"Christian Unity in a Divided World"
In recent years I’ve become increasingly aware of a shift in our national discourse, with a significant willingness to use the ‘us/them’ language of division around nationality, race, religion, gender, sexuality, disability, age and more, from the highest levels of politics to the vile stuff flying around social media. Such us/them language is deeply troubling, not least because of the way it has been a precursor to some of humanity’s most evil moments, whether in ancient history or modern times. It’s been part of the church’s history too, both in its internal divisions, and when it’s failed to stand out against such social and political trends.
Even the early church had its divisions. Luke records some in the Acts of the Apostles, while in Galatians, one of the New Testament’s earliest letters, Paul wrote, ‘There can be neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, but all are one in Christ’. And in Ephesians he writes, ‘There is one body and one Spirit, ..... one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all’. These reflect Jesus’ prayer in John 17, ‘May they all be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you’. Clearly the early church was struggling to live up to this calling.
Continuing church splits down the centuries tempt me to wonder whether there is any point in trying to work for its unity, but before succumbing to such a council of despair it’s important to remember that, whichever part of the church we may belong to, there is far more that unites us than divides us when we keep our focus on Jesus.
Friday 18th January is the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which Brock Valley Churches Together marks with a service at St James, Whitechapel, on Sunday 20th at 3.00pm. To it each church will bring something to represent what it cherishes about our unity in Christ.
In a world that seems to be hell-bent on isolation, division and us/them conflict, maybe Christians working together despite their differences can be a sign of hope – and even a prompt to change.
Revd Stephen Cooper