It seems to me that the KISS principle applies to this month’s Missio Alliance theme of restoring unity in the church today: Keep It Simple, Silly. We could talk about re-teaching and re-learning our theology and texts. We could organize panel discussions, conferences and summits. We could gather denominational heads and other Christian bigwigs to make some joint declarations about the need for church unity. We could commission the experts to write a paper to all the churches or even a book…. OR we could pray for the unity of the church and practice it. Period.
Prayer and Practice.
When was the last time you prayed for the Oneness of God’s people, the unity of the Church personally or communally? What if sisters and brothers earnestly and faithfully prayed John 17 like Jesus for the sake of His Name, His mission, His Kingdom. Prayer changes things. Prayer changes us. God chooses to act in response to our prayers.
Dear Lord, we pray that we may be one, as You and the Father are one, You in us and the Father in You, that we may become completely one… [John 17:22, 23b]
Praying empowers and directs our practices. The opposite is also true. Our practices affect our prayers. If we believe in and are praying for the unity of the church we must also be seeking it in and through our attitudes and actions, postures and practices. In our context, this practicing unity has taken shape most beautifully through our monthly regional “Neighbourhood Life” celebrations. Even as we may participate in a worship service on a Sunday morning in a regional or denominational building in another community, the other 6.75 days of the week we are seeking to be the church together in our neighbourhoods, with and among our neighbours to whom Jesus has sent us (Luke 10).
At these gatherings, young and old Baptists, Mennonites, Christian Reformed, Presbyterian, Anglican, Church of the Nazarene, Church of God, folks gather to share a meal, to encourage and inspire one another with stories of what God is up to in our neighbourhoods, to pray with and for each other. It’s a posture of inclusivity, welcome and humility. It’s a practice that forms us as we experience the presence of our one Triune God in each other and in our midst. It’s about our shared mission and passion for partnering with God on His mission right where the Spirit has sent and rooted us. As we sit in the text and around the table together, neighbourhood missional practices for example, of hospitality, generosity, creation care, justice, mercy and love are explored and stories of God’s grace and provision are shared. Yet oddly enough, questions of denominational differences don’t come up. Debates about whose right never cross our lips. As we come together in the unity of the Spirit, we have more important things on our minds and in our hearts!
What’s God’s dream for our neighbourhoods? What is breaking God’s heart in our ‘hood? How is the Spirit alerting our neighbours to God’s Kingdom and story? What is the Spirit leading us to participate in with Him?
With these questions pressing in, historical distinctions are celebrated, sometimes laughed at and occasionally explored as opportunities for learning and moving forward. Rather than focusing on what divides us, our dreaming and scheming together declares that “There is one body and one Spirit, just as [we] were called to the one hope of [our] calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” Ephesians 4:4-6.
In so doing, the prayers and practices that shape us become the very things that bear witness to those around us. Jesus’ prayer that we might all be one…. so that our neighbours might believe that the Father sent the Son… so that the world might know… becomes not only a word and a hope but a reality. John 17:21, 23.
Prayer and Practice: Keep it Simple, Silly but beware, simple is not the same as easy.