David W. T. Brattston
There is no further need for efforts toward Christian unity. The major churches have already attained a sufficient degree of harmony and mutual acceptance to fulfil Jesus’ call for unity among Christians in John 10:16 and in his oft-cited prayer in John 17.
We must now concentrate on more vital endeavours.
Look at the Anglican Church of Canada and other mainline denominations. Most of them have intercommunion agreements, fellowship and joint ventures with other church bodies, and cooperation in local, national and world council of churches. Any disunity is largely illusory, with the differences being only in nonessentials which other major church bodies are willing to tolerate.
What keeps denominational separation in place are the secular laws which confer corporate status and property-holding arrangements, which were laid down centuries ago, and can be overcome only by an Act of Parliament.
I looked for the meaning of Christian unity as contemplated in the Scriptures and in the writings of Christians so early they could recall what Jesus and his first disciples actually did. I aimed to ascertain the meaning of such unity in the practice of the apostles and their first successors, and how “unity” was understood in the next few overlapping generations.
I discovered that “unity” means attitudes, qualities of character, or modes of relating to people with whom one is in personal contact.
Drawing on Christian sources to the middle of the third century AD, I discovered that “unity” means attitudes, qualities of character, or modes of relating to people with whom one is in personal contact.
In the Biblical sense, it is a pattern of conducting one-to-one interpersonal relations among Christians that fosters peace, love and harmony at the neighbourhood level. The Scriptures and church fathers never mentioned merger of organizations or bureaucracies.
My research resulted in an article in the Niagara Anglican, which investigated and countered allegations that the Christian churches today are too fragmented to fulfil Christ’s will. The article demonstrated that there already was—or could easily be at a moment’s notice—Christian unity among mainline denominations, especially at the local and person-to-person level.
Even if we substitute the phrase “Christian unity” in its Biblical sense by the “organizational unity” or “structural unity” that some church members mistake it for, believers of every denomination can practice John 17 now, in their daily lives.
Even when we narrow down the meaning of Christian unity to structural or bureaucratic arrangements, there is no longer any sense to regard disunity as a problem, for there exist far too many avenues for churches to share and cooperate with each other, such as intercommunion agreements, open Communion, unhindered mutual acceptance, joint ventures with other church bodies and cooperation in local, national and world councils of churches.
True, some church leaders allege that disunity remains, but this may be a mere public relations gesture by some of them. They usually mention it as if it were the only sin of which they are guilty and hasten to add that they are working hard to overcome it.
In the last hundred years, the efforts of many leaders of major churches and the goodwill of local laity towards their counterparts in other communions have achieved a real, viable and practical unity through many branches of Christendom, which answers Christ’s prayer.
Let us honour them or their memories and concentrate instead on redoubling Christian efforts more towards feeding the hungry masses of the Third World. Even here there is opportunity for interdenominational cooperation.
How about a “Week of Prayer for Starving Africans”?
Doctor David W. T. Brattston lives in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia