The Jn. 17:21 Club
by Fr. Fio Mascarenhas
I was introduced to the "Jn.17:21" club several years ago when I met someone in Singapore at a World Evangelisation Conference who was wearing a badge on his coat pocket with the words "Jn.17:21" on it. This interesting badge, I was told, was worn by members of a "club" who were all interested in praying and working for Christian unity, in response to Jesus' final prayer before his death on the cross:
"Father, may they all be one; even as you are in me, and I am in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me!" (Jn.17:21).
I suppose all readers will agree that this should not be the concern and interest of just a few thousand members of a "club" but that every Christian should be wearing such a badge, to call attention to what is perhaps the most pressing need of the world and of the Body of Christ. Why of the world? Because the world is sorely in need of Good News, of a Saviour, of new life in the Spirit, and according to Jesus himself, this Good News will truly convince only if backed up by the witness of Christian unity! And why of the Body of Christ? Because Christians, who are its members, cannot be strong in evangelising if they are disunited, nor can they truly give glory to their Head, Jesus Christ, if they have dismembered his Body!
Our Third Millennium began with a special "Year of the Lord's favour", the Jubilee Year 2000. We can look forward then to special graces, including the grace of Christian unity. Many well-known Christian leaders like Pope John Paul II, Billy Graham, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Brother Roger of Taize, the Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople, the leader of the World Lutheran Federation, and others, have gone on record as saying that they have great hopes for Christian Unity in the coming Millennium. Just as the first Millennium of Christianity saw all Christians united in one, holy, catholic (= universal), and apostolic Church, whereas the second Millennium from 1054 till today saw the disciples of Jesus breaking up into innumerable confessions and denominations, so we see signs of the Spirit's action amongst us giving hope of the healing of all divisions and the formation again of a united Body of Christ in the third Millennium!
Obviously, the Spirit will not work this single-handedly or with violence, but as always, will seek our human goodwill and cooperation. As Jesus put it, it is the Devil, the Murderer, the Deceiver, who acts like a robber in using subterfuge and force (see Jn.8:44;10:8-11), whereas the Spirit of Jesus, and Jesus himself, "stand at the door and knock", respecting our human freedom, and wait patiently and lovingly for our invitation to enter. On our part, therefore, our cooperation with grace must consist of an ardent desire and thirst for Christian Unity, a decision to be used by the Lord as an instrument of unity, a change of heart away from prejudice and bias against this or that group of believers, and a commitment to daily intercession for Jn.17:21 to be fulfilled soon!
We cannot also forget that this kind of orientation will entail the cross! Jesus calls each disciple to deny himself/herself and carry the cross daily. It is not easy to die to one's age-old prejudices, some of which we have perhaps imbibed already as infants with our mother's milk! As a matter of habit, then, or spontaneously, we may be tempted to judge this or that church or denomination as "un-Christian", this or that practice as un-Scriptural, this or that believer as unwelcome until he/she accepts all the beliefs and practices of our own church! Rather, let us be open to what the Spirit is doing amongst us all, let us rejoice in our common and fundamental grace of baptism by which we have been "delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of his beloved Son" (Col.1:13), and with this starting point, enter into fellowship and dialogue (not argument!) with each other in this Year 2000.
"I therefore, a prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all" (Eph.4:1-6). This plea by the great St. Paul echoes throughout the centuries, and is perhaps loudest in our own times. Are we ready to listen?
Praise God that many churches are listening and responding. On an official level, there has been in recent years much dialogue between the four major streams of Christianity, the Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and Pentecostals. Recent breakthroughs in theological and doctrinal agreements have been achieved regarding "justification", "Eucharist", "the Petrine ministry", etc., and such "dialogues" will continue in the coming years since the churches are determined, under the anointing of the Spirit, to seek unity. But whereas working for unity of the mind (doctrinal unity) is the responsibility of only church elders and bishops, working for unity of the heart (fellowship and service) is the responsibility of every Christian! We too must join the Jn.17:21 club! Even if we do not go about wearing such badges, let us more importantly show by our attitude and our coming together (for Christian works of mercy - see Mt.25:35,36) that unity is our sincere concern and Spirit-given "burden".
In many countries, especially where vested interests seek to stir hostility and prejudice against Christians and Christianity, the need for Christian Unity is even more acute. We must face this as a united Body of Christ, against which the powers of hell will never prevail. As people learn the truth, that there is nothing to be feared in Christ, who loves all of humanity as its Teacher, Healer, Brother, Saviour and Lord, and that Christians are not a threat but friends and servants of love who are following in the footsteps of their Guru, they will be opened to the Good News in new and mysterious ways by the Spirit. But our witnessing about Jesus must be a united one! If we are divided, each with his or her own interpretation of the Bible, and attacking one another about this or that practice of our faith, then we will be giving a counter-witness to the power of the Gospel to unite and bring new life to those who accept it.
To adapt the words of Paul VI, may the world of our time which is searching, now in anguish, now in hope, receive the Gospel not from evangelisers who are dejected or dispirited, or from those who are divided and bicker amongst themselves. Let them hear it from ministers of the Gospel whose lives are aglow with charity for one another, from those who have received the joy of Christ into their lives and show it in the unity of their fellowship with one another. In short, let them hear it from those who have responded to God's invitation and joined (in spirit) the "Jn.17:21" club. Amen!
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