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!)