Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 31, 2000
A longing for Christian unity
Our need for reconciliation and forgiveness is deep
By CATHY HARVEY
Special to the WCR
Unity among Christians is a longing that runs deep. It is at the core of our humanity and the core of our faith to long for and seek unity with God, with each other and all of God's creation.
We realize the importance and significance of this longing and hope to which we are called when we see the point in the life and ministry of Jesus Christ that he offers up prayer for unity. At the Last Supper he prayed "that they may all be one" (John 17:21).
It is helpful to take stock of our past, and see from where we have come as a Christian community. We know through Holy Scripture that the early Church was a vibrant community of believers, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit and challenged in every possible way.
The last millennium has seen multitudes of divisions, schisms, mutual condemnations and fracturing of the community of believers.
Pope John Paul, in his apostolic letter on the Jubilee Year 2000, says "Among the sins which require a greater commitment to repentance and conversion should certainly be counted those which have been detrimental to the unity willed by God for his people. . . .
"Ecclesial communion has been painfully wounded, a fact 'for which, at times, men of both sides were to blame.' Such wounds openly contradict the will of Christ and are a cause of scandal to the world. These sins of the past unfortunately still burden us and remain ever-present temptations. It is necessary to make amends for them, and earnestly to beseech Christ's forgiveness."
Our need for reconciliation and forgiveness is deep. It may seem easy to concede that we were not directly responsible for the problems, and therefore do not feel responsibility or committed to be engaged in the solution.
However the memory of the brokenness and divisions is carried in our churches and our own individual faith lives. The Holy Spirit in so many places and situations is urging us to be united in the healing and restoration of the Church.
Particularly over the last 50 years, many efforts have been successfully undertaken to work towards restoring the broken Christian community. One example is the Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry statement agreed upon in Lima, Peru, in 1982, by representatives of virtually all major Church traditions.
As well the ongoing commitment of the World Council of Churches (WCC) is to be "a fellowship of churches which confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfill together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
The Second Vatican Council made great strides in advancing ecumenism as an intrinsic part of the Roman Catholic Church. "The restoration of unity among all Christians is one of the principle concerns of the Second Vatican Council. The concern for restoring unity involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike" (Decree on Ecumenism).
However just like Humpty Dumpty couldn't be put back together, we do not look to restore the Church to be the same as it once was. In spirit, yes, in form, no. The unity we are seeking is not uniformity but unity in diversity.
The challenge for us is how to honour and encourage the diversity of expression of our common faith in Jesus Christ. It is necessary to find models of being together in order to be strengthened and enriched by our respective diversities.
The first step is our attitude toward each other. Seeing each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than as strangers or even enemies, becomes a quantum leap in the movement of obstacles which keep us apart.
My husband and I come from two different Christian denominations. Had I thought I had nothing to learn from him or his Church tradition we would never have enjoyed the unity in diversity we live as a family today.
The second important step is the actions we take together. Making the effort to get together with other Christians rather than exclusively with our own community or denomination.
The Lund Principle, a statement from the meeting of the Faith and Order commission of the WCC in Lund, Sweden, 1952, resonates with our deep longing for unity. "Should not our churches ask themselves whether they are showing sufficient eagerness to enter into conversation with other churches, and whether they should not act together in all matters except those in which deep differences on conviction compel them to act separately?"
When we pray together, participate in social actions for the good of all, especially those who are disadvantaged, and when we organize mutually beneficial events and celebrations, we are actively working towards the unity and restoration of the Church.
You can almost touch the presence of the Holy Spirit when Christians from different churches gather in the name of Jesus Christ and are united witness of God's message of love for all. As we begin this new millennium, the Great Jubilee Year 2000 a Sabbath of Sabbath. Let it be for us a new beginning.
(Cathy Harvey is coordinator of the Commission for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations of the Edmonton Archdiocese.)