When Jesus prayed, in the Gospel of John, for all future Christians he prayed, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” (John 17:21a)
This kind of closeness—this kind of unity—is difficult to imagine.
God, as we understand Him, is triune: Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit existing in one and the same Being. One beautiful old hymn reminds us, “The Godhead, three-in-one.”
This is a closeness we cannot yet fathom.
And this is the exact kind of closeness Christ prays for us: That all future Christian believers would be united, one, as Christ is within the Godhead.
Not—and, here, we often short-sell ourselves—as merely an invisible collection of believers.
Christ prayed that we would be physically and spiritually united.
On that account, we fall terribly short.
But shouldn’t we do better?
After all, my own conversion to Catholicism, like so many converts before me, had a great deal to do with my convictions about Christian unity.
If a Church, like the Roman Catholic Church, can trace its apostolic and authoritative lineage right back to the very apostles—and with an alarming degree of accuracy—then we must have reasonable, articulate reasons for not planting our flag in their camp.
Carl Trueman, a Protestant theologian and scholar, writes that,
we need good, solid reasons for not being Catholic; not being a Catholic should, in others words, be a positive act of will and commitment, something we need to get out of bed determined to do each and every day.
And, of course, it rubs both ways.
As an Evangelical, I found myself short of “good, solid reasons” for not becoming a Catholic and reuniting, as far as I could, with the Church that I believed was founded by Christ. Not, as I’ve said, an invisible collection of believers but a real, tangible Church—united both physically and spiritually, as Christ prays for.
But for Catholics who might not see this as true, as their reality, they should be equally skeptical of their position, too.
We, on all sides of the Christian divide, should be constantly discerning reasons for why we believe and why our flag is planted where it is.
Because it has been planted somewhere.
Because we all have taken up ground in a divided faith, like it or not, which was never what Christ intended.
For my part, and the part of my corner of Christianity, we are working constantly to reunite the Church. The Catholic Church, since the roots of the Orthodox Schism and, then, the Protestant Reformation, has been working for reconciliation; sometimes more successfully than others. This was, in part, a major attraction of Catholicism: that it longs, yearns, for Christian unity.
And still, we work.
But many of us don’t.
As an Evangelical, Christian unity was nowhere on my radar and I can’t count even a single church I know, in the Evangelical sphere, working to decrease denominational barriers. Instead of tearing down walls and taking Jesus’s prayer for Christian unity seriously we were busy building them up—and further dividing an already sadly divided Body.
In one way or another, we’ve all failed. So let’s do better.
Let’s begin to speak to one another as if our differences matter in order to repair them.
Let’s work and pray and worship together in the tension of what divides us in order to feel that sting of disunity and work for something better.
Let’s recognize the history which has wrenched apart what once was, and always was intended to be, the spotless Bride of Christ and let’s clean Her up.
It begins, I think, as all holy things do, with prayer.
It continues with the individual actions of you and me.
Let’s take seriously Jesus’s prayer that we be one as He is one with the Father and let’s make it happen.