In John chapter 17, our Lord Yeshua (Jesus) prayed for his universal community of believers and disciples called the Body of Christ (The Christian Church). This prayer in John 17 is known as his great High Priestly prayer for us, and in this prayer he states the following:
“Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me… I have given them your Word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your Word is truth… I ask not only on behalf of these, 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… Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
As believers and disciples of Jesus, we are members (by his grace) of his One, Holy, Universal and Apostolic Christian Church, and we are the beneficiaries of his wonderful High Priestly prayer in John 17. So if Christ, the Lord of Life, desires unity between the denominational branches of his Christian Church, then it will ultimately be made manifest.
The common thread for all the branches of the Christian Faith is that we all look to Yeshua Ha-Mashiach (Jesus Christ) as our Savior and Lord, and as we are now well within the Third Millennium of the Redemption in Christ, we are living in exciting times for the prospect of greater Christian unity. We live in a time when Lutherans and Catholics will commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017 with joint worship services, guided by a document jointly published by The Lutheran World Federation and The Vatican entitled “From Conflict to Communion.” We live in a time when the Pope has publically apologized for the mistreatment of non-Catholic Christians (including Protestants). We live in a time when the Greek Orthodox Christians and Egyptian Coptic Christians are in dialogue with one another. We live in a time when all the Eastern Orthodox Churches will meet this coming June of 2016 on the Island of Crete for a pan-Orthodox meeting called The Holy and Great Synod of the Orthodox Church. We live in a time when Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain has just published a book in honor of her 90th birthday entitled “The Servant Queen and the King She Serves” in which she is very affirming of other faiths but she is quite clear that she is a Christian and she talks openly and naturally about her faith in Jesus. We also live in a time when there is a growing resurgence of Judeo-Christians (Jews who believe in Jesus as their Divine Messiah, Savior and Lord) who refer to themselves as Messianic Jews. Lastly, we live in a time when a Third Ecumenical Council of Nicaea is scheduled for 2025, at which the various denominational branches of the Christian Faith will meet and discuss together about Christian life and faith and hope.
And by the way, it’s important to note that the Second Ecumenical Council of Nicaea was in 787 AD and the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (at which the Nicene Creed was drafted and Christians like Saint Nicholas were present) was in 325 AD. So, a Third Council of the global Christian Church in 2025 in Nicaea, Turkey, is very momentous.
Yes, we live in exciting times for Christian Church unity, but we must be clear that greater Christian unity does not mean Christian uniformity and conformity. True unity does not mean uniformity, but it does mean basic unity and fellowship centered upon our shared Trinitarian belief and trust in God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — One Holy Trinity in Unity and One Holy Unity in Trinity. Of course, there is going to be some non-core issues that we disagree about, but we can continue to journey together as fellow believers and disciples of Jesus Christ and try to learn from each other’s traditions. For instance, regarding Mary the Mother of our Lord, the Eastern Orthodox Christians might say that Catholics do too much with her (Marian Maximalism) while Protestants do too little with her (Marian Minimalism). Maybe they’re right on the mark with the role of Mary, and maybe both Catholics and Protestants are missing the mark by going too far either way? And regarding the Jewish roots of our Christian Faith, we can learn from our Messianic Jewish brethren. And, of course, we Lutherans offer the other Christian branches the importance of keeping the GRACE of God always FIRST AND FOREMOST within our Christian theology and spirituality.
As we look toward celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday, let us commit ourselves to an ecumenical spirit and to always seek out ways to manifest the Christian Church unity that our Lord Jesus prayed for and desires for us. After all, whether Catholic or Orthodox or Protestant or Messianic Jew, we all share together “one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism” (Ephesians 4:5) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.
Grace & Peace, Pastor Tim