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Winter 2009 | Volume 32, Number 1 | Features

Reconciliation, and the Church:

Toward a “Heavenly Unity”?

Frank Anthony Spina

Ecumenism is theologically and historically a property of the Church as the Body of Christ. It accents the unity of the Body of Christ as the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” And it underscores that Christians everywhere are brothers and sisters in Christ, making a common confession, serving a common Lord, participating in a common baptism, engaging in a common mission, and meeting most humbly and repentantly at a common table where we share one bread and one cup, which is sacramentally the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christian unity is not a function of our will, our deliberations, our best efforts to get along, our tolerance, or our commitment to the lowest common theological denominator. Christian unity is a function of being called by God to be one people sustained and led by the Holy Spirit.

Consequently, a divided Church is a Church in which the Holy Spirit is compromised. If being the Church means being led by the Spirit which Christ promised, what does it say that the community is many rather than one? Does the Spirit foster division? Is Christ divided?

Jesus prayed for the unity of his disciples and all others who would eventually follow him. It is a powerful prayer with startling implications: “Not only for them do I pray, but also for those who believe in me through their word, in order that all might be one just as you, Father, are in me as I am in you, so that they might be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me (John 17:20–21).” This is the quintessential connection between Jesus the Christ, Israel’s messiah and king, and the elect community of God — the Church — that fulfills its mission, calling, and the divine will by being one.

But Christians today inhabit a divided Church, arguably more divided than it has ever been. I confess that the tremors that have convulsed my worldwide Anglican communion have contributed to my sense of urgency on this topic. For all the value of Protestantism and its efforts to reform a Church that needed reforming, the centrifugal pressure to break off into more pieces not only continues but seems to gather energy. According to Christ’s prayer in the Gospel of John, this has the effect of undercutting the world’s ability to believe that he has been sent by God.

Is there a more serious dilemma bedeviling the Church today? Might we allow the broken body of our savior Jesus Christ to lead us to pray that we no longer multiply divisions but “become one”?

Exclusive: Related Response Video

Dr. Frank Spina explains why a "divided Church" is a more serious issue than ever before.

Professor Frank SpinaFrank Anthony Spina is an SPU professor of Old Testament and biblical theology, an Episcopal priest, and a frequent speaker in Pacific Northwest churches of all denominations.

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