The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
Does Christian Unity matter? It was William Temple, one of the more helpful Archbishop’s of Canterbury who said, “I believe in one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and regret that it does not exist.” If the Christian faith is about wholeness, about breaking down barriers, about the eradication of sin, then certainly Christian Unity matters, for divided churches give all the wrong signals to an indifferent or hostile world – how can people profess to serve the Prince of Peace, when they cannot make peace among themselves? Of course I am not saying that if there were but one Church in England, or any other country, then the unbelievers would flock to it, but I am saying that because we have all grown up to accept division as normal, then we can easily fail to see the damage it causes to the Gospel proclamation.
To be fair, a lot has been accomplished, maybe more than our grandfathers would have ever believed possible. The old hatreds have gone; many of the old suspicions have vanished. Yet, to be honest, most people are content with their local Church and would not want to have some other label attached to it. Groups like Churches Together, have done a lot to bring the divided Christians together, and to enabling groups of different traditions to understand and get to know more of each other. And there is nothing wrong with diversity, at least in this context – clearly in the New Testament – even in the early days, different local churches did things differently. What united them was a common faith in Jesus as the divine Lord and Saviour – in a sense everything else was secondary to that.
In our generation we have come close once again to that situation, though with one significant difference, that intercommunion – sharing communion at the altar in other churches – remains a problem.
So the challenge as we again approach a Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is this: Let us be passionate about Christian Unity – it really does matter – not least in days like the present when Christians face the greatest persecution in our history all over the world and when at home we are facing greater hostility.
Our Lord prayed that his followers would be one – and we affront him if we accept disunity as natural or inevitable. True Christian Unity is going to recognise diversity in worship, and also, perhaps more challenging, in ethical belief – yet some things like the creeds are essential for an orthodox Christians to believe lest they start to make things up for themselves. There are some things to be left in charity, to the individual conscience. Saint Paul wrote to the Christians at Corinth “I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some”.
True Christian Unity is not going to ask Anglicans to worship like Baptists or Roman Catholics like Methodists. True Christian Unity is going to start from the point that we are all sinners, that it is humanity which has caused so many of the divisions in Christ’s Body, that it is displeasing to God, and it is going to require of us to whom so much has been given by our bountiful God a recognition that Christians of many different complexions are truly our brothers and sisters in Christ, and it is going to require of us hearts that are open to learn and understand more of other traditions, it is going to require of us a commitment to God’s Kingdom in which all division is banished forever. Commitment to the cause of unity is laid upon us all, and it is a direct call from God himself to be doing all we can to break down the barriers that sin erects to divide the children God one from another.
Fr. Edward Bryant