Summary: Jesus prays for unity in the Church that is to come. Yet, His prayer indicates He knows we will struggle. As long as we keep our focus on God we will overcome our denominational differences and find our oneness in Christ.
Ruth Bell once said, “If two people agree on everything, one of them is unnecessary” She went on to say, “If two people agree on everything, they double their chances of being wrong.” Now, Ruth Bell was not referring to the diversity of thought in the Christian church, she was instead talking about marriage.
In my marriage counseling that I have done in the past, and in my study of marriage counseling, I have discovered the importance of stressing the bond of the holy covenant of marriage as well as the importance of finding love in the other-ness of the other partner. In marriage, we have to find love and passion for the significant other, often time, in spite of the differences. I know that Renee loves me in spite of me. Often, the emotional side of love in holy matrimony is found in the ability to agree to disagree.
In wedding ceremonies we pastors love to declare that the couple becomes one flesh. Now that is not some sick monkey pox or Ebola disorder – it is not literal. But it is much more than metaphorical. These two different people are now bonded together by God and His love, companionship, and unbreakable holy bond. But the husband and wife become one, even though there are obvious physical, temperamental and personality differences.
One man in December 1992 Reader’s Digest explains that on her Golden Anniversary his grandmother explained the secret to her long and happy marriage. “On my wedding day, I decided to choose ten of my husband’s faults which, for the sake of our marriage, I would overlook,” she explained. A guest asked her to name some of the faults. “To tell the truth,” she replied, “I never did get around to listing them. But whenever my husband did something that made me hopping mad, I would say to myself, ‘Lucky for him that’s one of the ten.’”
In marriage we have to find a way to live with our differences. In fact, I believe, as Ruth Bell illustrates, it is important that we celebrate our differences. The oneness in marriage is unity in purpose. Both parties must be willing to move forward in a central direction for the common good of all involved. The moment the husband or wife establishes a private agenda that does not involve the overall good of the home, the marriage is in trouble.
I believe this is what Jesus was saying to God in his prayer that we read an excerpt from found in John 17. In case, you were wondering, no this sermon is not about marriage but the call to become one flesh in marriage makes for a perfect example of how we are to become one in the church.
There is much diversity in the church. I am not talking about racial or cultural diversity, although there is that in some churches. In diversity in the church I mean denominationalism. Just open the phone book and look up churches and you will see what I am referring to. In the Christian Church, in the church who professes the name of Jesus Christ, we are a diverse crowd. And beyond the Christian church there are hundreds of other denominations.
In a research study of the nations religious affiliations, one group rates our proud state of Indiana 7th among the 50 states in terms of diversity. We have 109 active denominations within our borders, Christian and otherwise. A popular statistic is that there are more churches in America than post offices. And each of those churches have a tradition, ritual, and theology all their own.
Even in my short experience within the United Methodist Church I have discovered a tremendous amount of diversity. And I know this is true of other denominations, Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Pentecostals… while there may be similarities with churches who post these names above their doorway, we all know that we can expect something different in each one despite that similarity. Each church is unique and each church is important. Yet, what seems even more important to Jesus is that we become one.
J. Gordon Melton is a Methodist minister with an unusual hobby. His hobby is denomination hunting. He literally scours the country trying to count the number of major denominations in the United States. As of a few years ago he had counted over 1,200 denominations in this country.
Some of them are very interesting.
1. One of them is "The Church of the Kennedy Worshippers." It is a church which actually believes that it can pray to the late President John F. Kennedy, and can be cured both of congenital defects as well as of terminal diseases.
2. Then there’s "The Church of the Ministry of Universal Wisdom." They look for flying saucers to come.