Occasionally there are prophets in every denomination who rise above their party ideology and walls. LeRoy Garrett is one of those prophets. Raised in a very exclusive and legalistic wing of Christiandom, he has been for years calling his people to a broader vision and challenging their refusal to associate with other brothers and sisters in Christ outside of their distinction. I offer the following article by Mr. Garrett because it speaks to all of us – in whatever denomination we may find ourselves. (This essay was published in Jesus’ Prayer: From A To Z, Edited by Thomas E. Mackey, The Union Christian Foundation, Box 353, Granville, OH 43023, 2007.)
I shall always remember my first visit to Westminster Abbey in London. On one of the columns near the rear of the chapel was a sign that read Prayers for Christian Unity in this Chapel each Tuesday at 3:00 p.m.
Anglicans praying for the unity of God’s church! There was nothing incongruous about it especially, although for some time in my life I supposed God did not hear the prayers of Anglicans – nor of Presbyterians or Baptists for that matter. I was impressed that people in any church would go to the trouble to pray for the unity of Christians.
I had never seen nor heard of any such announcement among my own people. Moreover, I never,or almost never, hear our people in assembly praying for the unity of Christians. One may conclude that our folk do not treat the scandal of a divided church with any sense of urgency.
I would like to meet with any of our sisters and brothers, along with any other Christians, who would like to pray – just pray – for the unity of God’s people on earth. There would be no debating this time, no sermons, and not even any discussion. The prayers might be intermingled with songs of praise. We would come and leave quietly, making it a solemn occasion. The prayers might well include confession of sin for either creating or tolerating a divided church.
I say all this to say: The unity of the Church of Christ on earth will one day be a fact. Unity will come, but … We must believe that it is coming, and that it can be hastened by our dedicated effort.
My main reason for believing that unity will come is because our Lord prayed for it. Phillip’s translation of that prayer is especially forcefull: “I am not only praying for these men, but for all those who will believe in me through their message, that they may live in us, that the world may believe that you did send me.”
We must agree with Peter Ainslie: “The winning of this world to Christ is a big task – the biggest ever undertaken. It cannot be done by a divided church. There is no more idle talk than to talk of a divided church winning the world.”
Unity! So that the world will believe. That is the way Jesus put it. When he commissioned his apostles to bear the message to all creatures, he could not have possibly supposed that they could do it divided.
Even amidst all our divisions I propose seven things we can all do to encourage oneness among believers.
1. Pray unity. Every day we should join our Lord in praying for the unity of all believers. This will hone our hearts and minds to fulfill that prayer in our own lives.
2. Think and talk unity. All who love Jesus and seek to emulate his character have a great deal in common. Don’t think of a neighbor as a Baptist or as a Roman Catholic, but as one with whom we share devotion to Christ. If we emphasize the things that divide us, we will not hasten the answer to our Lord’s prayer.
3. Think catholic. Emphasize those universal truths that by their very nature unite, such as the mercy and grace of God.
4. We don’t have to be the judge. This is a great truth we have going for us. I am to love and accept you even when I suppose you are wrong, and leave the judging to the Lord. Let Romans 14:4 be our rule: “Who are you to judge another man’s servant. It is before his own master that he stands or falls.”
5. Grow a conscience for the unity of the church. Let us look for ways in which we can be a “unity movement” in our own lives. And let us keep in mind Colossians 3:14: “Above all, put on love which unites all things in perfect harmony.”
6. Think of the church as one, for it really is. It is the very nature of the church to be one. Let us take to heart Thomas Campbell’s [founder of the Christian Church/Church of Christ denomination] great proposition: “The Church of Christ upon earth earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.”
7. Be big-minded. We must be too large-souled to allow trifles to keep us separated from each other. Let us be magnanimous like Jesus rather than like the Pharisees who had to be right about everything. “Let your moderation (gentleness) be known to all men” (Phillipians 4:5).
We are not divided over doctrines and practices as much as over attitudes.