pope john xxiii portrait When Pope John received the observers at Vatican II he spoke to those gathered, including both cardinals and observers from many different churches, in very plain, simple words. He said:

We do not intend to conduct a trial of the past; we do not want to prove who was right or who was wrong; the faults were on both sides. All we want to say is: Let us come together. Let us put an end to our divisions. Some people want to complicate simple matters. I want to simplify complicated ones. I don’t know where we are going. Let us simply follow day by day whatever the Holy Spirit asks of us.

Like other Christians who love the holy, catholic church and confess their faith in the whole people of God (cf. Eph. 1:19-22) I long to see the unity of his body, the church, which is “the fullness of him who fills all in all.” I dream about this quite often. Some of these dreams are literal dreams; most often they are just ideas that possess my mind and heart daily. I cannot let go of this passion and this vision because it has gripped me so profoundly.

Cardinal Suenens expressed my own view powerfully when he said in 1972: “I dream of a day when a Second Council of Jerusalem will be held in the city of the cenaculum—the city that is the cradle of the Church; that participating at it along with the Pope will be the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Primate of All England.” If such a council were convened I hope that many other Protestant churches will be represented. Why? What I imagine is much bigger than we can ask or think. This is how we should expect to work if we have faith.

In the meantime what are we to do? Short of a truly ecumenical council that seeks the unity of all parts of the church what can you and me do, as ordinary Christians living out our faith everyday?

Cardinal Suenens helps us when he said in 1976:

Let us eliminate from our conversation anything that keeps men apart, estranges them, sets up a barrier, exaggerates differences and divergences,

[or] wounds them. Let us foster what brings people together. Let us have the courage to be peacemakers.

The Apostle Paul says, “Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:14).

And in Romans he says:

“Owe no one anything, except love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (13:8).

And beloved apostle John adds:

Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure your hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. and by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given to us (1 John 3:18-24).

YourChurch2Small My missional-ecumenism is really quite simple. It is anchored in these plain biblical words and is worked out in friendship with all who “believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” My response is clearly marked out for me in the Word of God. I am to “love” all of his children. This causes significant struggle for me, and for you too I feel sure, since there is so much difference among Christians. But this offers me no excuse for refusing to love and work for unity.

With good Pope John XXIII I gladly say what he said at the opening of Vatican II, “Let us simply follow day to day whatever the Holy Spirit asks of us.”

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  1. Joe Schafer January 27, 2011 at 7:57 am

    John, I appreciate this series of articles that you have written, and especially today’s piece.
    Lately, for ministry-related and for personal reasons, I have been contemplating the nature of the Church and her role in God’s mission of proclaiming the gospel to the nations. I re-read The Open Secret by Newbigin and got a great deal more out of it. What I learned this time around is that, as the Church proclaims the gospel of forgiveness through Jesus Christ, she must be actively working to extend that forgiveness in real ways in real time and space, otherwise the gospel she preaches is a sham. She must be welcoming sinners of all kinds into the fold as members in full standing, based not on their own qualifications or anything that they have done or are doing, but based solely on what Christ has done. Once a person has been baptized into the death and new life of Jesus, they are now “in Christ” and should be visibly at one with all others who are also “in Christ.” (The ordinances of baptism and Lord’s Supper are powerful signs of this reality and intrinsic to the Church’s central mission.) This is the message of grace alone, received by faith alone. The Church should be proclaiming this message of reconciliation and unity with God and with one another, shouting it from the rooftops, demonstrating it with sincere words and powerful deeds.
    If that is not what the Church is all about, then what are we doing? A Body that is that is visibly fragmented, disjointed, and at war with itself is a contradiction and offense. How can a gospel-focused community embrace repentant sinners while simultaneously refusing to commune with others who are already in Christ? If that’s the way it is right now, then I guess I’ll have to deal with it. But that’s not the way that it ought to be.
    Some might think this is abstract, pie-in-the-sky, theological mumbo-jumbo. It is not. Disunity in the church damages real persons. It tears apart real families. It splits real communities. It dishonors and misrepresents the fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

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