“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (Jn 17:20-23)
Jesus prays for the unity of the church. And because Jesus prays for it, and the prayers of a righteous man are answered, there is a oneness in the church. But it is often misunderstood.
The unity of the church exists despite denominations and other human organizations that are involved with the work of the church on earth. This unity is created by faith in Jesus Christ, which incorporates all believers into the body of Christ, and he only has one body, we are made to be as members, legs, feet and toes of Christ’s body. It is an organic unity, not an organizational unity.
That said, organizational unity wouldn’t be a bad thing if it didn’t involve power plays, or compromise on doctrine. If we are to be one it has to be because we have been sanctified in truth. That we have different denominations is the result of people not accepting the truth, or perhaps only accepting part of the truth. But our pursuit must be for truth. Seek first the kingdom of God. His word is truth. It’s a tall order, and not one people care to pursue much these days. Today there are serious challenges to the idea of truth itself. People pick churches for a myriad of reasons, but what the church teaches is a concern finding itself surprisingly low on the list. Youth activities usually finds itself higher on the list. Of course, that might mean that a church should find a way to supply youth activities that more might hear the truth. In the same way, and this is just a fact, people believe what they want to believe. So the church might do well to give them a reason to want to believe the Gospel. This isn’t always done well with infighting and bickering over doctrinal truths the way Sean Hannity berates liberal dogma over the airways. It actually requires getting to know people and understanding where they are at, this is just as true of society as it is of individuals, and then applying the truth, law and gospel to their situation in a way that shows Christ’s love and concern for them. Because finally, this is what unifies us in the church, Christ’s love for the world, Christ’s love for us, and for you. It is from this love that he taught the disciples and gave us the New Testament consummated with his death and resurrection. Yes, it is his love that gave us Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and our doctrine, because his doctrine, his teaching has the power to save and to heal.
Power to heal, this is what the teaching of Christ does, it heals, it delivers a good conscience and a clean heart. This is the effect of Christ’s love, it gives rest to a weary soul. It brings peace. I recently read and reviewed “The Sober Truth” which was a critique of A.A. It had a bias against religion and particularly the religion of A.A. The book contained the thoughts of many who had become disenfranchised from A.A. for many reasons. But in many of these interviews, I found it a bit shocking how many of them were turned off from the religious aspects of A.A. in part due to bad experiences with Christianity growing up. In fact, it seemed to me, that many of these people were perhaps drinking to excess and killing themselves with alcohol and other drugs precisely for the reason of trying to deal with abusive teachings passing themselves off as Christian, to which they were exposed as kids. Of course there are many different reasons people drink in such a manner. And I don’t think we will ever be done with the problem of alcoholism. But it did strike me the prevalancy with which these alcoholics expressed issues with religion, and mostly meaning some branch of Christianity. It gives one a bit of pause for thought. Of course, not everyone is going to accept the truth either. The gospel will always be rejected. But it would be nice if when people left “the church” or were angry with it, they at least were rejecting the gospel rather than a pseudo-gospel. As one Professor once told a class, “yes, the gospel offends, but you might want to make sure it is the gospel that is offending and not you.” And the truth is, it often is us, we are sinners. And despite it all God manages to work through us to accomplish his purposes, drawing us together as one in him, sanctified in truth.