I have nothing new to say about this topic. But as I observe the struggles that my congregation is currently going through, and as I reflect on the struggles of other congregations, within denominations, and among denominations, I’m reminded of Jesus’ prayer on the night before he died. It is worth reading again.
I ask not only on behalf of [my disciples], but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. (John 17.20-24, NRSV)
How is it that the Church’s history is so filled with splits and divisions, when his final prayer was for our unity? It is sad. You would think that we’d pay better attention to the final lesson of our teacher.
What guidance do we have for how to work toward unity? Chuck Neufeld spoke to our congregation yesterday, basing his message on parts of Ephesians 3 and 4. Here is part of that scripture:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4.1-6)
Note the middle portion of this passage. “Make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit.” How? By “bearing with one another.” Now you don’t “bear with” people when you’re in agreement. You bear with them when you’re in disagreement. And how long should you do this? According to Chuck,
If you bear with me for a moment, then can you bear with me for a time? And if you bear with me for a time, then can you bear with me for a long time? And if you bear with me that long, what if you are still bearing with me on something that is confusing to us when Jesus returns? Do you think Jesus would be displeased? Or if Jesus would find us earnestly searching the scriptures in a spirit of unity and of joy and of forbearance, would Jesus not say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant”?
Is he suggesting that maybe we don’t have to come to a conclusion? Are we to understand that our first priority doesn’t need to be getting this right, whatever “this” is? Is ambiguity acceptable? Might there, in fact, be something more important than orthodoxy?