A Prayer for Church Unity
What is the basis of unity with other Christians and churches? The answer is found in John 17, the famous high priestly prayer of Jesus Christ.
We read in verses 22-23, “And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.”
Isn’t it striking that this petition for unity would be some of Christ’s last words before He died and left the earth – His last wish for the church?
This unity that Christ prayed for is first of all God-centered. Notice what Jesus says in verse 22b,
That they may be one, even as we are one.
Our unity must reflect the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – no division, argumentation, fighting, or discontent, only perfect unity, perfect love, and perfect communion. If our unity is God-centered, that means our relationship is centered on the truth of Scripture. Despite our differences with other Christians, are we reflecting that perfect relationship that God has within Himself? Such a high standard for our relationship with one another as Christians is only attainable through the cross and by grace alone.
At the center of our relationship with other Christians throughout the world is the cross. Jesus prayed these words just hours before His death; the cross was the answer to this prayer. In Ephesians 2:13-16, Paul writes that the cross of Christ has broken down the middle wall of partition, and reconciled His people into one body through the cross. As we engage with other Christians and other denominations, this is the central point of unity. This is the great hope that we hold out to those who are still alienated from God. They too can be made one with Christ and His people through the cross of Christ. Is this our prayer and desire, to see Christians united through the cross and all its implications for life and doctrine?
What is the purpose for our unity with other Christians? At the deepest level of unity, we center on the cross of Christ, but there must also be a practical unity that leads to holiness.
Jesus prays, “That they may be made perfect in one.”
Jesus’ desire is to see His people across the world perfected, or made holy. This is both inward and outward perfection. He ultimately realized this in the cross, but is it visible in our lives? Our unity with one another in the cross does not make us better than other Christians. Rather, it ought to produce humility to learn from other brothers and sisters. It means that we stand in solidarity and prayer for the issues of our day with those who love the Lord in truth. We are not perfect and the others we meet are not perfect, but are we working together, by the Spirit’s grace, to perfect each other in fulfillment of Christ’s prayer for the unity of His church?
This unity is practical. It serves as a witness to the world of the love of God for sinners:
That the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.
Our inward and outward unity expresses to the world that the love of God dwells in our hearts and in our midst. Our relationship with one another serves to reflect God just yet loves character to the world. It tells the world that we enjoy this unity because of the cross and that we are humbly and graciously aiding one another to be perfected. It tells the world that the grace of God is still available for sinners. It shows any unbeliever that unless they repent and believe and find refuge in Christ, there will be a great gulf fixed between them and the people of Christ. As a church, we are an open book read by the world. What are we telling them?