Monday, October 27, 2008
The Jesus Prayer for Christian Unity
Since I became a Christian at the age of 8, I've been drawn to St. John's gospel, and especially the 17th chapter in which Christ prays at length. His "high priestly prayer" (as the ESV calls it) encompasses prayer for Himself, for His disciples, and for future believers, and it's the latter that has always seemed so beautifully personal to me throughout my faith walk:
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. (John 17:20-21).
John H. Armstrong of Act 3 Ministries, discusses these verses and the often mistaken interpretation regarding them by many Protestant churches. To read this article and the comments, or to comment yourself, simply click here.
Perhaps it's my rather eclectic background as a Christian, being involved in many denominations (Presbyterian, Mormon, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian, and Evangelical Free) and attending both Nazarene and Catholic universities, but I've just never been satisfied with the very ideas of denominations. It seems like the vast majority of denominations thinks that they are "right" in not only the essentials of the faith but also the little niggly details, and they often look down their noses at other denominations and sadly shake their collective heads over how "mistaken" others are in this theology or that doctrine. This reaction saddens me more than I can express.
Perhaps naively, I like to view the entirety of Christianity as one big family -- and I'm including Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox also. Why? Because Jesus' redemptive work on the Cross brought us the hope of eternal life if we believe in Him, love Him, and desire to serve Him and His people everywhere. Yes, there are doctrinal differences, but for me the differences all seem to fade into the background when compared to Jesus Christ and His love for His Bride, the Church. He gave His life for us all. So how do we respond to this "amazing grace"?
Do we condone thousands of denominations? Do we seclude ourselves from each other, judging each other according to man-made distinctions that we struggle to "support" from the Scriptures? Do we question others' faith? Their salvation? Do we shrink from working together to spread the Gospel? Are we territorial? Do we disallow or remove each other from universities and home school associations? Do we choose to live in fear rather than in love?
And do we think that Jesus is truly pleased with us?
I'm not calling for a complete reunification of the entire Christian Church (although I think it would be rather cool in theory). What I am suggesting is that we work together. Pray together. Refrain from judging each other. And, most of all, love each other truly as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Several years ago my kids and I were on a field trip to the San Diego Mission which is still an active Catholic church (pretty cool, huh?). Amidst the mission brochures and information was a stack of flyers promoting a Pro-Life walk involving four Catholic parishes ... and Journey Community Church. Yes, an evangelical "mega-church" was joining in with the Catholics to make a stand on an issue that transcends denominational boundaries. That's what I'm talking about.
Lake Murray serves each month at God's Extended Hand, a homeless ministry in downtown San Diego. We serve meals, sermons, readings from God's Word, and the joyful singing of praise songs and hymns. People's hearts as well as stomachs are filled in this place. And so many denominations pitch in to help. In fact, the mission was started by Anglicans, I do believe. A couple of years ago, I drove Father Acker, his wife Alice, and their neighbor Martha down to God's Extended Hand so they could serve and see what the mission is like. Father brought his guitar and sang carols with the worship team while Alice and Martha helped in the kitchen. That's what I'm talking about.
What I am NOT talking about is how Cathy Duffy, one of the homeschool pioneers in California, was removed from her ministry when she converted to Catholicism. This week I was chatting with the mother of one of my former students who was expelled from Patrick Henry College, the Home School Legal Defense Association's college in Virginia, because he would not sign a statement of faith stating that there are only 66 books in the Bible. (He later converted to Catholicism.) That's what I am NOT talking about.
What I AM talking about is how Sister Betsy and I, a Catholic nun and a Presbyterian research assistant, would join hands, bow heads, and pray at the beginning of each day. What I AM talking about is having churches work together to solve the problems of hunger, homelessness, abortion, euthanasia. Or at least PRAYING TOGETHER regarding these issues. We need, to use a saying often heard in evangelical circles, to "major on the majors," and to "not sweat the small stuff." Jesus is the major thing. Everything else is small in comparison to His greatness, His love. This is the only "litmus" test: Jesus is the Son of God, and I love Him.
Every Christian, whether Catholic or Pentecostal, has an Enemy who is on the prowl. Remember the old adage: there is safety in numbers. Think of what power the Church could have if we put aside the wars of the past and banded together against the Enemy rather than judging each other and tearing each other down? Think of what could be accomplished against the powers of evil and darkness!
We need to get over our fears and be willing to love and serve, hand in hand, with the entire Bride. Right now She's schizophrenic, being pulled in so many different directions, but She could be well and strong if only we decide to obey. And love. And pray that Christ's prayer in John 17 will indeed be answered.