On the Eve of an Historic Meeting

It’s Sunday evening. Tomorrow I fly to the East Coast where the General Conference is convening the first meeting of the new Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC). These 102 men and women from around the world will gather for four three-day meetings over the next two years. Our task will be to prayerfully examine what the Bible teaches about ordination and the role of both men and women in the gospel ministry, come to a conclusion at the end of the two-year study, and recommend a course of action to the leadership of the world church. These church leaders will subsequently submit a recommendation to delegates of the world church gathered in 2015 at the quinquennial General Conference session. What prayer should we be praying? I am drawn to Jesus’ prayer on the eve of His death. “‘Holy Father, protect them [His disciples/His church] by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one’” (John 17:11 NIV). He had much He could have been interceding to the Father about—the safety of His disciples in the impending clandestine arrest and kangaroo trial He was facing, the global expansion of the fledgling movement He was leaving behind, the triumph of the new theology that would burst the seams of Judaism. But instead, four times in that single prayer, Christ pleads with the Father “that they may be one” (John 17:11, 21-23). Our unity was very much on the suffering heart of the Savior. Does His prayer for unity—“that they may be one”—imply that all His disciples would always “be one” as to their understanding of the will of God, even the Word of God? The subsequent events of the early church chronicled in the Book of Acts are sufficient, inspired evidence to conclude that the divine gift of unity is not premised upon unanimous agreement. Paul and Barnabas agreed to disagree. The church council in Acts 15 began with major disagreements. And yet throughout Acts as they humbly submitted to Christ, the bond of His unity continued to prevail—even when they disagreed. What does that mean for this new study committee? In the record of the early church there is surely embedded the promise that the unity of Jesus can prevail in our own community of faith as we seek agreement in the midst of our disagreement. Think of the witness, if our prayers for unity within the TOSC and the wider world church were answered! “Unity in diversity among God’s children—the manifestation of love and forbearance in spite of difference of disposition—this is the testimony that God sent His Son into the world to save sinners. . . . This unity is the most convincing proof to the world of the majesty and virtue of Christ, and of His power to take away sin. The powers of darkness stand a poor chance against believers who love one another as Christ has loved them, who refuse to create alienation and strife, who stand together, who are kind, courteous, and tender-hearted, cherishing the faith that works by love and purifies the soul. . . . In unity there is a life, a power, that can be obtained in no other way” (Sons and Daughters of God 286). So would you please join me in claiming the promise of unity in Jesus’ prayer? After all, when people as diverse as you and I, are bound together in unity by a radical love for one another, what could be more convincing of the gospel’s power to transform and elevate fallen humanity than that? For this reason alone unity is not an option for the church—it is Christ’s mandate, His passionate prayer.