I read the high priestly prayer of Jesus this morning, and I was struck by something that maybe I have never noticed before. I remembered that the Lord prays not just for the apostles, but also for those who would believe in Him through the the preaching of the apostles. There is something humbling and fantastic in that thought. But what struck me this morning about this is what specifically Jesus asks of His Father for them.
I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. [John 17:20-21]
Jesus does not pray for our material needs to be met. He does not pray for our perseverance in the faith. He prays that we may all be one. And He prays this for two reasons: that we may be one in God, and that the world may believe. This is a pretty incredible thing, I think, and it is terribly underrated.
How can the world come to believe if it cannot see that Christians are united? It would make the Church’s unity so otherworldly as to be of no evangelistic benefit. Wouldn’t it? I know that I have heard non-Christians and some straying brethren say that the lack of unity among Christians was evidence against the Faith. I do not remember ever hearing someone say that disunity is a boon (okay, that is not exactly the sort of thing that you would get all excited about. But still.) And in view of what Jesus says I find it hard to swallow the idea that this is an evangelistically unimportant thing.
This is why Christian disunity is a scandal. It presents an obstacle to belief for at least some people. And that is why the we hope and pray for the reunification of the Body of Christ.