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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Nothing to Worry About

The other day I happened across a series of comments responding to a post that referenced in passing the words of the Lord in John 17. You remember: the part where Jesus prays, “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”.

What did the Lord mean? I have rarely encountered greater diversity of opinion about just a few words. One person even not-so-tentatively floated the proposition that the Father has answered his Son’s prayer in the negative.

I’m thinking Eh, not so much.

A Variety of Interpretive Theories

Another ran with the idea that the Lord was thinking of the unity that will take place after Christ returns for his people. That doesn’t work for me either: the sort of unity the Lord was contemplating is achievable now. After all, the purpose of this oneness he prayed for is that “the world may believe you have sent me”. Hard to see how unity that is only achieved at the culmination of the church’s mission on earth would serve to foster belief in the unbelieving.

A postmillennialist proposed that unity is potentially achievable, but not yet. He thinks we need another few hundred or thousand years to get it right. Makes it a bit tough on those folks who lived in the first few millennia of church history, but don’t worry, we’ll get there eventually. Also, see the last sentence of the previous paragraph.

Yet another went on at length, distressed about the lack of denominational and doctrinal unity within Christendom today. He was troubled that people who take the name of Jesus Christ have failed to make the unity for which our Lord prayed a reality. But this ignores the fact that the Lord was addressing his Father, not his disciples.

How You Define ‘Church’

One of the responses this last commenter received was short but perceptive, and it was basically this (I’m paraphrasing):
“Your problem is how you define ‘church’. If you define ‘church’ biblically, you’ll realize we have nothing to worry about.”
This nudges the core of the problem, and I think he’s correct. The great decaying public monstrosity with which the name of Christ is most commonly associated is not the “they” to which the Lord referred. The sort of oneness he prayed for was not the unity of be-robed, denominational spokespeople finally shaking hands over a recently completed and mutually agreeable statement of faith.

I think the “they” in the Lord’s request to his Father are very likely the same folks referred to by Paul when he reflects that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God”.

By definition, that which has not yet been revealed is hard to see. But revealed or not, the children of God are no less real. We all have the same Father, and we all share the same spiritual genetics.

An Invisible and Flourishing Entity

Within the awkward, shuddering mass of traditional and ecclesiastical encrustation we call Christendom there exists an invisible and flourishing entity comprised of all the genuinely faithful throughout the world from Pentecost until the Lord returns; all the true “sons of God” (and daughters too, of course).

William MacDonald puts it like this:
“The unity for which Christ prayed was not a matter of external church union. Rather, it was a unity based on common moral likeness. He was praying that believers might be one in exhibiting the character of God and of Christ. This is what would cause the world to believe that God had sent Him. This is the unity which makes the world say, ‘I see Christ in those Christians as the Father was seen in Christ.’ ”
Understood this way, the commenter is right: unity is nothing to worry about. Real followers of Christ have all the oneness we need already, whatever we may call ourselves. The real church is already united.

Indiscriminate and Egalitarian

Come on. Really. Did you think when the Lord said the gates of hell shall not prevail against it, that he was referring to the Vatican?

The world is always happy to carp about denominational differences among so-called Christians whenever it needs a convenient excuse to disqualify the message of the gospel and to dismiss its claims on the human conscience.

But nobody is really fooled.

We know this because when the world directs its antagonism at those who preach and practice the truth of God, all the little denominational peculiarities for which this or that group is known suddenly become irrelevant. The assault on genuine faith is quite indiscriminate; its prejudices absolutely egalitarian.

Those Miserable Christians

If you genuinely love Jesus Christ and want to see his kingdom come, secular society does not care if you are Catholic or Protestant, evangelical or liturgical, Anabaptist, Baptist or Church of Christ. It makes no distinction when you claim the rightful authority of Jesus Christ and stand in the way of its agenda. It lumps together many faithful believers who not know one another, do not meet together, and who think quite differently about many of the details of scripture. Likewise, the world is happy to link arms with anyone nominally in Christendom who rejects the authority of the Head of the Church and goes along with society’s program.

Those who hate us tar every one of us with the same brush. We’re all just “Those miserable CHRISTIANS”.

Hmm. Unity. And other than living life so that our own family resemblance to our Lord is evident to all, you and I don’t have to do a thing to make it happen.

See? Nothing to worry about.

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