Christian unity was not something that bothered me much as a Protestant.
Even as someone who was Sola Scriptura, I didn’t see the issue there. But now, for some reason from the angle I am coming from now, I can confidently say the division among Christians that we see today is not Biblical. And I believe that the global Church has an obligation to do something about it.
With over 30,000 Protestant denominations globally (and counting) . . . I don’t think it’s possible that we are living in fulfillment of what Jesus said in John 17:21: “That they all may be one; as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Just let that sink in for a moment. In all of our divisions, we are unable to follow a very clear statement of the One we believe to be our Savior in how we are to operate as His followers. This should be a problem for us.
I acknowledge that all who follow Jesus are in some way imperfectly united with the global Church. In fact, during my Confirmation, I was welcomed into “full unity” with the Catholic church- I had been imperfectly united with the Church my whole life by virtue of my Christian faith.
But the reality is that the Body of Christ on Earth, His Church, is currently, really, really fractured. We are supposed to be one body… so that people will believe in Jesus. From the mouth of God Himself.
The point of this post is to raise this as an issue of serious concern for all Christians. Many people have a vague idea of the issues involved in the Reformation… but don’t give them much thought. That was the largest and most significant split in Christianity’s history. The first official break of unity. We should seek to understand it, from both sides, and reconcile in any ways possible to each other. Serve together in any ways possible. Open dialogue together in any ways possible.
We should not hole ourselves up in our own network of like-minded people, reading books by only like-minded theologians, hanging out with only-like minded friends from our like-minded church. This is something that needs to be wrestled with and through. I don’t think it’s acceptable for us to be content in our own pocket. Scripture is pretty clear on that. We are called to unity. Isolating ourselves in our own safety-net of those whose thinking aligns with ours at some point falls in the category of disobedience in light of that call.
It’s been heartbreaking for me on a few occasions to find out that some people no longer deem me fit to serve alongside them in Christian ministry since becoming Catholic. Part of the heartbreak has been the personal joy I had previously taken in being part of the same Church as them, and serving alongside them through that Church, and then feeling in many ways cut off from friendship and ecumenical ministry opportunities together in one fell swoop. It was hard because the people who have done this fully admit to not having spent much time studying and understanding Catholic theology from a Catholic perspective (which, I will fully admit… takes a bit of a time investment. This stuff is deep). That’s difficult because they don’t even correctly understand what they claim to be objecting to so much that I cannot be allowed to serve alongside them. It feels unfair. No only to me, but even moreso to the Body. To tell someone “I’m sorry, you’re wrong… so wrong in fact that I can’t serve with you in any capacity. And I have very little motivation to associate with you as a person at this point. And I also have no interest in understanding what you actually do believe.” I cannot believe it brings pleasure to God when something like that happens. And the divide widens.
Now, that said, I have some wonderful, amazing friends in my life from several churches that I have the privilege to know, pray with, and some, to serve with (still!). Even though doctrinally we have some differences, we rejoice in our ability to be honest with each other, and talk things through, and, yes, serve together, even while we each pray for more unity as a global Church. These are people that know my walk with the Lord, and whose own walks I respect and admire deeply. And I have appreciated those relationships more than ever lately.
If we want to move towards Christian unity… where do we start? Some of the questions I have asked and continue to ask myself involve the Catholic Church and whether or not it corrected in the ways Luther objected to, and what his objections were, and the history of the Reformation and the splits that followed. I hadn’t even heard of the Jansenism heresy before becoming Catholic, and that has greatly informed my understanding of Luther and the Reformation as a whole. I wonder if Luther would have objected to the Catholic Church as it is today? I don’t think he would…
I also wonder how many Christians make it a priority to engage in dialogue with believers from other Christian traditions and churches, in an effort to move closer together.
I wonder what it would take to make that happen…
To stir up a heart for unity among all Christian believers… if Jesus said it was important, that it should totally be important to us. Let’s understand each other. Let’s open dialogue with each other. Let’s find ways to move closer together. I don’t have all the answers, but I know it’s important. So that the world will believe. Amen.