Jesus’s prayer “that they may all be one” (John 17:21) is Interpretations have their role to play in the theological task, but they are not the starting point. Affirmation of faith always precedes the interpretations of it. The early Christians were wise enough to recognize that in their development of the creeds. We need to recognize it today (better than we do) in our representation of Christ and Christianity.
The fallen world views Christians as those who are divided by a hopeless array of differences. There is no attraction to a loving God through people who seem to dislike each other and perpetually try to “one up” them. We have greatly failed to calculate the damage done to the evangelistic task by our sectarianism and theological arrogance.
The fact is, the world does not know all our interpretations, and they are not trying to learn them. But everyone is made in the image of God–an image which creates a longing–one of which is to find a place where Christians really love each other. the most radical idea on the earth today. It is ignored in the fallen world, where division, conflict, prejudice, and pluralism have gone to seed at the hands of egotism. It is misunderstood even by those who mouth the words, but represent it in limited, superficial, ceremonial, occasional, and inconsistent ways.
But Jesus meant what he said, meant it profoundly, and intended that those of us who follow him should not only experience it, but also be at work to bring it to pass in whatever ways we can. In the Book of Acts and the Epistles, we can see how the first Christians sought to do it by studying the passages where the word “one” is used. In Christian history we can study the lives of saints and faith communities who manifested ecumenical and cultural unity.
In God’s new pentecost, we are the benefactors of the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit that is blowing “oneness” back into our lives and our cultures. If we have eyes to see and ears to hear, we can discern a grand reunion that has the potential to heal our divisions and create a unity that enables us to say and do things we could never do in isolation and competitiveness.
But like every visionary prayer, it must be enacted in specific ways and in concrete situations. We begin right where we are to ask what things we might be able to do together that we might not be able to do alone. This means abandoning “who gets the credit” and realizing we might even lose people to other churches in the process (we might gain some too), but our response to Jesus’ prayer is a sign that we are Kingdom people, not religious sectarians.
And in the end, our enactment of Jesus’ prayer creates lives and actions that reflect the heart and will of God to a world that has come to believe that Christians delight in their differences and are more intent on being separated than together.