How often do we as Christians find ourselves fighting more than loving?
What if I told you Jesus wasn’t happy about that?
In Jesus’ final prayer, he gives an account of his earthly mission to his Father who sent him. He first prays for himself, then for his disciples, and finally for his future believers. You can find his prayer recorded in John 17:1-26.
I find this interesting from our 2000-years-later perspective where the church landscape is, well, let’s say a bit fractured. Interesting why? Because much of the New Testament is filled with reminders and corrections and even outright slams about lack of unity in the church. Jesus hadn’t been back in heaven for long and the new believers already needed correcting in this area.
So, before you think I’m ridiculous for even writing about unity and lack-thereof, please read Paul’s letters (Romans, Galatians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, 1 & 2 Thessalonians, 1 & 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon).
Ever since accepting the call to pastor a non-denominational church in small town America, I’ve been more keenly aware of Jesus’ final prayer for future believers.
You see, as a non-denominational church pastor, most of my interactions with other local pastors reaches across to different brands of Christianity. I get to experience first hand that when you work ecumenically [representation of the whole of a body of churches] there can be challenges, but they’re worth facing because of Jesus’ final prayer for future believers.
Here in Punxsutawney the local ministerial association hosts a yearly event called Church in the Park (CITP). CITP has been going on for over ten years now. On Sunday morning many of the local churches close their doors and meet for a community worship service in the park. It’s a beautiful scene.
On this Sunday, men and women of the community put aside their secondary doctrinal differences and meet together under the most important and primary doctrinal belief: Salvation by Grace through Faith in Jesus Christ.
This is what Jesus calls us to in his final prayer. Unity. Oneness. A church reflecting the unity that exists eternally between the Father and the Son.
Here is what Jesus prays:
20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. 21 I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.
22 “I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. 23 I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.
John 17:20–23 (NLT)
I love the call to get along with purpose.
Why Unity Matters
When I read scripture and seek to apply it to my life, one of the practices I’ve developed is to look for the why.
It’s a life thing. Anytime we do anything in life we want to know why. If your boss asks you to take on a task – you want to know why. Usually in a job situation the why is well known. But, if the why isn’t obvious you may ask.
Much of the time in scripture, not all of the time, but much of the time, God provides the why.
So, why does Jesus pray for all believers to be one? Verse 21 says, “…so that the world will believe you sent me.”
It’s the mission! It’s evangelism! It’s witnessing by how we live! It’s saving souls! It’s taking more people to heaven with us!
It’s reflecting the love of Christ by how we love each other!
When we unite, the world sees that and may believe in Christ. When we fight, the world sees that and wonders why they would join a movement of people fight.
That’s why I love Church in the Park. It’s a public display of Christians worshiping with Christians. It’s an opportunity for believers to come together under the name of Jesus and worship in unity while declaring to the world – and each other – that we’re in this together. It’s an invitation rather than a stiff arm or a locked door.
No one says we have to like everyone, but we are called to love everyone.
I hope you’ll join us at this years Church in the Park and continue to look for opportunities to work alongside other believers. None of us are an island in our faith journey.