John 17:20-21 “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.”
As familiar as this passage is, as I read it again just now it came over me that Jesus prayed for me! That fact alone is astounding, and it makes me pay close attention to just what He prayed for me, and that is unity, with Him and with my fellow believers. Here again He is saying that the relationships among believers would be a demonstration and affirmation of Christ to the world, just as He had said just a little earlier, in John 13:34-35. When Christians bicker and fight, the world says, “Oh, they’re just like everybody else.” When they demonstrate God’s love, toward one another and even toward their enemies, then the world sits up and takes notice. It was said of the 1st Century believers that “They really know how to love each other and they really know how to die.” That truly says it all, because it means Christ-likeness toward this world and the next. Physical siblings can have genuine disagreements and still love each other deeply. I don’t think Jesus was praying for organizational unity here. After all, the Trinity isn’t a committee! This is a matter of “I am part of you and you are part of me because we are both part of the Body of Christ.” Ecumenical movements can be good and not-so good. When they are focused on Christ as our common Lord and God as our Father, they can be very good. When they try to force theological conformity, they become exercises in human pride and control, and can be very bad indeed. It is only when we are fully submitted to the One who prayed that we would be one that we can hope for the unity He desires for us even today.
I was raised in a denomination with a great deal of very good history, but at the same time I saw from a fairly early age that denominations seemed to be better at erecting walls between believers than at tearing them down. It was a major shock to me not long after I came to Omura, when I heard a Japanese denominational leader who had been very close to my family from my childhood say, at a non-denominational meeting I was attending, that it was the first time he had ever spoken at a meeting that didn’t carry his denominational label. I think that was a real factor in my decision, not long after that, to pull out of denominational organization and establish Shinsei no Sato as a non-denominational church. In the years since, the Lord has given us close ties with Christians of all stripes, and I feel affirmed that I heard the Lord correctly. I’ve got to remember and teach that any child of God is my brother or sister, and at the same time leave it to God as to exactly who are His children, because not all in any group are His, just as Jesus told the parable of the wheat and the tares. (Matthew 13:24-30) My focus is to be on loving God and loving my neighbor. (Matthew 22:36-40) Only then will we experience the unity Jesus prayed for.
Father, thank You for this reminder. Thank You for having Jesus pray for us! May we be fully committed to You so that we may enjoy that unity as a demonstration of Your reality to the world, for Your glory. Thank You. Hallelujah!