What Kind of Unity?
Thomas Manton, a seventeenth century minister, once wrote, “Divisions in the church breed atheism in the world.” Certainly the lack of unity in the church distracts minds, breaks hearts, squanders energy, and inhibits evangelism. Unity in the church is important to God. John 17 has been described as “a standing monument of Christ’s affection to the Church.” At least three times Jesus prays for the Church’s unity and witness: “that they all may be one” (v. 21); “that they may be one even as we are one” (v. 22); “that they may become perfectly one” (v. 23); so that all “the world may believe that you have sent me… and loved them even as you loved me” (vv. 21, 23). So the stakes are high. In the twentieth century, these verses were taken out of context and used to argue for a lowest-common-denominator kind of unity—an institutional union that flattened out distinctions and minimized the very doctrines that make the church distinctively “Christian.” What is striking, however, is to see that, rather than being minimalistic, Jesus’ prayer paints a grand picture of the rich contours of Christian belief that hold His people together in the world.
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