The Glaring Possibility

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

Jesus, John 17:20-21

One of the keys towards unity in the Church, indeed, one of the most oft missed even glaring possibilities, is found here in Jesus’ priestly prayer for unity. I know, I keep coming back to this verse. Maybe because it is so powerful, so compelling, I hope this prayer comes true.

Jesus prays that we would be one just as he and his Father are one. The oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the model of oneness Jesus prays we have. This oneness goes deeper than our facades, our creeds, and our steeples. It goes to the heart of what it means to be in fellowship and community.

It means there is intentional diversity in unity.

The Athanasian Creed gives us an idea of the diversity yet unity within the Trinity. The Father is not the Son is not the Holy Spirit. Yet, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. In the same vein, it could be said, The Lutheran is not the Presbyterian is not the Pentecostal is not the Baptist…ect. Yet, the Lutheran is the Church, the Presbyterian is the Church, the Pentecostal is the Church, the Baptist is the Church…ect.

The Church is not God, yet, the Church is made in the image of Christ, the image of God. The Trinity becomes the model in which our lives in the Church should model.

Henri Blocher says, “If the pattern is trinitarian, the unity is not obtained to the detriment of the diversity… [it is ] a unity “harmoniously differentiated… The divine trinity is not only a pattern, but a foundation of that marriage of unity and diversity which holds under suspicion all enterprise of bureaucratic uniformity.”

In other words, the unity the Church receives by the Spirit of God will not transform us into churches that all look the same, feel the same, and worship the same style. Rather, the unity that God gives keeps our diversity intact. This means bringing each church and tradition under one head, one managing organization, is not only foolish practically, but, is not the work of God. The work of God is many members, one body. Just as the Trinity is three persons yet one God.

One Body… One Spirit


Berlin, Museum Europäischer Kulturen, Fleckelteppich NIK

My blog’s headline, “One Body, One Faith, One Baptism,” comes from the book of Ephesians 4:4-6.

“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”

Ephesians 4:4-6

Paul is talking about unity in these passages. He wants all Christians in Ephesus, even Christians today, to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3).

A recent article from Lausanne Movement points out how that unity is achieved. Henri Blocher says, “…the unification of all believers belongs to the real mission of the Holy Spirit. ‘One body’ first depends on ‘one Spirit.’ He goes not to say this is the main point of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21. There Jesus prays, “…for those who believe through me… may all be one… so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

In John 13-17 we get much of our insight into the person and the work of the Holy Spirit. In this context Jesus tells his disciples to love one another (13:34). Then Jesus says he will send a Helper (14:16) in order to help us follow his commandments to love one another, and to love Jesus and the Father. He will teach us all things and bring to remembrance all that Jesus taught (14:26). He will speak all truth and glorify Jesus in his people (16:12ff). Then Jesus prays that those who believe in him will be one in the same love that flows between the Father and the Son (17:20-21).

The fulfillment of Jesus’ promise came 10 days after his Ascension. While the disciples were in the upper room the Holy Spirit came upon them like a rushing wind and fire. The Holy Spirit indwells every believer unifying them in a unique way not seen outside the Church. Blocher says, “This order of events [in John 13-17 and then Acts 2] invites us to understand that the unification which will follow the fulfillment of the word of Christ and the coming of the Spirit are one single event.”

Jesus prays for unity among his people. And then he sent the Holy Spirit in order to answer his own prayer. The empowerment of the Holy Spirit in our lives is the key to unity among the churches.

Is Unity in Evangelism Possible?

Carol was the new pastor in the area. He was young, energetic, and had big dreams. The dreams he had for his church went beyond the four wall. He wanted to reach out to his community and see the lost saved, the broken healed, and people come to know Jesus as their king. With such big ambitions he knew he could not do it alone. What was needed was all the churches uniting together in seeing their communities changed and transformed for the good.

Carol sought out the different ecumenical groups in his area. One was a ministers association. But it was strictly for the pastors and ministry leaders of the area. Other groups were devoted to mercy ministries: homeless shelters, food banks, soup kitchens, and thrift stores. These are all good organizations that the churches should be involved in. But, there was minimal interaction between the churches as a whole. During the holidays there were many ecumenical services. But even then, the various churches only partnered with others churches that had the same worship style and familiar beliefs.

These ecumenical groups, organizations, and services are not wrong. They are good and are much needed. However, when it comes to unity in reaching the lost these are only touching the surface. Carol was frustrated and almost gave up.

