Summary: Are we to be separated by denomination or in unity as Christians?
A drunk staggers into a Catholic Church, enters a confessional booth, sits down, but says nothing. The Priest coughs a few times to get his attention, but the drunk continues to sit there. Finally, the priest pounds three times on the wall. The drunk mumbles “Ain’t no use knockin’. There’s no paper on this side either.”
We know why we do something, but that doesn’t mean somebody else does. After all His miracles and teaching, Yeshua offered a prayer to His Father just before taking the eleven with Him to the garden to pray a prayer that explains so much of why He came to earth. It was after the prayer recorded in our focus scripture that Judas betrayed Him, triggering the events that changed the world.
In spite of careful and explicit instructions, the disciples held to their human understanding and notions about why they were there and what was going to happen, just as the drunk had the notion that the door to the confessional was for something else.
In previous weeks we have seen where Messiah is systematically preparing the disciples to be on their own, knowing that He was about to physically depart this earth then send a Comforter. He made it clear to the doubting Jews in the Temple colonnade that He was the Messiah, then took the disciples aside and told them that their witness depended on their love for each other. After the focus on love came an offer of His heavenly peace. These last-minute instructions were critical to the Gospel being spread through humanity and salvation of the world.
In contemporary times we have a the legal mechanism of the Last Will and Testament, which is to be read at the appropriate time so that our wishes will last beyond life, and those wishes and directives carry the weight of law because they cannot be changed except before death. In the Scripture passage we examine today, John 17, we see where Jesus has come to a time when he had given His final instruction, and now focused on communication with God, or His prayer for us. He had not only created a “will” with instructions, but placed His Father’s seal on the proverbial envelope to be carried through time as a directive for His followers.
While this prayer is carefully recorded, beginning with the 20th verse, we must realize that what He prayed for God to allow is for us to do. Yes, we can answer this prayer. Yet, this prayer for the benefit of humanity is against our human tendencies. What was this prayer? In a few words, it is for us to be unified with each other as Christ was in unity with God, our Father. Well, that prayer hasn’t been answered in the last two millennia, has it? But, if it were impossible, why did the Master even bother praying that way?
If we, through Christ, are taken out of the world’s ways through the same method or vehicle, why can we not be in unity under the knowledge and truth He gave us? Are we not thinking somewhat alike when we accept Christ’s teachings?
But, what is unity? Is it necessary for us to all be of precisely one faith and opinion? There are 30,000 denominations in Christianity, and many of them claim to be the “true church” or the ones who have it all figured out to the point of being the final word. Isn’t it amazing? There are 180, 552 words in the New Testament, which means there is another denomination, doctrine or way of thinking about Christianity, for every six words! We have emphasis all over the place that shatters unity like a nuclear blast on a peanut. Yet, our Master said, “they, meaning those who have not yet come to the knowledge of Christ, will know you are my disciples by the love you have one for another.” Does love break us apart? The better question is; what has divided us so?
Among the reasons for so many denominations are disagreements over Scriptural interpretation. Do we not have division and congregations breaking away because of disagreement over how a sacrament should be done? Select any sacrament you like and research the different man-made rules for carrying it out. How about personality conflicts within a community of believers? It seems reasonable to think that if the very Scriptures we are to live by call for unity (and it’s the prayer of our Master that we live in love), we should use specific Biblical instructions to resolve and heal our differences. Is it love that keeps apart? Obviously, not. Why must we argue over a scripture as a right-fighter, when respect, even love for another Christian should always rule? This is not to say that we should systematically accept what anyone thinks of a scripture passage. We must study for ourselves to better understand with additional instruction by the Holy Spirit. It also stands to reason that the deeper we study, the closer we become through the Holy Spirit. Perhaps I’m right in thinking that the Holy Spirit cannot mislead us. So, where is the Holy Spirit in a church-based argument, personality conflict, self-interest, personal agendas, monument building, politics or career climbing among the “faithful”?