What would Jesus pray if he prayed for us? He intercedes with the Father for us all the time, and we have an example of a specific prayer in John 17?
Let us understand how important unity among us is for Jesus.
We will look at Jesus' prayer for you and me, Christian unity and what it means to Jesus.
Jesus’ prayer for you
If Jesus were to pray a prayer just for you and me what would it be? What would he wish us? We actually have a record of just such a prayer. In John 17:20-26 Jesus prayed for his disciples but also for those who would believe the message of the disciples. That message has been recorded in the New Testament and has been preached around the world since. What then was Jesus’ prayer for you and me? It was that we be one. The Greek word for one means in this context “to be united most closely (in will, spirit).” What does that mean when someone undermines the pastor, the bishop, or causes division in a local church? When we are disgruntled and critical of our fellow faulty human beings, how are we contributing to Jesus’ prayer for unity?
How are we one
When Jesus prayed for Christian unity, did his prayer in John 17:20-26 fail? Are we possibly really one even despite the man-made walls that seem to divide us? Are we one in our practices? No. Christians worship in all different kinds of manners and customs. Are we unified in teaching about every twiggy issue of doctrine? No. Are our human institutions unified? No. But Jesus’ prayer for unity was specific about one thing. He prayed that we may be one, just as the Father is in him and he is in the Father. He prayed that we would be in Father and the Son. So far so good. All Christians who are in Christ and in the Father are unified, but we still have a way to go to experience the unity that Father and Son have between themselves.
Being perfected in unity
All churches have a measure of disunity. It may be disagreements in the kitchen or the choir, with the denomination or the pastor, doctrinal twigs or musical tastes. All these are normal to church life. The challenge for all of us is to overlook such lesser annoyances and work for unity. That’s why Jesus prayed for you and me, that we may grow into perfect unity (John 17:20-26). The original Greek uses wording which means “working through the entire process (stages) to reach the final phase” and that final phase is unity. It is a process and we are in the middle of it. We cannot be perfected in unity by human institutions, being burned at a stake or politically motivated claims to authority. Jesus is bringing us into unity through the glory that he has given to us.
Threats do not create true unity
In John 17:20-26 the Greek phrase in verse 23 is literally “that they might be perfected in unity.” Christianity is incredibly unified on many essential teachings of the faith: who is God, Christ, the Holy Spirit, angels, humanity, sin, the Bible, salvation, church, our mission and last things. Disagreement on nuances of these and other topics causes some outside the church to believe we are in a food fight of total disagreement, but that is untrue. There is certainly room to grow into greater agreement, leaving the final conclusion to the final judgment. Narrow-minded Christians may think that by threatening excommunication they are creating unity, but that is not unity, just teaching people with brains and wisdom to shut their mouths. Real unity comes about through a bond of peace even with a diversity of opinion (Ephesians 4:3).
Is ecumenism really heresy
When we hear churches preach against ecumenism, it is usually couched in terms of a struggle against heresy. But when we dig deeper, the so-called heresy is often not against the teachings of Christ, but against some lesser twig of doctrine. We have heard people argue such issues as traditions of mere men versus innovations also of mere men, contemporary versus modern music, unknown tongues versus known languages, Sunday versus Saturday, immersion versus sprinkling, ad infinitum. Throughout history, church tradition has tended towards narrower and narrower doctrines, creating increasingly greater reasons for division rather than unity. But, salvation is open to a broader range of people than self-centered denominational politics might allow. With Jesus’ prayer for unity in mind (John 17:20-26), might not just one of the greatest heresies of all be that of narrow partisan divisiveness between churches.
Biblical purposes of ecumenism
If we reject ecumenism are we rejecting the unity that Jesus prayed for (John 17:20-26)? The so-called hina (so that) clauses explain why unity is important. Jesus works for unity among us so that all of us may be one; so that we might be in God; so that the world might believe that God sent Jesus (verse 21); so that we might be one as God and Christ are one (verse 22); so that we might be perfected in unity; so that the world will know that God sent Jesus and has loved us even as he has loved Jesus (verse 23); so that where Jesus is we may also be; so that we may see Christ’s glory (verse 24) and so that God’s love may be in us (verse 26).
Jesus wants his people to be unified. That involves growing in love and peace between us.