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  • Writer's pictureFr Robert Randall McDonald Bagwell

Unity without Uniformity:

I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of[b] your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:21)

This is the long established week of prayer for Christian Unity. While there are definitely those who would use this for somewhat nefarious purposes, the principles Jesus laid down in John 17 are no less true. I have been a part of such gatherings for the last 30 years and it has strengthened the relationships of those who differ on a deep level as well as those who are very close in theological tradition. I support it and pray that will continue.

The division of Christendom was and still is a tragic continuing chapter in the Body of Christ. The reasons for this division are varied and dependent upon circumstances, location, limitations of communication, differing languages and misunderstandings. If we couple this with human egos, ecclesiastical and juridical power and finances, we have a perfect set up for a power play.

What did “the Great Schism” (AD 1054) accomplish? A tear, a breach and the equivalent of a married couple each stopping fighting, going in opposite directions to different rooms and slamming the doors behind them! Not one action in the ensuing centuries between did the two parties, despite the probable misunderstandings, difficult definitions of terms regarding the place and action of the Holy Spirit with regard to the Godhead and the visceral observable hatred of some naming the Name of Christ begins to give a hint of glory to God who scripture tells us “is LOVE”.

The protestant division, (“protestant” means literally “to stand up for the original beliefs”) is far less ignoble. Although the Church of Rome acted in power driven and carnal ways to beliefs being contested, all that was accomplished was a division of the western church into a myriad of groupings that continue even to our own day.

I say none of this to diminish the great good that has been accomplished when the denominations have begun, mostly from the laity up to the clergy, to get those who claim Jesus as Savior and Lord to start SPEAKING to one another. They have begun to find out that their differences are perhaps not as serious as they were thought to be. The ancient creeds are certainly agreed upon. They can make “our Father who art in heaven…” more glad by emphasizing their understandings they hold in common, rather than those on which they differ. The scripture says in Paul’s writings that: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well”. (I John 5:1) The creeds alleviated a problem early on which Constantine tried to address in the church councils: what does the Church believe? It is those beliefs that have transformed the world.

It is a blessing to have the ecumenical movement and the opportunity to work together where varying people who hold to varying believes, may focus on what they share in common. Spiritually, culturally, and socially, this time is a gift.

While we can, let us celebrate it.

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