I wrote this mini-diatribe for the Bible study I led a few weeks ago, but I didn't get to speak on this topic. So here I am, climbing up onto my favorite soap box:
In the seventeenth chapter of St. John's Gospel, starting in the eleventh verse, Jesus prays for His disciples thus:
"Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your Name -- the Name You gave me -- so that they may be one as we are one."
Later in the same chapter, Jesus prays for all believers thus (starting at the twentieth verse):
"My prayer is not for them [the disciples] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message [the church], that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and You in Me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me."
Jesus prayed not only for unity amongst His disciples, but also for unity within His Bride, the Church. I can't tell you how much it grieves me to see His Bride so broken, so ill, so schizophrenic -- divided to the point that we even question each other's salvation. I often hear from my evangelical brothers and sisters their opinion that Roman Catholics aren't "saved." And the same prejudice arises when discussing the Eastern Orthodox Church. It saddens me so much to hear part of the Church of Christ judging others in the same Church of Christ in this manner. It's not glorifying to God -- it's not showing our love for each other -- it's definitely NOT Scriptural. And our "complete unity" was to show the world the love of God. Are we following this vision of Jesus? Are we truly being a witness for the world of God's redeeming and saving love through our unity with and love for each other?
I have participated in a homeschool Yahoo loop with a group of Catholic homeschooling moms for several years. And I can tell you this: these families love the Lord Jesus with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. They know their Scriptures better than I do; their apologetics are strong and convincing, and their participation in the pro-life cause, which is dear to my heart, is exemplary. And their hurt at being judged as "not being saved" by some evangelicals, often their own family members, has caused me grief as well. The examples I've heard are too many to mention here, but I can tell you that it happens extremely often and is a continuing thorn in their side as they live lives devoted to Christ.
The more I read Catholic and Orthodox writers, the more I've found common ground with them. A great deal of common ground, in fact. Although we all know of many evangelicals who used to be Catholic, this tide seems to be reversing, as is seen by the conversion of Scott Hahn and several professors at Wheaton, as well as Cathy Duffy (homeschool leader in CA), Thomas Howard (brother to Elisabeth Elliott), and Rich Mullins (songwriter/singer). Hank Hanagraff states that evangelicals and Catholics who ascribe to the teachings of the Magisterium (the official teachings of the Catholic Church) share 80% of doctrine in common. ***80%*** And evangelicals share closer to 90% of common doctrine with the Eastern Orthodox Church. These fellow believers are truly our brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ! Certainly there are areas of disagreement -- but doctrinal debate exists within evangelical circles as well, on such subjects such as Predestination, End Times, Creation, etc. But if we agree on the centrality of Jesus as our Risen Lord, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the World, then we should indeed consider ourselves united with all Christians, whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant.
God has asked us to be "fruit inspectors," looking for the fruit of the Spirit in ourselves and in others. And I see much fruit as I look at the traditional faiths: think of all the Catholic hospitals, schools, universities. Look at their work in Africa among the victims of AIDS. Look at their work in forming our Holy Scriptures and in preserving much of Western Culture in monasteries during the Middle Ages. Look at the beauty of Catholic and Orthodox sanctuaries, which give honor and glory to God. There's so much more: music, art, literature -- we have "the Universal Church, in the Spirit of truth, unity, and concord" (1928 Book of Common Prayer) to thank for most of our past culture, our present ministry, and our future hope.
This lesson of accepting and loving Christians of all traditions is one that God has given me to learn over the past six years, and one that He's asked me to pass along. God has given me a passion for ancient Church traditions as seen in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican traditions, a passion that I hope to pass down to my children and pass along to those to whom God has asked me.
While I don't expect everyone to agree with me 100%, I ask for you to pray with me for a healthy, hearty, welcoming, loving Bride of Christ, which is **US** -- made up of evangelical, charismatic, and mainline Protestantism, as well as Catholicism and Orthodoxy. I pray that we all will truly love our brothers and sisters in the love of Christ, seeking the fruit that He asks us to bring to fruition through His power and for His glory.