“THAT THEY MAY BE ONE, EVEN AS WE ARE ONE”
The idea that the Christian Churches must be united was a post-World War II initiative. During the war, especially overseas, various Christian missionaries realized that to survive, they needed to overlook their differences and support one another for the good of the missions. As these missionaries began working together, they became increasingly aware of their common faith in Christ, which they practised by loving and supporting one another.
The experiences of missionaries working together during the war led to an important realization. What became most important for Christians was their shared faith in Christ (preached and practised as the love of neighbour) and not the many doctrines that divided them. In 1948, the WCC (World Council of Churches) was formed. It was a communion of various Christian Churches to promote the Unity of all Christians.
Their prayer, that is, the prayer for Christian Unity, was rooted in the prayer of Jesus in John’s Gospel: “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one (John 1:18).”
It is not easy to assess the success of the WCC today. To what extent have the Christian Churches attained the Unity they have been working towards for 74 years? There is still so much suspicion and acrimony among the Churches. Is this week dedicated to Christian Unity enough to resolve our differences? Is it enough to keep praying for Christian Unity as we always do for 7 days every year, or do we need to do something more? Can we reflect further on the experiences of the missionaries during the war and try to make them our own? These are questions for which they are no simple answers.
God is so big, and humanity is so diverse. We cannot expect everyone in the world to pray and worship God in the same way. In fact, it will be against human nature to even think like that because we are all different. We must understand today that ‘unity’ is not one and the same thing as ‘uniformity’. To be united, all Christians must not be Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, or Anglicans. Christian Unity is Unity in diversity. Unity in diversity will mean that the various Christian Churches will have to recognize, respect, and tolerate each other.
Today, Unity is not only needed outside the Church but also in the Church. Different Catholics hold different opinions on several issues, and this is not a bad thing. But our differences should not lead to divisions: We must not disrespect and disregard others simply because they are different.
The Unity of the Churches begins with how we handle our differences at personal levels. It starts with us, with you and me. Today, Christian Churches have a common problem against which they must unite to survive. The dangers of modern secularism and the religious indifference that come with it are not just concerns for any particular Church. At the same time, we cannot afford to be divided along doctrinal lines while we have a more significant problem to deal with. Christian Churches in this age of religious pluralism must either unite or ‘die.’ Even so, Christianity itself will live forever in our hearts.
Philip Shube MHM