Shortly before He was crucified for your sins and mine, Jesus prayed this prayer:
“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
Unity gets a bad rap in some Christian circles. Being an “ecumenist” is tantamount to denying the Lord publicly, at least in the eyes of some.
But can anyone look at the Christian Church today and say, “Jesus’ prayer was answered! Just look at all the unity Christians enjoy”?
Silly question, especially given the thousands of denominations that exist.
On the list of grievous sins most Christians carry around in their heads—murder, sexual perversion, stealing, lying, envy, pride—I don’t think disunity makes it into the top 100.
Look at the importance Jesus gives unity, though! He considers it the sign by which the world knows that He was truly sent by God, proving that He wasn’t just another in the long line of self-appointed holy men spouting nice aphorisms suitable for a bumper sticker. And that unity of those who claim to love God verifies how much God loves the people of the world too (our favorite verse, John 3:16, and all that, right?).
Doesn’t that sound like it’s of the utmost importance? Yet unity is given the shortest of all shrifts. Being seen as always being correct trumps all efforts at unity, as if it were impossible to find unity if people are in different places in their walk with God and see life from different perspectives as a result.
What if disunity among Christians was the worst sin of all, since it undermines the very proof that Jesus is who He said He is and discredits the claim of God to love? Given the importance of those two bedrock beliefs in the Christian faith, how could disunity NOT be one of the most grievous of all possible sins? The perception of the character of God Himself is at stake when we are not unified, isn’t it? Doesn’t disunity within the Church even tear at the reality of the Trinity of God?
Yet who out there is striving to make unity important? Which well-known church leaders are working toward unity more than anything else, rather than separating themselves and their fans into tinier and tinier fragments of the Church Universal? Which disgruntled churchgoers are making unity the most important consideration for STAYING in a less-than-ideal church, rather than bolting like so many others do?
Fact is, too many of us Christians could not care less about unity.
My question then: Is the lack of importance we ascribe to maintaining unity within the Body of Christ making Jesus’ prayer for unity fail?