Praying to overcome the Denominational Divide
By Reverend C. A Kannapell
Being part of a denomination, some have argued, is like being part of a particular family. Different families stress different things and have different gifts. Just as it is hard to grow up in “family in general”, so too it is hard to grow up into Christ without being rooted in a place with certain people. Another teacher speaks of mere Christianity, those parts upon which all are agreed, as a hall from which to enter the ornate room of Orthodoxy, the sumptuous room of Catholicism, the spartan room of the Puritan belief, or the homely room of Anglicanism. This is true as far as it goes.
But, as we all know, denominational-ism can be problematic. Too often we are interested in protecting our own turf. Too often we are guilty of harboring resentments from ancient controversies.
In John chapters 13-17 we see the heart of Jesus for his disciples on the night before he died. These chapters stress what was important—what he says on the night when he knew he would be betrayed and then handed over to be crucified, this is crucial stuff. In addition to instituting the Lord’s Supper, he did two very significant things: he washed their feet; and he prayed for their unity.
In the foot-washing he gives a tangible example of the humility required of all who follow him. By the prayer, he teaches us where our unity comes from.
Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…
Where does unity come from? From the unity of the persons in the Trinity who, while distinct as persons, are totally united as God. So Jesus prays that we have that same kind of unity that he had with the Father.
What kind of unity is that?
It is self-sacrificial as the Son “emptied himself taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). And it doesn’t stop at service but goes all the way to “death, even death on a cross”(2:8)
It is a unity under the leadership of the Father as Jesus said of himself, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).
It is a deep and perfect unity: “that they may become perfectly one.”
It is a unity that spills out into the world and includes others in its embrace: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you”
It is a unity that has profound consequences for evangelism—because without it evangelism has no power but with it, Jesus says, “the world may believe that you [Father] have sent me.”
Finally it is a unity that brings us into the purpose of our life—to know and love God and to be known and loved by him. Jesus ends his prayer to the Father with the intent that “that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
- Given the fact that all of Jesus’ other prayers came true, how confident are you of the fact that we will become more unified?
- How are you called to work for the unity of the church?
- How can you serve others for the sake of unity?