“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
– John 17:20-23 (ESV)
Well, it has certainly been an interesting week in the church at large. First, we had the release of the Ordain a Lady video by a group trying to gain equal access to ordination in the Catholic Church for women (a cause I support even I didn’t like the method). Second, the House of Bishops in the Church of England ended its ban on priests living in same-sex relationships being able to be considered for the episcopate. The catch is that they agree to abide by the church’s teachings on sexuality (i.e., stay celibate). In general I don’t see a problem here except I do have to wonder how one polices such a thing.
I am generally against same-sex marriage, not because I am against homosexuals but because I am in favour of what I honestly believe I see presented in scripture (though I really want to research the opposing views one day). I am not against someone with same-sex attraction entering ministry on any level if they remain celibate because we are all attracted to all sorts of people and we can’t help that. How we act on those impulses is what matters. A married heterosexual man may find woman other than his wife attractive, that’s not a sin. Having sexual relations with a woman outside of his marriage is a sin. There’s a world of difference between the two.
I have friends who would be against the CofE decision and some who don’t think it goes far enough and believe they should affirm same-sex marriage. I have other friends who believe scripture is clear in its statements that woman are not to minister, especially to men. So, on the one hand I am for traditional marriage (not a great term, but the best I can think of) but also in favour of women’s ordination. How does one sort through this mess of ideas, opinions, and differing interpretations? I mean, the friends of which I speak are not the kind of people to take doctrinal stances lightly. They love Jesus and want to follow Him as best they can and yet we all look at the same written text and come up with different answers. When I was first considering becoming a Christian, some 8 years ago or so, this issue troubled me. It all comes down to authority.
I know the stock answer is that we all ultimately trust in the Holy Spirit to illumine the truth to us but we can’t all be right (and perhaps, none of us). There are days when I feel like Pentecost (Acts 2:1-41) never happened, that the curse of what happened at Babel (Genesis 11:1-9) has never been lifted because we’re all speaking different theological languages. If you read studies done of evangelicals returning to “Home, Sweet, Rome” (i.e. the Catholic Church), there are two central themes that pop to the top of the list. 1) Historicity and 2) Authority. The Catholic Church has an undeniably strong central teaching authority in the magisterium headed by the Pope. A single body and in some cases a single man (yes, always a man, I know), to proclaim and make definitive statements on various aspects of the faith (though not on as many topics as you might think). This is an incredibly powerful draw on a number of levels. The rest of us generally trust either in the Holy Spirit to speak correctly to an officiant (or I suppose, to be heard correctly) or if we’re lucky we have an officiant who surrounds themselves with a group of elders who help him discern the Spirits leading and teaching of scripture.
While I clearly don’t agree with all the Catholic Church teaches, I find affinity with much of it and I don’t find it at all incompatible with my core Anabaptist values. Still, I clearly don’t buy Papal infallibility: if I did I’d really have no choice but to convert to Catholicism tomorrow. On the other hand whatever problems the Catholic notion of authority has brought us, we really must confess that the situation we find ourselves in since adopting “Sola Scriptura” has not improved our unity; if anything it has made it worse (from 1 to 41, 000 denominations and counting?).
Even with the most spiritual understanding of the Body of Christ/Church being invisible and that we are all joined to Him through our confession of faith, I don’t see how anyone can see us as united or that Jesus’ prayer has been answered (John 17:20-23). It makes me sad, it makes me mad, and at times it makes me want to throw in the towel in my ministry because I think “how do I know I’m preaching anything close to what the truth is?”
I keep preaching though, week in and week out, trusting that I’ll get out of the Spirits way long enough for Him to speak to me or at least through me to my congregation. I am flying solo on much of my prep so I try to read as much as I can of differing opinions to try and eliminate my bias towards a text. I pray over the passages and I do my best to make things practical, but most weeks I barely feel like I’m ready. I could have spent all week preparing and I usually feel no more confident than if it was a Saturday night special.
I often despair when I realize we can’t even agree on the nature, content and implications of the Gospel message: the main thing we’re supposed to preach! This surely must be the saddest tragedy since Christ died on the cross, not even agreeing on why He died.
Unity isn’t just an option, it’s essential. In His great prayer for unity Jesus tells us the reason for the prayer: “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” and “so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me”. Our disunity is working against us and the cause of the Gospel.
Lord, help us be united. We clearly can’t do it (or won’t do it) on our own.
Jesus is Lord.