There is no more beautiful chapter in Scripture than John 17. Christ’s high priestly prayer is among the summits of the New Testament. It tells us about Christ’s earthly work; about His love for us; about His relationship with The Father; about intra-Trinitarian love Itself. And in this prayer, three times in just eleven verses we encounter the phrase, “That they may be one” (John 17:11-22).
May Be One?
Yes, unbiblical ecumenism exists. So it is easy to justify fragmentation between denominations by imagining one’s own grasp of the truth demands separation from those less skilled exegetically or less faithful in living their faith. One might even argue that the true church is invisible but unity really does exist among true believers. Yet we can’t escape Jesus’ words in John 13:35, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
All will know we are Christ’s disciples? Men and women who are not yet reconciled to God have a difficult time seeing an “invisible church”—a phrase sometimes used to explain away the visible lack of unity. Instead, they see hundreds of contentious sects. Each one (as with the fable about the blind men describing an elephant) stumbles about, clinging to a partial element of the fullness of Truth.
“One body, and one Spirit . . . One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:3-6) This is the metric against which the Church is measured: unity, real unity—not some imagined, “invisible” fellowship.
What Does Visible Unity Look Like?
From a positive perspective, what does unity mean? Unity means I am part of a Church that is in India, Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and the Americas—with indigenous bishops and priests—and has been there for centuries. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
The Catholic Church has always gone; it has always taught; it has always baptized—starting in what we call the Middle East today (Jerusalem, Antioch, Ephesus, and elsewhere) and continuing on to Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific. The Catholic Church was there. The Catholic Church is there. It maintains a common Liturgy, so if I am there—whether in Sydney, Sao Paulo, or Köln—local believers and I will rejoice in our unity while worshipping one God and Father of all.
With no harshness intended, protestant fragmentation is not biblical. In Ephesians, Paul writes the words quoted above, “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Peter writes, “love one another with a pure heart fervently” (1 Peter 1:22).
Paul rebuked in 1 Corinthians 1:11-12? “Some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided?” How then, have we ended up with more versions of the “truth” in the 21st century than that of the believers Paul admonished?
Is Christ divided? “God forbid!” as Saint Paul so often wrote. By God’s grace, we follow one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Think hard about Christian unity, particularly if you have not yet come to see the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church as Christ’s Church.
If you have, then give thanks for His Church. What a Church; what a biblical Church. Christianity Richly!