In John 17, Jesus prays that we may be one as he is one with the Father and Holy Spirit. I believe this prayer is an essential part of a missional church. Is this prayer for us to be one a possibility and how do we go about it? And what does it really mean to be one?
In our age of denominations, it is hard to imagine the body of Christ as one. Some people, including some from our tradition, have claimed unity by naming all denominations as lost and separate from "the true church." I specifically remember reading a document written by Moses Lard in which he said "the true church" cannot divide. He claimed that every other group did not divide from the church but were never a part of the church. This seems a bit insane.
Is the unity Christ calls for an organizational unity or just a loose unity in Christ? What does it mean to be one? Some ecumenical organizations have aimed at bringing denominations into fellowship with one another. Other groups have tried to have unity without having to formally unite in any way.
All I know is that Christ calls us to unity. Unity does not mean uniformity. Unity can be done amid the diversity of many religious backgrounds. I believe our fundamental questions are the reason for our division in the past. We have always asked what we have to do to in order to be united, but a better question might be how can we work with other faith communities in our area to bring the good news of God to the city we find ourselves in?
Our focus should not be to help our churches be in better unity. It should be to further God's kingdom and bring him glory through our mission of the gospel to the lost. If we can work together on that, we can be in unity. A missional church must be about bringing the message of God to the lost community surrounding its building, not furthering its own name. We must unite with as many other churches as we can to make a greater impact in the world. A cord of one strand will break, but a cord of three strands is not easily broken.
Evangelism is not always easy amongst many denominations. We have many different ideas about being saved and being right with God. It's not easy to evangelize with other churches when you can't come to an agreement on how to evangelize, but working together even in our diversity can bring a great harvest. When people come together amongst great differences, that in itself is great evangelism. We cannot drop our understandings of what we believe for the sake of unity, but if the core of our message, Jesus Christ, is held up, then God will be pleased. Let us be about the sake of bringing people to Christ among others who are different than us.
Is Jesus' prayer a possibility in our day? With optimism, I say yes, but it will take some work. The best I can hope to do is make unity happen wherever I find myself. To partner with others despite their religious banner under the banner of Christ. Let Christ be our head, not the name Churches of Christ.