In John 17, in the high priestly prayer of Jesus, Christ prays that He would be glorified that He might glorify the Father. In verses 20 and 21, Jesus makes a point that is necessary for is to take seriously: ‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me’.
In this prayer for the disciples and for us who have believed in Christ on the authority of their message, Jesus claims that the way in which the world will believe the message of the gospel is if those who proclaim are united to God the Trinity through Christ, and that the clearest evidence of union with God is that Christians are united with one another.
As the theologian Lesslie Newbigin puts it, ‘that which makes the Church the Church is at the same time the thing which gives it its mission. That which makes the church one is what makes it a mission to the world….The connection between the movement for Christian reunion and the movement for world evangelization is of the deepest possible character’.
Christian Disunity and the Continuing Necessity of Repentance
Looking at the sad history of schism and disunity among the Christian churches and among our ministries on campus, it is clear that we have not heeded Christ’s admonition to us. Distrust has been fostered by the differing cultures, languages, and practices of our communities.
Our different approaches to prayer, reading scripture, and life together have led to mutual suspicion and disdain. We have doubted, on campus as in the church more broadly, that fellow ministries are sufficiently biblical and Spirit led. This is all to our shame, and our work on campus and in our churches has been harmed by it.
We cannot ignore the sad history of our divisions in our efforts toward unity in our work on campus, which means, as Newbigin says, that ‘the quest for Christian unity must always have about it the character of repentance. All disunity among Christians is a contradiction of that upon which their being Christians rests. It has the character of sin…The quest for unity must therefore be regarded not as an enterprise of men aimed at constructing something new, but as a penitent return to that which was originally given but subsequently denied’.
When we meet together as campus ministries in the hope of united collaboration on campus, there is a place for confession of the specific sin of disunity. Even where there has been a recent history of collaboration, we cannot ignore the longer history of animosity and distrust, because the fact of our institutional disunity precedes us among those to whom we bring the message of Christ.
In our meetings together, it remains a good thing for us to confess together to God in a posture of humility that, in the words of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, ‘we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone’.
Jonathan Warren ministers to graduate students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship along with his wife Tish. He is finishing his Ph.D. in the History of Christianity at Vanderbilt University, and he and Tish are ordained Deacons in the Anglican Church in North America. Jonathan and Tish have two daughters and attend church at Christ Church Anglican.