Thursday, August 11, 2011

Unity

John 17v20-23:
“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—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
I've been listening to a fascinating sermon series from The Meeting House in Canada over the past few weeks. It's called 'One Church' and each week, for the last 8 or 9 weeks, they have invited leaders from different denominations to their own to come and explain the basic beliefs of that denomination and to preach a short message in The Meeting House. So far I've listened to talks from the perspective of the Anglican Church, The Brethren in Christ (which is the denomination of the Meeting House, not to be confused with the Brethren), the Salvation Army, Presbyterians, Catholics, Pentecostals, the United Church of Canada, and Harvest Bible Chapel. There was a sermon by Philip Yancey in the middle there too.

In addition to that, the pastors of The Meeting House do a separate podcast called the 'Round Table' in which they delve deeper into some of the issues raised in the Sunday sermons. I've listened to a few of those too. Highly recommended.

The aim of the series, as expressed many times in the podcasts, is to try and learn from 'other parts of the body of Christ'. They say that there is unity in the body of Christ, even though it is split into many denominations.

And yet, when you listen to the discussions between the various denominations, it is clear that several of them (perhaps not all) have the underlying viewpoint that 'we are right and you are wrong, and your way of being Christians is fundamentally flawed'. In other words, they speak of unity, and yet it is clearly not there in any real or tangible way.

Last week, they read the passage quoted above, where Jesus prays for unity among all believers. It had never really occurred to me before, but now it seems clear to me that here we have an example of a prayer that Jesus prayed which simply, in the past two thousand years, has not been answered.

Sure, parts of the church have shown unity at various times in history, but the history of the church is largely one of schism and disunity, not one of communion and unity.

The disunity in the church has always bothered me. But I'd never noticed before that the disunity is evidence that God didn't answer Jesus's prayer. The implications of that are huge. And I think I'll leave it until another post before I unpack that one...

5 comments:

Marcus Green said...

"I'd never noticed before that the disunity is evidence that God didn't answer Jesus's prayer."

Or - that praying for unity, and recording that prayer, is an example of realism and showing Jesus' priorities for his people at the end of his earthly ministry.

After all, Jesus spends a lot of time emphasising the importance of forgiveness in Christian life. Why? Because Christians are good at forgiveness? By your argument, finding out Christians struggle as much with forgiveness as everyone else says Christianity is worthless. But perhaps the evidence actually says, most people are bad at forgiveness so Jesus stresses it so those who bear his name might at least try to do something about it.

Likewise - disunity (which is not the same as a lack of uniformity) is not per se evidence of unanswered prayer. Not when there are always some Christians, inspired by Jesus and pushed gently by God's loving hand, trying to do something about their natural human tendency to sit in their own corner throwing stones at people who are different.

What's answered prayer? Perfection? Or some people being better than might otherwise be the case?

Tell you what, I'm glad he prayed it, just in case we might ever have seen the world without it.

'Mash said...

Ricky, I apologise for posting on this post but I have been searching for a way to contact you on your blog but I couldn't find an address or link.

After reading a number of your posts and your other blog I think you would really appreciate listening to Ravi Zacharias. Here are a few clips from some university lectures he did. http://www.rzim.org/resources/watch.aspx

'Mash

Ricky Carvel said...

Marcus,

A pastor in a church I once went to said something along the lines of 'my prayers are always answered' and expanded on that by explaining that once your will is aligned with that of the Father, you only ask for things that are in full accordance with his will, so he will always answer with a yes.

I wasn't totally convinced in his case, but have always kind of assumed it of Jesus. Jesus wouldn't ask the Father for something he knew would never happen, would he?

And yet, here we have an instance of Jesus asking for something that never happened (maybe it will one day, but I don't think that a 2000 year delay is in Jesus's mind here).

And from all I know of 1st & 2nd century Christianity, it doesn't seem like there was even much in the way of unity in the initial stages either.

Yes, Jesus stressed unity in the same way he stressed forgiveness, and I agree we should practice both, if we can. But the fact that the prayer does not appear to have been answered reveals something of the humanity of Jesus, and further calls into question (in my mind at least) his claim to be 'one with the Father' in the sense of being united in divinity.

R.

(ps. More than 2/3rds of the way through volume 1 of NTW's magnum opus. I think all the bits I really want to read are in volume 2 though...)

Ricky Carvel said...

Mash,

I'll have a look/listen. Although I think Ravi (from what I've already read of him) starts from the unquestioned presupposition that everything recorded in the bible is totally accurate and historical.

Not convinced.

Marcus Green said...

Ricky

I think you are missing something important.

John 13-16 is set out as Jesus' teaching to the apostles on the night before he dies. As such, it's fair to presume what we get is fairly important stuff - he leaves them with things he wants them to remember. John 17 is part of this discourse, in that it completes the previous few chapters by turning the themes of the preceding chapters into prayer. 13:34 sums it all up - a new commandment, love one another; it's a very Johannine take on Matt 22, where Jesus gives the greatest command - Love God, love your neighbour.

The thing you have difficulty with is none of that - it's that if it was so important, & Jesus prayed for it, why don't we have a complete answer? Unity in the church. (And that's what you want - completion.)

Yet (and do let me indulge in a little hyperbole here, to make the issue clear) you seem to ignore that Jesus isn't asking for his bedroom to be painted orange, or for an iPad2. His concern is for people to take on his own heart, his own standards, his own passions and loves. Love me, love the things I love - ie love people. Real people. the ones next to you who are blooming awkward, but I still love them.

This is not like asking for an iPad. He's not praying about a thing (which I agree it seems like unity is) but about people (whose love either makes it happen or whose brokenness prevents it).

For Jesus completely to get what he wants (in your terms) you actually need God to intervene & stop people having the free will not to love. You seem to think that if Jesus prays for unity, to show that he is listening God must take away our ability to be disunified.

That's quite a philosophical stance you are taking. The God of love must remove the ability for us not to love in order that his prayer about love be lovingly fulfilled. Hmmm...

Here in a nutshell is my problem with some of your theology. Questions are always good; but answers that allow God to be smaller usually end up making people smaller too & neither of these outcomes does anyone much good. Struggle for more. It's always worth it.