“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” John 17:20-21
With the 244 million American Christians are divided across some 1,500 denominations, we can wonder it the Father heard Jesus prayer?
Notice the unity — not uniformity — of the first century Christians. Even within that first generation the sin of hubris entered in. Like the children of Israel before them, the Church forgot this prayer of Jesus and the sin of division entered in.
The Christian Church began fracturing as early as 431. The Great Schism of 1054 broke the Church into East and West. The Protestant Rebellion started in 1517, and the splitting continues today.
Unity is possible, but not by humans; we are the ones who cause it. We must pray for the peacemakers among our denominations, pray for our brothers and sisters in the other faith traditions, pray for all Christians leaders, and for pray the prayer of unity Jesus prayed.
What Does Christianity Look Like?
Our greatest example of unity is found the Trinity. Here, we have three unique members who are so close they become one.
Our strongest form of unity is the standard we profess in the Nicene Creed. Under this standard, anyone justified by faith in Baptism belongs to Christ. They have the right to be called Christians, no matter by which faith tradition they claim. This is how Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican/ Episcopalian, Lutherans, Methodist and others can accept each other as brothers and sisters in the Lord.
Even with our standard and the hard work of the peacemakers, hubris and our enemy continue to fight against our unity. This is why all Christians must pray for and work towards unity.
Our efforts at unity need to begin at home. In his homily opening Vatican II on October 11, 1962, Saint John XXIII said, “the unity of Catholics among themselves, which must always be kept exemplary and most firm.”
What Can I Do Today To Bring Unity To The Body?
Too often we think a macro level, as if we will be the ones who will unite the eastern and western Church before lunch. What we can do is work to bring unity within our parish.
- Attend Mass each week, more often if possible.
- Get to know your priest over a meal at least a couple times a year.
- Participate in parish ministries to develop relationships with others.
- If your parish has a school and you don’t have children in it, do something to support the school. Too often, a school will divide the parish but it need not be that way.
At more of a macro level, here are some suggest tasks you can do to bring unity with other Christians:
- Develop a basic understanding of the denominations.
- For those denominations that share the Nicene Creed, eliminate the Us/Them mentality. We are all Christians who are called to work to achieve The Great Commission.
- Participate in ecumenical events. Remember, ecumenism does not mean forgoing your faith tradition for the sake of another. It means to work together for unity and cooperation among the faith traditions. A German working with a Frenchman does not make him any less German.
- Collaborate with Christians in serving others. What better sign of unity to the rest of the world.
- Love and forgive.
Not who call themselves Christians share in Nicene Creed. It might be best to avoid these people if possible because their creed prevents unity with us; however, put them on your prayer list.
There are some angry Roman Catholics who believe it is a sin to work toward unity with Protestants; however, it is a sin to divide the body of Christ.
“After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions, 11 since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.” Titus 3:10-11
Unity within the Church is the desire of God. It seems that if we do the work — both on our knees and in relationships — God will use us to achieve His desire.