“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” (John 17:20-23 ESV).
Volumes could be written about unity; I’m sure that they have. But when I read this passage, part of what is known as the High Priestly Prayer–a prayer of Jesus–I felt compelled to shine a little light on it here.
I think about unity in the body of Christ often. The dissension in the ranks is all too evident by the number of denominations and off-shoot churches. We seem to focus on our differences, even while our similarities are strong and many. This church has built itself up around doctrine A; that church has been raised around doctrine B; still another church focuses on variant 3 of doctrine A, with a second distinctive from doctrine T. This church won’t associate with that church because they believe x to be important; and that church refuses fellowship with the other church because they hold to y. It is a comedy of errors that would be funny if it weren’t so damaging to the proliferation of the Gospel.
Jesus prayed that we would all be one, as He and the Father are one. And he specifically prayed this for one reason: “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” In John 13:35 we read “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, If you have love for one another” (ESV). And again, But it seems that these words of Jesus have fallen short.
I have a lot of respect for Martin Luther. It was never his desire to launch a new and separate church. It was fully his hope, rather, to reform the existing church to bring it back in line with scripture after certain church leaders had strayed from the narrow way. He did everything in his power to preserve unity. But the church would not listen. And so began the spread of the church.
To make matters worse, we even have dissension in the ranks within denominations, and even within individual churches. It seems as if we want church our way, and we won’t be satisfied with anything less. We expect everyone to think our way, and those that don’t are spoken of disparagingly. Those who are not among the “beautiful people” are ignored. And the Gospel languishes.
In all honesty, I’m not sure that we will be able to find the unity for which Jesus prayed. We may have strayed too far to recover. I pray that is not the case. I know this, however, if we are to get there it is up to me and you. It will have to start with one.
If one person started loving equally and unconditionally, if just one would regard others as more important than their own self (Philippians 2:3), if only one would take the form of a servant first (Philippians 2:8), what a fire could be kindled with just one little spark.
We can’t ask the question, “what difference can one person make?” We need, instead, to ask, “What can I do to make a difference in one life?” God doesn’t need another new denomination; He doesn’t need another Luther, Calvin or Welsey.He needs individuals like you and me to step up to the plate as disciples making disciples. That is how we will find unity, in the love and unity of the Father and the Son.