When the churches practice ecumenicism it tends to be exclusive to the leadership. “These [leaders] come to enjoy a professional camaraderie that is warm because of what they endured together…” [1]. Hardly ever do you see ecumenism working on a large scale among the laity. Why is that?

Many conferences in the past has brought together people from various backgrounds and traditions for a single purpose. Consider the Promise Keepers movement, marriage retreats, and even musical concerts. These single purpose events brought together many different people from different churches and denominations in order to worship together and be encouraged together. But again, this approach has its downfalls. Rarely are these events evangelistic.

Perhaps a large scale ecumenism service is impossible. However, I believe ecumenism can work in order to reach our communities for Jesus Christ. The first step is coming together intentionally with that purpose in mind. Carol needs to pray, network, and slowly build in the minds of the people in his community what is possible when they all work together.

[1] Rene De Visme Williamson, “Negative Thoughts About Ecumenism.” Christianity Today XX (August 30, 1968) p. 1131

Babel – A False Unity Part 2

Tower of Babel – Unknown

Last time we asked the question of why God would break unity when he shows us and teaches us to be united in him?

The story of the Tower of Babel can be a confusing one for us moderns. The unity seen in the people looks like the unity God promotes throughout his scriptures. Why did God disperse the people and make them break their unity?

The Book of Jasher is a non-conical book assumed to be ancient re-telling of the events described in the Bible. It is not scripture, but, it gives us insight into how Israel understood the events that took place.

In this book there is a warrior king named Nimrod who went around conquering peoples through war. He became king and ruled cruelty, denying God and worshiping idols – much like the kings of Israel and Judah in the Old Testament.

In Scripture they said to one another, “Come on, let’s build ourselves a town and a tower with its top in the heavens and make a name for ourselves…”[1] The Book of Jasher adds, “so that we may reign upon the whole world, in order that the evil of our enemies may cease from us, that we may reign mightily over them…”[2]

The goal of the people was to “reign upon the whole world” and to oppressed the people. They also sought to build the tower to fight God in his own territory, the sky, and set up their own gods.

During the construction of the tower it is said, “if a brick should fall from their hands and get broken, they would all weep over it, and if a man fell and died, none of them would look at him.”[3] This gives us insight into what the people valued. They valued their tower more than they valued the people around them. Their priorities were backwards.

Unity that seeks to oppress people and degrade their value is not the unity that God calls us to. The unity that God calls for is to build up people, to lift them up out of their circumstances, and show them they are valued.

Leithart says, “Though God made humanity to be one, he scattered a humanity unified in opposition to him, a humanity unified by coercion, fear, or slavery, all efforts at unity that impose uniformity on the human race…Babel was a perversion of God’s own intention for humanity…”[4]

What this tells us is unity for the sake of unity is not the goal of the Church. There is a unity that transcends simple ecumenicalism. It is a unity that seeks the good of our neighbors, the good of the Church, the good of humanity.

Click here to read Part 1

[1] Old Testament quotations comes from John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament called “The First Testament”
[2] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/anonymous/jasher.iii.ix.html
[3] ibid
[4] Peter J. Leithart: The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church

Babel – A False Unity Part 1



The Tower of Babel – Pieter Bruegel the Elder

No one questions that Scripture teaches unity for the Church and humanity at large. It is the intention of creation. It finds fulfillment in the end when Jesus unites all things under his authority.

What is interesting though are the stories that show God dividing the people. The word of God divides (Heb. 4:12). Jesus brought a sword that would divide (Matt. 10:34-36). One story in the Old Testament is particularly striking: the story of the Tower of Babel.

The story begins in Genesis 11. The first verse says, “Now the entire earth was of one language and common words.” [1]

This brings to mind exhortations of Paul who says, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”[2]

The people came together, united, to build themselves a city and a tower. They were united in purpose, had the same mind, the same judgment. This unity of mind and purpose seems to align with the unity that is taught throughout scripture. Why, then, did God divide these ancient people?

Leithart says, “Division and false union come together in the tower of Babel episode, the great biblical story of false unification and final dispersal.”[3] The intentions of the builders of the tower were judged by God as being anti-unity. What were the builders doing that made God disperse them and break their unity?

We will look further into this later this week.

[1] Old Testament quotations comes from John Goldingay’s translation of the Old Testament called “The First Testament”
[2] 1 Cor. 1:10 KJV
[3] Peter J. Leithart: The End Of Protestantism: Pursuing Unity in a Fragmented Church