Unity is Neither a Means Nor an End

John ArmstrongMissional-Ecumenism, Unity of the Church

Bfaffec631On the morning of 28 February, during his second day of visiting the offices of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva, Archbishop Rowan Williams of the Church of England addressed a round table discussion on the unity of the Christian church (02/28/12). His comments are noteworthy, at least so far as I am concerned. 

The Archbishop said, “Unity is neither a means nor an end.” He told assembled staff, visitors and governing body members of the WCC and other organizations in the Ecumenical Center that, “Unity is what God has given us in the church.”

Williams also noted that the responsibility of Christians who receive the gift of unity lies in “seeking a life in which no one is without the other.” This life, “constantly moving us forward into a further truth," compels all who live within the love of God to ask the question: “Who is not yet here?”

According to John 17:20-23 the esteemed Archbishop of Canterbury is absolutely right about unity. It is neither a “means nor an end.” Unity is “what God has given us in the church.” This is what Jesus says and clearly what he means. We do not work for unity. We work from it to oppose schism and the spirit that opposes our oneness. When we seek to preserve the unity Jesus prayed for then we seek a life in which we cannot live without the other. This is why I call my vision “missional-ecumenism.” Our unity is in the Father’s love for the Son and the love of the Trinity for the whole world. We draw near Christ and by this we draw near to one another in this God-given unity. 

And Archbishop Williams is also right when he says that when we move forward, in life together, we are compelled to ask, “Who is not yet here?” 

Form my own deeply conservative, and quite suspicious, ecclesial background I never understood this point at all. Unity was, for me and my peers, an optional extra so long as people agreed with me/them. In my present state unity is neither an option nor an extra. It is inherent in the Father’s sending of the Son into the world to save the world. You must be persuaded of this truth by the Holy Spirit if you are to become a real missional-ecumenist. I have been. Have you?