Some Christians get nervous when you begin to speak of Christian unity. For some, the first image that comes to mind is the ill-defined, amorphous conglomeration of ecclesiastical bodies some folks associate with the modern-day ecumenical movement.
Willie White, in his folksy way, compared and contrasted Christian unity with ecclesiastical union this way. “You can take two tom-cats, tie their tails together and hang them over a clothesline. That may be union, but it sure ain’t unity!”
As the title of this devotional book indicates, our aim is to refocus our attention on our Lord’s prayer for the oneness of His followers in John 17, to meditate on what He prayed, and to examine the way those first century believers understood Jesus’ prayer as seen in other relevant passages of scripture.
First and foremost, Jesus defines the parameters of His prayer to be for “those who shall BELIEVE ON ME...” Before the followers of Jesus were ever called Christians, they were identified as “believers”. The focus of Jesus’ prayer is specifically on believers. Sadly today, there are some church leaders in wider Christendom who, by their own statements and writings are better known for what they don’t believe than for what they do. By their unbelief they step outside the focus of Jesus’ prayer.
Secondly, and closely related to the first, is Jesus’ reference to the source of belief “THROUGH THEIR (the Apostles’) WORD”. When the Apostles’ word and the veracity of scripture is questioned, contradicted and denied, is it possible to still be considered a believer? The Apostle Paul counsels the Ephesians to take the shield of FAITH wherewith ALL the fiery darts of the enemy will be quenched. When the shield of faith is dropped, the darts of doubt turn the unsuspecting into theological pin-cushions, leaving them seriously compromised if not shipwrecked altogether.
Next, the primary concern for unity, or oneness, as Jesus prays for it, is for each believer to experience the kind of intimacy with the Father that Jesus knows and walks in - BE ONE, AS YOU ARE IN ME AND I AM IN YOU. Such intimacy had not been imagined since the Garden of Eden. Modeled by Jesus, this intimacy He described, “The words I speak are not my own but what I hear the Father say”, and, “What I see the Father do, that’s what I do.” When we are that attuned to the Father’s heart, it is unthinkable to disregard or despise another of the Father’s kids. Therefore loving God and loving one another are inseparable.
Lastly, Jesus has a purpose in mind for this oneness, IN ORDER THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE... This kind of unity of heart, mind, spirit and purpose trumps every argument that can be raised against the Gospel of God’s transforming love and grace.
- Tom (Jn. 17:21) Mackey, Editor
A bible class teacher sparked some discussion by showing the picture of an amoeba-like creature and asking , “How would you feel if I told you that you had developed from this over a period of time?” Several members of the class were visibly incensed and passionate in their denunciation of such an idea. After things calmed down a bit, the teacher continued, “This picture is, in fact, a human zygote - the early product of the union of egg and sperm cells. Each of you did develop from zygote to fetus to baby.”
My subject is Christian unity, not evolution or abortion. But the point is this: Our passions frequently get in the way of our ability to listen carefully and think factually and scripturally about an emotionally laden topic. Some Christians hear the term “Christian unity” and immediately begin reacting negatively because they assume someone is trying to get them to compromise truth for the sake of getting along with folks they don’t even believe are Christians.
What is the aim of this devotional book focused on Jesus’ prayer? Is there a hidden agenda of which the discriminating mind should be suspicious? Is there a parochial point of view being advanced by the editor and the contributing writers?
Nearly 200 Christian leaders were invited to write out of their hearts a devotional based on Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Of those who responded there is some variation in the interpretation or emphasis each brings, though everyone believes in the importance of our Lord’s prayer.
It is the strong conviction of the editor that the successful proclamation of the Gospel is inextricably interwoven with our response to Jesus’ heartcry. It is therefore imperative that Jesus’ prayer becomes our own.
Rather than pushing a particular interpretation, however, it is our desire for leaders and members of the Body of Christ to simply spend a period of time immersed in our Lord’s prayer, praying the prayer, making His prayer our own, trusting that the Holy Spirit will bring us to new levels of understanding and corresponding actions that will break the shackles of sectarianism and release the people of God to more fully share His life with a needy world just waiting to see evidence worth believing.
Thomas E. (Jn. 17:21) Mackey