That We May Be One

Church Split = willfull violation of Jesus’ will (sin)“…that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” ~John 17:22-23

Jesus prays many things for us. He prayed for the apostles as they battled the wind on the sea. Hebrews says Christ lives to intercede for us. We can imagine that Jesus prays continually for our salvation, our sanctification, our bodies, and our souls. In John 17 he prays that his Father will give us eternal life, that his joy will be made complete in us, that God will protect us from the evil one and keep us safe, and that he will sanctify us in truth.

And he prays that we will be one.

“…so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11)

“…that all of them may be one.” (John 17:21)

“…that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22)

“May they be brought to complete unity.” (John 17:23)

We read these prayers of our Lord and it’s difficult, most of the time, to take it to heart. It doesn’t seem like Jesus’ prayers make that much difference or carry much weight as far as the unity of his disciples. Christ’s Church is famous around the world for being contentious and mean-spirited. Instead of looking at our love for one another and seeing the Savior, people look at our contempt for one another and see the world. Or worse, the devil.

Where’s the unity?

I’m almost finished with Eugene Peterson’s latest book on theological conversations, Tell It Slant. The following is from his chapter Jesus Prays For Us.

Many Christians, impatient with what they perceive as the inefficiency of Jesus’ prayer, attempt to solve the problem by the imposition of unity, unity by coercion — that is, authority depersonalized into an institution. The style is hierarchical. The methods are bureaucratic. Any person or congregation who refuses to conform is excluded: anathematized, excommunicated, or shunned. Unity is preserved by enforcing an institutional definition.

Other Christians, also impatient with Jesus’ prayer, solve the problem by schism. They reduce the scale of unity to what can be managed by gathering men and women of like mind and temperament. Often there is a strong and charismatic leader who shows up to define the reduced parameters of the so-called unity. If persons or groups find that they no longer fit into the theological or worship or behavioral style that defines the unity, another schism is always an option — simply split off with others of like mind and spirit. Unity is preserved by personal preference.

The repetitive urgency with which Jesus prays that we be one, just as he is one with the Father, throws deliberate acts of schism into sharp relief as acts of insurrection, an eruption of violent willfulness in the very presence of the one who is interceding for our relational unity with one another according to the unity of the Trinity. The frequency of this violence done to the body of Christ, a violence justified by rationalizations without end, is nothing less than astonishing. Defying Jesus in the cause of Jesus. A huge scandal.

The scandal is often boastfully vaunted as necessary to preserve the church. But whatever the language used, whatever slogans are placed on the banners, it is pretty clear that the schismatics at some point walked out on John 17.

If we’ll just stay in the room with Jesus as he prays for us, we will acquire a readiness to embrace all the baptized as brothers and sisters. It may be slow in coming, but Jesus’ prayer will have its way with us. We will no longer define other Christians as competitors or rivals. Jesus does not evaluate or grade his followers as he prays. He does not lay out plans to settle the controversies that he knows will arise. He is praying us into an easy camaraderie. The longer we stay in Jesus’ praying presence the more we will understand that our impulses toward schism and sectarianism, our rivalries and denunciations, have no place in the room while Jesus is praying for us “to be one.”


Collin and Marisa McCormick have just found out they’re having a boy! Congratulations! You can get the latest news from our displaced Texas brother and sister while they’re in Germany by clicking over to their blog here.




  1. James Prather

    It’s rather sad and ironic that the Church of Christ originally set out to be a unifying call to all the different denominations to put aside that which divided us and just come together in unity. Instead it has become yet another schism and just another denomination.

  2. Caleb Courtney

    Too often we get bogged down by smaller matters. We argue about liberal and conservative, progessive and traditional. If we would all realize that we all hold high views of scripture, God, the deity of Christ, importance of Baptism, our command to seek and save the lost. Holding these as our binding ties, we could rally around them and move forth in unity, allowing as Stone and Campbell did, liberty in matters of opinion.

    I find it so important that the last thing that Jesus prayed for before he faced trial and execution is that we, his followers many years later, would be one. Our place in his prayer makes it vital that we seek unity over our own selfish desires and comforts. Christ died that we might be one, not that we would splinter into hundreds of small twigs. Thanks for your words on this, I hope we can live up to them.

  3. Howard Holmes

    We humans tend to draw circles which include “the good” and exclude “the bad.” Two features which the “good” circles always have in common is that the good circles always include us and always include a relatively small proportion of the total of humanity. The practice of religion has always been a matter of arguing over where to draw the lines.

    The longer I live the more it becomes obvious that the good circle should include all of us. Some people seem to find the world full of evil intentioned people who need to be excluded from their circle. In my sixty years I have never run into an evil or a bad person. Perhaps they exist; I have just never known one personally.

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