AUTHOR’S NOTE — We are thankful that this newspaper has collaborated with us since 2007 to run weekly articles. The following is adapted from one first printed May 2, 2018.

For years I was an active member of an inter-racial, ecumenical prayer group, and several times I spoke at community gatherings made up of people from several different denominations or ethnic makeups. We've also attended or conducted funerals and have been impressed at how folks travel hundreds of miles to pay tribute and come together for support. At each place, there are differences in worship styles, but agreement in the essentials.

As Jesus faced his arrest, trial, and death on the cross, it seems our Lord’s main concern was that there would be unity in his Church.

His prayer for the disciples (John chapter 17) was for those already saved. They had eternal life (verse 2); they were spiritual and obedient (verse 6); they were entrusted with truth (verse 8 and 14)' they glorified Jesus (verse 10); and they were hated by the world (verses 14 and 16). The prayer wasn’t that more people would be saved – that would soon happen after Pentecost – but it was for those who were already disciples, and for us!

Jesus sought a number of outcomes from the prayer. First was that his followers would have harmony of purpose, which comes only from personal unity. Not necessarily oneness of doctrine; we’ve been working on that more than two thousand years, and probably won’t accomplish it. He didn’t desire another committee or task force. As Christians, if we ever hope to find unity in the church, we must first stop being divisive in our personal life. Jesus prayed, “‘…that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you’” (John 17:21). We can’t get any closer than that.

After we lay everything before God and find unity in ourselves, the next step is unity in the family, which leads to unity in the church. As I teach history students about Puritans, most think there were ‘too many rules’ in that society, and that they were too strict with children. But to the Puritans, and to committed Christians everywhere, a strong family is essential. Laying a foundation which strengthens and edifies the family will help build unity in the kingdom of God.

I was raised the oldest of eight kids, and our parents had a Hereford bull that seemed to inevitably get out on Sunday. We had never been church-going people, but when I got to high school, people would pick me up on Sunday mornings, and occasionally for evening services. Dad wouldn’t let me leave for church until the bull was safely in his enclosure.

I remember coming home one evening and telling my folks, “I want what those people have.” One of their songs was, “Victory in Jesus”. They sang it, and I might say lived it, in such a way that I believed it was really possible to have joy and victory in life. And I found it through Jesus.

Choosing a church, each of us will be drawn by certain aptitudes of faith – music, time for meditation, emphasis on God’s magnificence, careful study of the Word. There are no perfect churches, but there is one that’s right for each of us, and we can ask the Holy Spirit to guide us to that place.

In his book, Mere Christianity, C S Lewis wrote that the core beliefs of Christianity can be likened to a great hall. We are not to stay in that big hall but should choose a room off to the side which signifies denominations and local churches. We have freedom to go from the hall, through one of many doors to the side rooms. Inside those will be warmth and fellowship that fits our personality and longings. Though we’ll never find the perfect ‘room’, Lewis urges us to enter one soon.

The apostle Paul wrote, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2).  John added Jesus’ prayer, “‘This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent’” (John 17:3). May we focus on those essentials and be all in one accord to draw others to the faith.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday and remember the coming of the Holy Spirit, realize that He only came according to Acts 1:14 and 2:1. They were “all with one mind ... continually devoting themselves to prayer.” Let us desire this unity enough to set ourselves aside and let God fulfill His will within us.

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