Week of Prayer to Combat Christian Indifference
In this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, why does it really matter?
Few people probably missed the fact that Christmas happened in December. Forty percent of pets (yes, animals) received a Christmas stocking. You can’t escape Christmas in our culture or in our church calendars. By contrast, the vast majority of people – Christians included – are completely unaware of the existence of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, let alone that it is happening right now (it runs from the 18th to the 25th of January). Yet surely this should be one of the most important periods in any Christian’s or any church’s year.
One of the last and most extensive prayers of Jesus to His Father is communicated to us in John’s gospel, and part of it is this:
‘My prayer is not for them [the disciples] 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’
This couldn’t really be much clearer. Jesus’s prayer here is that all those who follow Him be in ‘complete unity’ – a unity as potent as that which binds the Trinity into one God. And this unity seems to be inextricably bound up with the authenticity of Christian witness.
If you look at a church’s priorities, working with other churches usually comes well below the areas of evangelism, discipleship or outreach. It is seen as an unimportant nicety. Yet, this prayer of Jesus has things in quite a different order. According to Him, we are to be united with one another and united with God and it is only then – and as a direct consequence – that ‘the world may believe’ in who Jesus is. How can we proclaim the greatness of God and the transformational reality of the gospel while simultaneously confining him to our own tradition and dismissing as irrelevant those followers of Christ who differ?
Jesus’s prayer seems to me to forbid a life of faith which ignores the barriers of distrust, dislike, contempt, fear, ignorance and indifference which so often lie dormant within our congregations. Of all these, perhaps indifference is the barrier to unity which we talk about least. Sometimes there can be an implicit understanding that it’s OK to ignore other Christian communities if we don’t actively dislike them. Unity is seen as the absence of discord; an acceptance that we have agreed to disagree. Yet in no other context would we see this as sufficient. When we talk about two people being united in marriage, the assumption is not that they will live in tolerant indifference to one another. Instead, they are to communicate, to seek the best in one another, to persevere at all cost to build and nurture love.
Across the UK Christians follow Christ in communities of Coptic Christians, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, Pentecostals, Orthodox Christians, Quaker, United Reformed Churches, Presbyterians, those who subscribe to no denomination. The list goes on. But as Brother François of Taizé writes, we shouldn’t see these Christian communities and Churches as circles which are ‘juxtaposed, lying next to one another, perhaps with their rims touching or, in extreme cases, partially overlapping’. Instead we should see them as ‘concentric circles, circles that exist within each other because of their common centre (Christ) that cannot be divided…Because of him, Christ, and because of the vital link that each has with him, no Church can be outside of the others…Insofar as each comes closer to the centre, it cannot at the same time not come closer to the others…’.
So, as Christians across the world pray for Christian unity, my hope is that the Spirit will transform our understandings of what unity means. And I hope that we will allow God to answer our prayers through us, by putting unity into practice ourselves. What ways can we pursue the goal to ‘be one as [the Son and the Father] are one’? Perhaps you could attend worship at a different church sometime. You could have a film night open to all the churches in your community, followed by a discussion. Of course, a perfect opportunity is to come along to an SCM event. Please post your ideas of more ways to live out Christian unity. And let’s please pray – and let us prepare for the possibility that we are part of the answer.
Tags: ecumenismWeek of Prayer for Christian Unityprayer