Last week was a great Easter celebration. In my Christian tradition, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus starting on the Saturday night before Sunday. I like how there is an ebb and flow of seasons in the year that ground us on the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and tie it to our personal, onward growth in his love.
Looking around in the faces of so many wonderful brothers and sister in Christ, I see so much of the life of him so strongly reflected in words, deeds and overall commitment to state strong in the face of opposition in a materialistic world. Christians are called to be a light and the prayer of Jesus calls us to be one. That is a prayer that has not been greatly answered at this point.
For there is much that divides Christians too. There has been mistakes on different sides with rhetoric and actions that fall short of the command to “love one another”. And the world is watching. Watching with skepticism about that division and maybe rightly so at points.
But there are ecumenical movements that are going on to change the story. There was an event last night that I almost went to but my wife went instead to help with the worship team. I didn’t mind since I have gone to far more than her. It included worship and teaching from two pastors. One who has had flack from officials in his own denomination for a trip to meet a leader in another part of the Body of Christ. There was also break out groups where people were able to interact in constructive dialogue.
I am all for dialogue but I am restless for more than that in wanting to see where the action is. Perhaps the leadership in this specific movement, John 17 Movement, has something in mind. I would like to make some suggestions partly in the context of a season. It would end before Advent season begins for the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions.
As far as I know, mid September to the turn of the months of November and December are free. This could be a season of “Unitas” as a working title for now.
1: In this season, Christians go to a church meeting of some kind of Christians that ascribe to the tenets of the Apostles Creed or the Nicene Creed. But there is a catch, you go by Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant. If you are a Baptist Protestant Christian then you are not making a splash by going to a Presbyterian Church. In my case as a Latin Rite Catholic it is not brave to go to a Byzantine Rite Catholic Church. If you go, seek to understand and bless where you can.
2: In this season read a book by a respected author in one of the other traditions but not an apologist for that tradition. It is not a matter of getting converted. Even more, recommend something like that from your side to a friend of one of the other traditions.
3: If you have been mean spirited to a brother or sister in Christ, this may be a great season to examine yourself and seek forgiveness.
4: Take a break from debating for your version of Christianity. 40 days won’t kill you. I am not proposing an indifferentism on the things that matter. Instead I am saying there could be a temporary setting aside of stressful debate.
5: On a grander scale, organize a charitable work between your church and one of the other traditions. This may be a better way to reverse the scandal of division than a joint doctrinal declaration.
6: Do something to directly bless those in the other tradition. I have deep respect for the Southern Baptist Convention writing an amicus brief when the contraception mandate was effecting a group of Catholic nuns known as the Little Sisters of The Poor.
7: Read the 17th chapter in John’s gospel. In the minutes before Jesus was arrested he prayed what theologians on different sides call “The High Priestly Prayer”. He prayed for Christian believers on many issues but this included unity. What does that mean? Worth prayerfully considering.
8: There is a side effect that could happen which can be unpleasant to some. With responsible, ecumenical dialogue on what “those people” actually believe some people may change how they define themselves as a Christian including where they take communion each week. If someone from your Side A “converts” (I hesitantly use that term here) to Side B but is still in the Nicene Creed then based on my personal experience here is what you do: get over it. Give the Holy Spirit some credit unless with a deep breath you honestly think that specific fellowship is objectively unsafe.
As Christians we should be fueled to honor the beautiful, good and true and I will on that note end a bit with my own path. I had my conversion to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior at 11. I was baptized at 15. All of this in the Protestant tradition. At the age of 42 after a few years of questions that I was wrestling with, I inquired through prayer, scripture and history to the point of entering the Catholic Church. My oldest daughter was received the same night and my wife was received a year later. As of this writing it appears that my older brother and his wife will be received into the Catholic Church in Advent season. And my second oldest daughter is a Baptist missionary in Argentina with her new husband. I love them all.
I’m so proud of my missionary daughter I can hardly contain myself. When I see her, I see the love of Christ and also a love for others. No macro level divisions change that for me. Nor does my thankfulness for my pastors and friends over my years as a Protestant who invested so much time, encouragement and many aspects of biblical teaching that I still cherish and apply. I see the good and discern where needed on what truths are transferable in large part due to the lens of love. Sure, there are other faculties in discernment, but I must keep love. We must all keep love. Love never fails.