While at a local Churches Together meeting I, among others, shared some thoughts about what it might mean to be “One Church” in our particular context and setting. I share some of the thoughts that were in my mind during the meeting.
It seems to me that Christian Unity is often seen through the way that churches or individual Christians share in events or meetings together. Too often greater unity is seen through an encouragement to share in even more of each other’s events or meetings, or by inviting other churches and Christians to our own events. We rejoice in co-operation and call it unity. But is it?
God already sees us as one Church, but unfortunately we too easily give the impression of disunity. Part of that disunity is seen when we settle for less than that which God calls us to, and when we think that we demonstrate unity by sharing meetings and events. As mentioned above put simply this is co-operation. It is nice. It is good. It is worth doing. But it is not one Church.
Some years ago I recall a challenge within the ecumenical movement to move from co-operation with one another to commitment to one another. This movement makes us more vulnerable and means we invest in each other in a more intentional way. It rightly makes us more accountable to each other.
I would suggest a move still further. That we should move from co-operation through commitment to Covenant relationship. To move toward covenant relationship between individual Christians and churches means we bind ourselves together in an even more vulnerable way. We vow or promise that we will be with one another, “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, from this day forward…” Yes like marriage vows, a Covenant of that type, only death does not part us but under Christ brings perfect unity.
The thing is it is so much easier to settle for co-operation and to talk as if there is a need for greater co-operation. The move from this to commitment and covenant takes a great change of mind set and heart set. In terms of future unity often it means rather than doing more we actually leave things behind. Just as a married couple will have had to leave their singleness behind and the expression of that singleness for there to be a making visible of the “one Church” that God already sees we will have to give up territory, whether it be some of our past, our preferences, our ways, or our individualism. That can be incredibly threatening for it is that point at which we feel the pain of loss so acutely and make ourselves so much more vulnerable.
We should not let ourselves off the hook by failing to ask the hard questions or by hiding behind co-operation. If we sincerely desire to be seen as, and act as, one Church then it will hurt – just as it hurt Christ to bring reconciliation and unity about on the Cross.