As I have been reading through the New Testament, on my way through the Bible chronologically from start to finish, I have come to the Book of Acts. I wrote most recently about the prominence and importance of testimonial evidence for Christ. I continue to be struck by the key importance of this eyewitness testimony and the highly relational way in which God reveals Himself to people in Acts – and continues to reveal Himself to people today .
Jesus, of course, attracted people who gathered to him, joined him and followed him. Literally, they lived with him, ate with him, traveled with him, and followed him where he went. Thus, they became witnesses to everything he said and did.
As I continue reading in Acts, I have come today to the story of Peter, the apostle, and Cornelius, the Roman Centurion who lived in Caesarea. I wrote about this story not long ago, in Reflection on the Unity for which Jesus Prayed: Peter & Cornelius, but today I see a different twist that runs with the theme of eyewitnesses and God revealing Himself to people.
The message I listened to today in the online Chapel Street Church service was about the prayer Jesus prayed for us in John 17:20-23:
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
It got me thinking about what I see in my social media platforms: the polarization, division and disunity among the people with whom I am connected. Our nation is as divided as it ever has been in every possibly way.
When we look at the church, do we see a contrast to what we see in the world? Or do we see the same kind of division and disunity in the church?
I know my initial reaction to those questions, but let’s not jump to conclusions yet. God’s word doesn’t go out and come back void. If Jesus prayed for unity, can’t God accomplish it?
When I look out on the Church and think about Church history, I see a lot of division and disunity. Our history books focus on the disagreements, rather than the agreements. In fact, we see disagreement right from the beginning: Paul disagreed with the Gnostics; the Corinthians were fighting over following Paul or Apollos; and even Peter and Paul disagreed over whether to continue to follow Jewish laws on foods and religious rituals.
Disunity seemed to spring up immediately. Or did it?
Paul would say the Gnostics were not true believers. They denied the deity of Jesus and the reality of the resurrection, among other things. Paul urged the Corinthians not to identify either as followers of himself or Apollos, but to identify as followers of Jesus only. The Holy Spirit settled the disagreement over the eating of foods and Jewish rituals when He gave Peter a vision that was repeated three times followed by a “divine appointment” with Cornelius, a Gentile (though Paul would have to confront Peter before Peter finally go it).