A Progressive Christian Blog

The Beatles & Jesus: Ecumenism in Worship


This famous Beatles song was originally written by Jesus… Surprised you didn’t know that.

I remember reading something sometime (that’s called “21st century journalism”) that told the story of how some evangelical churches and church groups began to disassociate themselves with the Billy Graham Crusades because Billy began to have Catholic Priests as part of the team that would meet with people who wanted to follow Christ for the first time at one of his Crusades. Essentially, they argued that because they believed Catholicism to be wrong, and not “Christian,” then Billy should not be using them on his counseling team, and possibly moving “new converts” towards Catholicism upon conversion.

Some of you, after reading that, may think, “yeah, what’s the problem with that? I wouldn’t have supported that either…” While others, “what!? That’s ridiculous… you’re going to boycott Billy Graham Crusades and tell people not to go because there are Catholic Priests there? Wow…” With probably others falling somewhere in between.

Personally, that fact that this occurred, and in many other ways still occurs today, frustrates me to no end.

This isn’t a post about Catholicism, nor is it a post about other religions or beliefs. It’s a post about the Christian call to unity, and what that might mean and look like.

One of my favorite moments in Jesus’ life is when he prays specifically for me… In fact, I believe it’s the ONLY time that he prays for me. Check it out, John 17:20-23…

  • My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,
  • that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
  • 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 themeven as you have loved me. (emphasis mine)

Pretty incredible, eh? Jesus actually prays for us who have believed in him because of the work of his disciples… And what is it that he prays for? What is his greatest hope for you, me, and others who have come to faith? Is it love? Is it high morality or purity? Is it health or well being? While these things are good and important, they’re not what John chose to write about in regards to Jesus’ ONLY prayer for believers through the ages… No, that belongs solely to the idea of UNITY.

You can point out immediately that Jesus prayed that “those who will believe in me” be one, and thereby begin to draw lines in the sand as to who is “in” and who is “out,” allowing us to only worry about being in unity with “some” people and not others. Which seems to be common in the church, “what EXACTLY can I do and not do? Where IS that line… so I can come right up next to it without crossing it…”

What if, instead of worrying about who I DON’T have to be in unity with (insert excuse here: they believe differently about the Bible, differently about the Church, differently about the Holy Spirit, worship, salvation, etc), we started exploring “what might it look like if we pursued more UNITY with this other church? This tradition? This faith? These people groups?” etc… Might there be some amazing side effects from being unified with people different from us? Would the body of Christ be that much more beautiful with ALL its parts working together? Might more people “not-of-faith” be impressed with people “of-faith” when they see us getting along, encouraging each other, and working together for love, hope, peace, justice, and healing? If Jesus himself believed that UNITY was of the utmost importance, and that it would be a defining factor in whether or not the world would come to know that he was sent by the Father, shouldn’t we too concern ourselves with this? Might we want to be more intentional in creating UNITY with others, especially those who it may not come naturally?

Last night I had the privilege of leading worship at Camber, the college ministry over at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Chandler, AZ. This was the 3rd time I was invited by the Cornerstone worship guys to come and “fill in” in their absence, and I’ll do it again next Thursday night. This isn’t necessarily ground breaking, as there’s a lot of similarities between our church and Cornerstone, but I believe that in some small way this is working towards better unity between churches in our area. It’s a small step, to be sure, but that’s usually where things begin. I’d love to someday get invited to lead worship at a Methodist church, a Luthern church, Episcoplian, Anglican or Catholic… We have so much to learn about worship from these traditions, and in turn we might have things they could learn from. But if we insist in staying at arms length and not being “intentional” in pursuing unity, we’ll never know.

“Ecumenism” can be defined as: initiatives aimed at greater religious unity or cooperation… most commonly, ecumenism is referring to a greater cooperation among different religious denominations. Since right now my area of expertise is “worship,” I’m trying to pursue ecumenism within worship amongst other churches in the East Valley. What does that look like? I’m not sure… but I’m willing to try. If that’s what Jesus felt compelled to pray for, then consider me compelled to figure it out.

(For a simple way to start fostering this in your church, encourage your pastors and leaders to do what my cousin’s church does in Oceanside, CA. Each Sunday they choose one other church in their area and pray for them during the service. Love it!)

