Chain Blog Prelude
This is part of a Chain Blog series initiated by Alan Knox over at The Assembling of the Church. For more information about what a chain blog is click here and what this series is about then click here.
I have the honour of following Jim Puntney who wrote on The Treasure of Unity ‘in’ Our Relationships. Please read itt and discover or rediscover how important it is to remember the treasure we bear in unity as we walk in the Spirit being IN Christ.
Jesus’ Prayer of Unity – World Consequences
Alan’s initial blog referred to an important verse in Jesus’ final recorded prayer before being taken captive towards his crucifixion. In John 17 Jesus makes this request.
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. (John 17:23)
I read that again and note that the unity of us together in Christ is a witness to the world of three things
1) The Father sent the Son.
2) The Father loves His children
3) The love the Father has for His children is the same He has for His Son.
By all means quibble with me as to whether it’s two things, or three. I’m happy to converse on the matter, but allow me to have those as my observations. If it is the case it would suggest that there’s something in the way we behave and relate that alerts the world to those facts.
I’ve experienced relationships that have shown glimpses of how life together can work towards making Jesus’ prayer a reality. I’ll just share one of those experiences.
Different Engagements That Widen And Deepen Relations
I had the privilege of working for the North Staffs YMCA for a few years. This exposed me to a Christian atmosphere different to the church one I’d known for most of my life. It also brought me into contact and engaging with other Christians.
The thing about ‘the world knowing’ is not so much about the contact. People know about contacts. They have similar contacts most of the time. Here was different because of the engagements.
There were a number of projects put together for Christians from different streams to work together to serve residents at the YMCA. The nature of the clientele in the hostel was typically young people who for one reason or another had been kicked out of home and were vulnerable. They knew about drugs, drink and sex. Their lives had been marked by failure and rejection.
The hostel for them was an environment where the emotions with that were all too raw and open with desperately broken seeking fulfilment in equally broken people and getting broken in the process.
The nature of the joint engagement, then, wasn’t about preaching at the young people about getting saved, getting out of hell and being good people. It was about creating opportunities to develop relationships and have divine encounters – almost kisses of God – through the things we did to serve the young people.
For me, this brought me into relationships with others to appeal to the clientele. That meant authentic relationships with these new people with weird doctrines and positions on hot Christian topics.
There was no time for extended theological discussions to confirm the boxes we ticked. It was all on the assumption that we shared a love for God in Christ and a love for others – those who believed in Christ and especially those on the margins of society.
Effects of Purposeful United Relations
The diversity of activities and the nature of the relationships over time began to make a difference not only in the hostel, or among the staff, but particularly deeply on me and my understanding of church. It gradually dawned on me, that the point was not about complete agreement on doctrinal minutiae. It was not about point scoring over scriptural analysis. Neither was it about some ecumenical utopia where truth didn’t matter and all we needed was love in a hippy type of way.
People witnessed real relationships, a real love between us as a team. Whether in a prayer meeting or having something to eat. We were a part of their lives, and they were a part of ours. They saw us argue, they saw us laugh, they saw us care for each other deeply, they saw something about us odd assortments of people relating and engaging with each other, like we were family.
Not only did they witness that, they were given opportunities to be a part it. Not by taking a dip, or praying the prayer. Just in simple ways of conversations, sharing projects, being encouraged to do new things, time away together, that kind of thing.
Where the opportunity arose there was room to share the gospel message, and that was reinforced by the demonstration of that through the relationships they witnessed – Methodists, Anglicans, Catholic, Charismatic, Pentecostal, Liberals, Fundamentalists – a wide spectrum of people jointly engaged in the same project, sharing life together in a bid to impact the YMCA community with the love of God. It is a joy to share that some people accepted the message and embraced Jesus and a walk with Him in the community.
I don’t want to give the impression of the perfect harmonious Christian atmosphere that was trouble-free. Of course there were challenges. Not every professing Christian behaved in a way the reflected in it. Not everything worked. Big mistakes were made, people got hurt. Maintaining relationships, let alone deepening them is a costly business and if the feeling isn’t mutual, that can have it’s own negative effects. As it did. Often.
Yet from this time of service there emerged deep relationships that continue to influence my walk with Christ. It was here that I came across Christians and experienced times together worshipping, studying, fellowshipping and serving that left a deep impression on me as to what real love was all about. Even after I left the YMCA, years later those people I worked with still impact my life. Even miles apart they have visited and helped me through dark periods in my life.
Not only that, but people in the YMCA, whether Christian, Muslim, Atheist or even a Coffee-lover, could still testify of the reality of seeing an expression of that real relational unity that expressed to them the same love the Father had for the Son, the Father has for us.
Only Just Begun – Where To Now?
For all that’s been said, I still feel very much on the tip of the iceberg of learning the depths in Christ of what it is to work towards the unity He prayed for with brothers and sisters in Christ. The journey is very much one of new revelations.
Just when I think I’ve got it sussed, or seem to have grasped some aspect of the requirements, something new pops up, some new challenge, some great conversation, some brilliant blog, some outstanding Bible study, some intriguing shared experience.
In it there’s room for something that draws me closer to Christ, and it draws others closer to Christ, and it draws us closer together in unity. Real unity. Deep unity that withstands difference of opinions and doctrinal persuasions.
Unity exhibited and developed in day to day life or special missional occasions that express to the world around us the love God has for us.
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden
Chain blog rules:
1) If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.
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“Links” in the “Real Relational Unity” chain blog:
1. “Chain Blog: Real Relational Unity” by Alan
2. “The Treasure of Unity ‘in’ our Relationships” by Jim
3. “So The World May Know – Observations on the Road to Unity” by Christopher
4. “Christian Unity – What It Is and What It Is Not” by Nathan
5. “Steps to Relational Unity” by Randi
6. “Learn to Live or Live to Learn” by Greg