A Manifesto of Church Unity
Part one of five.
21 SEPTEMBER 2019 · 10:00 CET
“That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (John 17:21).
The biblical text which I have just cited is that favourite verse of the ecumenical movement.
Ecumenism promotes the visible unity of the so-called churches of Christ. Its most venerable institution is that of the World Council of Churches (WCC) which currently boasts of communities in more than 110 countries, representing 500 million believers.
Although the Roman Catholic Church does not form part of the WCC, Rome did start to take an official interest in ecumenical relationships from the sixties onwards following the publication of the Vatican’s first pontifical decree regarding ecumenism named Unitatis Redintegratio (UR).
A few weeks ago, Pope Francis defended the need of developing the ecumenical spirit in a speech to Methodist and Waldensian churches at an event in Turin (Italy).
After exhorting Christ’s disciples to walk to together, he directed himself to the Lord in prayer asking for a stronger ecumenical attitude amongst Christians and for a growing communion between different church communities.
In pretty much every defence of the ecumenical movement, John 17:21 is quoted. In fact, it is the very first biblical passage referenced in the aforementioned UR.
Time and time again, ecumenical leaders come back to this key text.
As evangelicals, then, what are we to make of ecumenism? Should we follow the path that has been set before us by the WCC?
Would we do being the right thing to join forces with Rome and praying for visible unity in all of the so-called churches across the planet? Is that what John 17:21 is really all about?
Before getting into details about our text, we will be looking at the whole context of John 17 in this short series of articles so as to interpret verse 21 faithfully.
By means of introduction, what we have before us in this chapter is the great priestly prayer of our Saviour. After laying this prayer before the Father, Christ was arrested and thus began what we know to be his Passion.
This prayer is divided up into three clear sections:
- Christ prays for Himself (vv. 1-5).
- Christ prays for the twelve (vv. 6-19).
- Chris prays for all believers (vv. 20-26).
Verse 2, then, belongs to the third division of this chapter. Christ wanted all of His followers to be one, that is, to be united.
This series has three points which will be defended from the content of this marvellous chapter of Sacred Writ:
- Church unity is unity in the truth (part 2).
- Church unity is unity in the light (part 3).
- Church unity is unity in the Spirit (part 4).
The final section of the series (part 5) will be a conclusion.
May the good Lord help us in understanding this vital question of church unity!
We’ll get started next week, God willing...