Why should you care about Christian unity? It’s a question worth asking in this week, the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. There’s a line of thinking among some Christians that says Christian unity is a relatively minor concern. Sure, it’s true that Jesus prayed for his followers to be one and that Paul teaches us we can’t be Christians on our own, but it is not uncommon in the church to hear incomprehension, mockery, or denigration of other Christians. One’s faith is one’s own and while it’s helpful to share it with other like-minded people, one version of this argument says, it’s another matter altogether to share it with people who seem so different.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is a reminder that we need to reject these arguments—for at least two reasons. First, pragmatism: the church is too small and fragile a thing to be able to stand apart from others who share the same Christ. This college only exists because of its relations with other Christian denominations. Across Canada, more and more congregations are realizing—perhaps too late—that they need to work with one another if they are to have a viable future.
The second reason is mission. Jesus prayed that his followers may all be one not because he thought it was a nice idea or a vague kind of “good thing.” Rather he prayed that his followers may be one “so that the world may believe” (John 17:21). Our unity as Christians is connected with our mission and witness to the world. This is true for many reasons. The divisions of Christianity can be a confusing signal to non-Christians: if they can’t agree on what they believe, why should I join them? By being in relationship with Christians who are different from us, we are enriched by their gifts (hard as they may be for us to see at times) and so become more truly the body of Christ in the world.
But I believe that unity and mission are so closely entertwined because we live in a divided world. Around us we see a world that is torn apart by difference and seeks to erect taller and taller walls. By being people who are willing to reach out to others who are different from us and form deep and lasting relationships, Christians could offer a compelling counter-cultural model of reconciliation and community to the world.
It’s not easy. I routinely find myself struggling with other members of the body of Christ. But the goal of unity remains constantly before us and it is for that that we pray this week.
This message was written by College Principal Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.