Jesus prays for disunity

Forgive my tone today.  I’ve been reading in preparation for Easter sermons, and I’m in a bit of a bad mood.  Just before being arrested and crucified, Jesus prays for all the future believers in the world, and much of his prayer is for unity.  But we’ve apparently opted to read his words in this way:

My prayer is not for the apostles alone.  I pray also for all who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be divided and scattered among many different religious groups and denominations.  Father, you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us — though not necessarily accepting that others among them are in us — so that the rest of the world may believe that you have sent me.  

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may hold more firmly to their respective doctrines than to one another, and that they may be so dogmatic (and blind) in their approaches to Bible study that they use my words, intended for unity, to build fences between themselves and others who are called by my name.  May they forever be involved in fruitless quarrels and vain bickering, to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

— John 17:20-23 (as we apparently read it)

A few thoughts on unity:

  • Unity in the church is the work of the Holy Spirit.  And it is one of the most obvious and unambiguous indications that a group has reached maturity in Christ.  That’s why Paul calls us babies.  (Ephesians 4)
  • Unity, however, is not the goal.  It is merely a symptom.  We don’t love one another in order to be disciples.  Rather, our love for one another is a symptom of our condition — that we are disciples of Christ.  (John 13)
  • Spiritual gifts are given in order to build up the body of Christ as a whole, encouraging one another towards service.  And, through serving others, we reach unity.  I suppose it makes sense that spiritual gifts bring unity when we consider that unity is a function of the Holy Spirit AND these gifts are given us by the Holy Spirit.  (Ephesians 4, again)
  • Unity does not seem to be based upon shared beliefs.
  • The church’s greatest tool for mission and evangelism is unity.  It is this unity of believers which (proves we are disciples of Christ and) is attractive to outsiders.  I wonder what disunity contributes to evangelism?

Your thoughts?



Filed under modern-day retelling, musings on the Word

3 responses to “Jesus prays for disunity

  1. John

    If it is to be, it is up to me. I cannot control how others will respond, but my living will be as if we are one. I think it is where to start. It’s very easy to see where someone else is going wrong on this, but what about me? The Father will show us where we need to beocme more loving of those who do not look like us as Gal. 3:28 talks about. In the kingdom of heaven, we all look alike because we are in Christ. Look for fruit rather than a denominating kind of thing. Do I have the love of Jesus in my heart and a far away look in my eye that is always looking forward to beng in his presence? Don’t believe what I say until I prove it with the strength I get from Jesus and the Holy
    Spirit. Do I have the Holy Spirit alive in me – what is the fruit? Don’t believe me unless you see the fruit lived out.
    Lord, help us to be one even as you and our Father are one. Thank you for making us holy and righteous. Thank you for every spiritual blessing in you. Thank you for making us perfect forever thru the process of your making us holy. I pray, Father, that the eyes of our hearts will be opened so we can really know You better; that we can know who we are; that we know that we have the things You say we have; and that we can do the things You say we can do.

  2. alegler

    Unity as a symptom makes a lot of sense. Great point!

  3. Jason

    Good ideas, all of them.

    Your points remind me of one of the most commonly misread poems in the American canon, which for me is “Mending Wall” by Frost. Here is a poem that is mis-quoted as being about how “Good fences make good neighbors.” And while those words are, yes, in the poem (even twice), really its about intentional isolation and the devaluing of relating, to the point that we’ve decided before we hear what somebody says how we’re going to react to them. This is, for me, the lauding of the breaking of…no, of the complete avoidance of relating as a protectionist position against…whatever, our way of life, our children, our stuff, our particularization of our religion….

    He finishes like this:

    I see him there
    Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top
    In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.
    He moves in darkness as it seems to me~
    Not of woods only and the shade of trees.
    He will not go behind his father’s saying,
    And he likes having thought of it so well
    He says again, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

    I agree with John above in that we all seem to revel a bit in being somewhat of an old-stone savage, as if all these theological delineations makes us more orderly, more aught. Really, it just makes us wall-builders.

    Bonhoffer put it this way:

    “He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

    To Bonhoffer, it just makes us wall-lovers.

    Thanks, Brett, for your bad mood. Honesty is always so much more interesting and preferable.

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