't give up when you don't see progress, or you are rebuffed, or ignored. If you see that you were wrong, admit it and embrace the truth. Don't cling to a position simply because you have believed it a long time and it brings you comfort or security. The truth must be more valuable to you than security. Don't let your dialogue turn into a competition, because that obscures truth as the goal of our dialogue. And if the goal of truth is obscured, then reconciliation cannot occur. As Peter Kreeft says, "So how do we get reunion? By finding the truth. Truth is the only possible basis for reunion." Continue to pray and reach across the fences that divide us, committed to doing whatever is in your power to reconcile all Christians in unity. Network with other Christians (such as myself!) who are making efforts to bring about Christian unity. Read and discuss what it means to be in perfect unity. Without some conception of a goal, how can one pursue that goal? Various thoughts of mine on achieving the goal of church unity can be found here.

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." - Matthew 5:9


Kyle Borg said...

Thanks for the post.
First, "Ask yourself this question: What am I doing to bring about the unity of all Christian denominations?" Before you begin with this question doesn't one need to define what a "Christian denomination" is? I mean, Mormons consider themselves to be a Christian denomination but I would refuse them the unity of the Church.
Secondly, do you think unity can be achieved with such divisions? There are serious issues which separate denominations and Churches. The Protestants and Catholics are just as separated today as they were during the Reformation, not much as changed in regards to doctrine. Within Protestantism there are big riffs when comparing Presbyterians and Baptists (mainly Baptism which is more of a question of ecclesiology than sacraments). We would not do well to gloss over these massive divisions, for we are to worship in truth but unity without truth is false unity. Can unity be reached?
Thirdly, some of the divisions are for very *good* reasons. Justification by faith alone in Christ alone is not a minor issue setting Catholics apart from Protestants. This goes in accord with what Paul says in Galatians 1. Those who cause divisions in order to set themselves apart from false teaching ought to be praised rather than scolded and labeled as sectarians.
Anyway, those are just some of my thoughts. I've been studying the Epistle of Jude where he tells us to contend for the faith that once and for all delivered to the saints and I've been trying to fit that into my idea of unity.

Bryan Cross said...


Thanks for your comments. Hopefully we at least agree that Christ wants those who believe in Him (St. John 17:20) to be one, just as Christ and the Father are one. Even if there is uncertainty or disagreement concerning which groups and persons are among those that truly "believe in Him", there remains plenty of divisions between those concerning whom we agree do in fact "believe in Him". And so there remains plenty of work for us to do uniting these whom we agree do in fact "believe in Him". That is why I do not think we must all first agree concerning who "believes in Him" before seeking to fulfill Jesus's prayer in John 17. We can start work right now, without first agreeing on the precise denominational topography of genuine belief in Christ.

Regarding your second question, I agree that there are important doctrinal differences between Catholics and Protestants, and between Presbyterians and Baptists. I am not advocating glossing over these "massive divisions". I am advocating (based on Jesus's prayer) that these "massive divisions" be resolved and eliminated. St. Paul gives us this command: "Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment." (1 Cor 1:10) St. Paul is not exhorting them to sweep their differences under the rug and pretend that those differences don't exist. Rather, he is exhorting them to agree, that is, to remove the disagreements and divisions, such that there is nothing to sweep under the rug. That is true unity. He is not urging a fake unity in which we only pretend to be unified, while in fact we disagree on doctrine, practice, and authority. In order to reach such true unity, we have to dialogue with each other, and work out our differences. We cannot simply remain isolated in our respective denominations, talking only with those in our own denomination, and not trying to reconcile with our brothers and sisters in Christ in other denominations. That is precisely the practice and habit I am trying to encourage us to overcome, motivated by the heart of Jesus revealed in St. John 17. It is far too easy and comfortable to dialogue only with those who think exactly like us. But that habit ignores the heart of Jesus in St. John 17.

Can unity be reached? Jesus believed it could. And so do I. If we do not believe that unity can be reached, we won't even try.

Regarding your third point, everyone who started (and starts) a new denomination thinks his reason for starting a new denomination is a good reason. And those who don't go along with him think his reason is not a good reason. So in order to achieve the unity Christ prays that we have, and St. Paul exhorts us to have, we simply have to bring our reasons to the table and work out our differences. We know that the divisions among those who "believe in Him" are contrary to the heart of Christ and should not remain. That means that we have to be committed to working out our disagreements, discoursing and praying fervently and diligently until we have reached unity and agreement. We should long for the unity of the Church no less than does Christ Himself.

Peace in Christ,

- Bryan