Pope Francis recently spoke of an “ecumenism of blood.” He was referring to the martyrs of the Christian faith – those who actually die for faithfully following Christ. I wrote a blog about his statement a few weeks ago. I believe that it summarizes a kind of “bottom line” for true ecumenism. If we can suffer and die as one people, named through our following Christ together, then surely we can find more Spirit-given ways to pursue our unity in the one, holy, apostolic faith that we confess together both in life and in death.
A dear friend, who is serving in Boston and is a graduate of the first ACT3 Missional-Ecumenical Cohort Group, participated in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in Boston a few weeks ago. The video that follows is of the entire event which he gave to me via a link to this site. I encourage you to set aside an hour-plus of your time, if you have a real desire, and watch this video so that you might take in this very impressive prayer service for unity.
If we are “in Christ” then we are Christians first, not Catholics, Orthodox or Protestants first. Why is this so hard to understand? I am a Christian who happens to have lived my journey as a baptized Christian in a Protestant context. Today I am a reforming catholic Christian who happens to be ordained as a minister of Word and Sacrament in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). But my true identity, first and foremost, is that of CHRISTIAN. I follow Jesus Christ thus it is his name I take in my baptism.
I am reminded, whenever I write words like these, of St. Paul’s words to the divided church in Corinth:
I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose. For some members of Chloe’s household have told me about your quarrels, my dear brothers and sisters. Some of you are saying, “I am a follower of Paul.” Others are saying, “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Peter,” or “I follow only Christ.”
Has Christ been divided into factions? Was I, Paul, crucified for you? Were any of you baptized in the name of Paul? Of course not! I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.) For Christ didn’t send me to baptize, but to preach the Good News—and not with clever speech, for fear that the cross of Christ would lose its power ( 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, NLT).
Christ is not Orthodox. Christ is not Catholic. Christ is not Protestant. I know there are real differences in our understanding of how to practice the faith given to us by Jesus. But do these differences mean we must oppose one another as Christians?
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And the heart of our motivation for doing all of this is to be the desire for Christian unity. But note that this unity is not something to be sought, but something to be maintained. It is not that we don’t already have it, so we must do whatever it takes to get it. No! That’s not what Paul said. He said that it is to be maintained. That is, it is already in place, so we must take care not to lose it or bruise it. We are to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3).
Paul was writing to the church at Ephesus, to people who were already in the church. He accused the Ephesian church of being unified. Paul knew well that every church is a mixed bag, composed of all sorts of people, some of whom would persevere to the end and be saved, and some who wouldn’t. We need to remember that the Ephesian church to whom Paul wrote was the same Ephesian church mentioned by John in his Revelation (Revelation 2:1-5).
False apostles were in her midst, yet Paul called them to maintain unity. They had even abandoned their first love, their love of Christ—yet, Paul called them to maintain unity! But how could they maintain unity in the midst of falsehood, poor commitment, and the loss of their passion for Christ?
Paul’s understanding of unity is not the same as ours. The Greek word (ἑνότης) is a conjugation of the idea of oneness. The root of unity is unit, which is a noun that means 1) An individual thing or person regarded as single and complete, esp. for purposes of calculation: “the family unit.” 2) Each of the individuals or collocations into which a complex whole may be divided: “large areas of land made up of smaller units.”
A unit is a set (footnote 1. See Appendix: Membership & Set Theory). A unit is a group of things that is considered to be one thing for some purpose or other. Thus, the idea of church unity is necessarily trinitarian in the various ways I have discussed in several of my books.
But Paul was talking about more than mere unity. He insisted that Christians be eager (σπουδάζω) to maintain unity. The Authorized Version translated the word as endeavoring, suggesting that it requires some effort to maintain it. But again, the effort is to keep the unity, not to achieve it. The effort is to keep from alienating others, rather than the development of some kind of super theology or polity. It was the false apostles, also called super-apostles (υπερ λιαν αποστολων) in 2 Corinthians 11:5 and 12:11, who were working on a super theology in order to institute a super unity out of Gnostic mysteries. The Corinthians were in a different church, but it was the same problem. It has always been the same problem, which can be traced back to the Tower of Babel. We are not to create a unity that serves our own purposes, which usually serves our empires rather than God’s kingdom. Rather, we are to gladly and preveniently work to maintain unity according to God’s Word.
From – http://pilgrim-platform.org/books/ephesians/. Coming soon!
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