3 Responses to “The Beatles & Jesus: Ecumenism in Worship”

  1. Alex


    Thanks for this post. I have encountered a variety of ecumenisms (using your minimalist definition). Here’s your definition again:

    “Ecumenism” can be defined as: initiatives [and activities] aimed at greater religious unity or cooperation… most commonly, ecumenism is referring to a greater cooperation among different religious denominations.

    You seem to be primarily concerned with Christian denominations becoming united, but many people see ‘ecumenism’ as involving non-Christian religions.

    Let’s stick with your focus, for a minute. What’s the end game, here? Is the ‘unity’ in question something we can only hope for, have faith will happen in the after-life, or is this something Christian’s used to have but lost along the way, something we must regain in the future?

    One reason I ask is that many Christians adhere to what is oft called “denominationalism”, i.e., that Christ wants, intended, and is fine with Christianity being divided into various denominations, that is, doctrinally and/or liturgically unique groups of Christians (including the non-denominationalists!).

    But I would suspect you might agree with me that Christ didn’t intend denominationalism, even while allowing the freedom of liturgical expression (within reasonable limits) in various communities spread around our ever shrinking globe.

    But then what is a Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, or Quaker to think of her uniquely defined group, esp., its view of the content of Christ’s Teaching?

    I’m just thinking outloud, here, and curious on your thoughts. Perhaps you’ll be posting more and more about this. I will keep my eyeballs peeled.

    Grace and Peace to You,
    May God have Mercy Upon Us, we who would divide not only his garments, but his mystical body,


  2. colbymartin


    for the moment, yes, i am concerned more with christian denominations united than involving non-christian religions… we shall save that for another post!
    you ask: “what’s the end game here? is the ‘unity’ in question something we can only hope for, have faith will happen in the after-life, or is this something christian’s used to have but lost along the way, something we must regain in the future?”

    i’m not sure one of those three options are more right than the others… or rather, to the “exclusion” of the others.

    for instance, i think that yes, christians did have more unity in some ways in the earliest days of the church… however, in other ways they most certainly didn’t (judging by how often people like paul had to “remind” his churches about how important it was…). but the fact that they all “existed,” more or less, under the banner of one Church speaks, i think, to some level of unity that we cannot comprehend today. (i say ‘we’ as in protestants… i’ll bet RC’ers and those in the orthodox communities have a much better sense and understanding of unity, even if it might not be played out any better…)

    but also, i would hope we would have some faith that once things have all been sorted out, and jesus has finally put the world to rights, that we will achieve unity at last (which begs the question: is it REALY unity if there isn’t the option for something else? and then, WILL there be no option for anything else? again… other posts are needed).

    and lastly, al, i think that yes we can, and ought, hope for that to happen here and now. i think all 3 of these things are aspects of “what’s the end game, here?”

    i do agree with you, that i DON’T think christ intended denominationalism. and i think it has been a major tar on the name of ‘christian,’ one of the biggest ‘anti-witnesses.’ jesus told us, in that prayer in john 17, that our ability to be in ‘unity’ would be a huge evangelistic method, if you will.

    my hope, i suppose, is that we would on one hand celebrate the things that are good about the various traditions that you mentioned, and others, but be more intentional about finding creative ways to partner with and work together on those things that bring god’s kingdom to reality. i think we CAN hope for these sorts of moments to happen, and continue to happen.

    i was thinking about this, and i’m not sure i believe it yet, but here it goes: i’m a dad, and i’ve got a son named zeke, who is almost 5. i get him a new box of legos, the ones with the super detailed instructions on how to put it together perfectly so it looks like the outside box. zeke, however, in his limited understanding and knowledge of how to read or follow instructions well, decides to look at the picture, look at his pieces, and start to assemble the best he can. the end result may not look quite as nice, and wasn’t what i originally planned or hoped for, but i can appreciate and be thankful for how he’s still “flying” around the room with his newly built lego plane.
    while “denominationalism” may not have been christ’s desire for his church, he may still look at his followers and with some degree of admiration and appreciation, enjoy much of how we’re using our legos the best we can. but if i have an idea for how the wing goes on, and you have an idea of how the wing goes on, and we decide that rather than work together to see how we can both be a part of it, we move to separate corners of the living room and build our own whole plane by ourselves, that’s where we start having issues…

    grace and peace to you as well, fellow ‘wing-builder’


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