The book of John contains a prayer that Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane—on the night he was arrested. I know I’ve probably quoted from it before because I just love it so much. Granted, the one we know as “The Lord’s Prayer” has always been the more famous, but this one is definitely the more heart-wrenching. It came from his tortured heart rather than his desire to teach his followers how to pray, and for that reason, it has always been my favorite.
In his great hour of need, he pours himself out to his Father, and incredibly, he thinks of us. Toward the end of this touching entreaty, he says: “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me because of their testimony. My prayer for all of them is that they will be one, just as you and I are one, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me. I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are—I in them and you in me, all being perfected into one (John 17:20-23, NLT).”
In reading this prayer, perhaps God’s original design for us can become more apparent. It helps us to see the truth more clearly—because despite the division we see among us, the truth is that we were meant to be one. Each time I pass a stranger on the street, I think of it. Every human life that has ever been or shall ever be, from every race and every place, is a piece of myself that’s gone missing. No matter the fear or confusion this world casts upon me all the time, deep in my soul, I know this truth. Difficult though it is to believe, there once was a time—in this world—when God truly had His way with us. We knew Him. He was with us—and we were together. But that was before the Fall—before we used His gift of free will against Him. For one brief, resplendent moment, we were as a shining window of stained glass. A vibrant and beautiful work of art, all telling the same story—reflecting the glory of our wonderful Creator. But then, we touched forbidden fruit and ever since, we’ve never been as we ought to be. We’re like jagged pieces of broken glass that only He can make whole again.
It’s hard enough to experience this brokenness in the world at large. It makes us fearful and it makes us hateful—because we can’t recognize each other anymore. We can’t recognize ourselves in each other anymore. Jesus said that the world would hate anyone who belonged to him. So, that much, I suppose we should expect. But what no one ever seems to want to address is the brokenness within the Church—his own body. We’ve all experienced it, and at worst, it has caused us to actually renounce the Church. But how can this be, since in so doing, we renounce ourselves?
We create denominations because we don’t know how to reconcile our differing perspectives over doctrine. We become prideful and competitive with each other, as though our life in Christ were some cosmic race to be won. We stubbornly hold to deep convictions over things that probably don’t matter that much, while grossly compromising with the world on the things that matter most. And if this claim is confusing to those of you who will read this, here are some examples from my own life. My grandmother attended a congregation where they took communion on a weekly basis, and their reason for doing so was simple. Jesus gave a simple command. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Period. He didn’t actually say “Do this once every seven days”, or “once a month”, or “once every season” or “once a year on the anniversary of this night.” No specification appears to have been given regarding the frequency with which we are supposed to take communion. The denomination that my grandmother’s congregation was affiliated with prided itself on being, quote, “the church of the Bible.” They scrutinized every detail they knew about the early Church and endeavored to replicate it entirely. Since Jesus gave no specification regarding the frequency with which to take communion, they reasoned that it was better to err on the side of caution and to take it every time they met. To me, this always seemed logical enough, and I saw absolutely nothing wrong with it. As I got older and had more opportunities to attend congregations outside of this one, I eventually discovered, of course, that not all congregations adhered to this same tradition. Some took communion once a month, some seemingly every six months, or particularly around the holidays, etc, etc. I might have seen absolutely nothing wrong with this, either. But unfortunately, the party line of my grandmother’s denomination was that “we alone are the church of the Bible.” They held very deep convictions about every facet of their tradition, and they actually believed themselves to be the only ones who were truly obedient to the teachings of Jesus. So, among other things, they had a big problem with anyone who said it was okay to take communion less than once a week. They harshly alienated any and all other groups of believers who held to a different standard on the issue—and I see now how completely tragic that was. It was really no different that the pervasive attitude of the religious elite in Jesus’ time. They cared so much about the letter of the law that they neglected the spirit of the law, and I can only pray that they see their mistake.
On the other end of this spectrum lies the rising tide of our increasingly ambiguous world culture, which demands acceptance of all points of view, religious, or otherwise, as equally true and valid. On the surface, it seems to be the the only way to live anymore. If we want to live in peace with everyone—and if we really want to demonstrate the love of Christ—we must first surrender any convictions we have about him. This wave of confusion is poised to crush and drown his Church—and not even we can see it coming! I’ve actually known fellow Christians who have said to me that while they believe Jesus to be the Son of God, they no longer believe that he is the only way to lasting life and salvation. After all, there are just too many other cultures and religions out there, and what kind of a closed-minded, judgmental bigot would I be if I actually suggested that he were the one true God? I cannot express in words how utterly heartbreaking such things are to hear. We are supposed to be his body. His body. No one else’s. And what is to become of us if we bind ourselves to another, when we belong to him? What is to become of the world if we are too frightened to teach others about him? And how are we ever to have our brokenness mended without crying out to him in longing? Jesus! You are the only one I want and the only one who can save me! Please, come. I beg you!
We must never let the darkness use our desire to emanate love by tricking us into forsaking Love. For, without Love there is no love! We can’t even begin to know what love is until we know Him.