For four or five months I taught unity to my congregation, which had grown to about 1, 500 people. At the end, I asked, “How many believe that the church is one?”
Many hands went up.
“Put them down. How many of you really believe the church is one?”
Even more hands were raised.
“How many of you are willing to prove it? To demonstrate this with your own lives?”
Many hands again.
“Good. Next Sunday go to the church closest to your house, whether it’s Catholic, Lutheran, or Presbyterian. Whatever money you normally spend on gas or bus fare to come here, give it to that church’s offering. Only those who live closest to this church come here.”
Silence. They didn’t want to accept the challenge. But a third of the congregation obeyed.
Eventually we gave two hundred people to the Catholic church, fifty-three to the Anglican church and others to other churches. Many good things came of this…
Juan Carlos Ortiz, “God is closer than you think”, p170-171
I felt I needed to begin this blog post with a health warning…once you decide to become part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer, “That they may be one”, it may require you to actually do something about it…and there’s no telling where it will lead.
Living as one church in a locality has certain implications, some of them costly, but ultimately, of great benefit to the Kingdom of God.
So…where do you begin? Here are suggestions of some small steps to make the prayer of Jesus a reality in your life and locality.
- Share the prayer
Regularly pray the prayer that Jesus prayed yourself. In many ways, there is more justification to say that this is the real Lord’s Prayerthan the one we have traditionally given that name! (The other one is maybe the Disciples Prayer…) Look for opportunities to become part of the answer to the prayer
- Overcome the obstacles
Be determined to accept that no difference is too big to be overcome. Structure your life and the life of your church (if you’re a leader) so you are able to respond freely to the Spirit’s prompting to worship witness and work together.
- Find a friend
Seek out another Christian from a different denomination or Christian background to yours. Share your stories of how you came to be a follower of Jesus and the ways you see God at work in your life and in your church.
- Worship their way
Get a friend to take you to a worship service at a church that’s very different to yours. Let them make a return visit. Compare notes, ask questions.
If you’re a church leader, close your building down once in a while and go and worship with another church…might be a good idea to warn them in advance. It might be possible to share in the leadership/music/preaching.
- Investigate their ideas
Do some research, read some books about their particular beliefs and ways of doing things. My advice would be to try to read what their own members have written about their beliefs, rather than comments and articles by other groups. Many myths about what people believe have been prolonged by passing on inaccurate understanding…this is especially true of the internet, where great care should be taken.
- Guard against gossip
However strong the temptation is we should make it a solemn promise that we will never speak badly of another Christian, church or denomination. Sometimes we may feel we have justification or have been sorely provokes…we need to grow in grace.
- Forgive each failing
I believe that justice is not about punishment or getting even…ultimately it’s about reconciliation, about trying to restore a broken relationship.
And that’s where forgiveness comes in.
We may feel that we have been hurt, marginalised and misunderstood by a particular person, church or denomination. Grace and forgiveness provide us with the only route to be reconciled…and that’s healing for us as well as for them.