Why I Stay, Part 1: Jesus Prayed That We May Be One
In my introductory video, I mentioned that even though my views have often not prevailed through the years, I have stayed in my church home, committed to one Lord, one faith, one baptism. During this Eastertide, I want to share with you more of my thoughts on this, particularly, what I see as the biblical basis for us all to work together to be One in Christ.
My membership in the Body of Christ for thirty-five years has been in Pittsburgh Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Through these years, virtually the whole time, my passionately held views of how to love God and love my neighbor have lost in votes on many matters. This has included the discussion and votes on things like standing against nuclear proliferation, as well as many actions recommended by General Assembly.. Time and time again, how I know the Triune God and my interpretation of Scripture have differed from the views of many in my presbytery, with some colleagues in ministry going as far as telling me they consider me a heretic. Given all this, some have asked why in the world I would stay.
So, why do I stay? Honestly, fundamentally, the Bible tells me to.
It all starts for me with this: Jesus prayed to God that we may be one. In the gospel of John, Jesus prays, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one (John 17:20).”
That Jesus so yearns for us to be one makes it utterly impossible for me to entertain the thought of leaving the church family where I came to know Christ and where I have made promises to further our unity. Christ’s plea stops me in my tracks.
When, in due time, I answer to God for the choices I have made in this life, I will not have to repent for letting Jesus’ prayer here go unfulfilled. Jesus suggests in John that the world will know that God sent Him and that God loves the world through our becoming “completely one (John 17:23).” Jesus also indicates that God’s protection of us is bound together with our being one (John 17:11). Clearly there is way more than our unity at stake in our making sure Jesus’ prayer is answered with a “Yes.”
Just recently, a woman, in a comment on a blog post, asked me, “Why should unity have priority when our ancestors in the Reformation broke from the Catholic Church?” She prodded me to remember that at the start the Reformers were mostly excommunicated—booted out—a very different thing from walking away. The Reformers meant to reform the church, not to break it into pieces. This is quite a different dynamic from choosing to leave a church family whose yearning is the same as Jesus: That we may be one.
We are all followers of Jesus and He prays for us to be one. How can we deny Him this? I cannot, so I stay in the church where I landed upon birth and baptism, whose heritage is precious to me, with friends I love. Some I agree with, some I don’t. That is not any where near as important as the choice to abide in the unity of Christ.
None of us had any say over the divisions that came before us in church history, but we do have a say over the unity of our church now. I applaud and pray for the efforts of those in the PCUSA who work for the church to be one by ecumenical outreach in all directions. And I offer my hand of fellowship to all I meet in the church, receiving immeasurable gifts in the Spirit by doing so.
That’s how John 17—Jesus’ prayer that we may be one—inspires me to stay. How does it impact you?