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01 January 2010

The Basics: Pray as Christ Prayed

The Basics: Pray as Christ Prayed

In our series relating the Alliance's Practical Resolutions to the task of mission, Justin Thacker looks at the fourth resolution...

We urge all Christians to pray as Christ prayed, that we may be one in the Father and the Son, and so by the Spirit promote personal relationships of love, peace and fellowship within the Body of Christ, His universal Church.

The purpose of this series is to draw our attention to the way in which the Alliance's Basis of Faith and Practical Resolutions are foundational to the central task of mission. Nowhere is this clearer than in this particular resolution, which draws on Jesus' prayer from John 17.20-23:

"My prayer is not for them alone. 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. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

In that prayer, Jesus is explicit that a visible demonstration of unity is one of the factors that God uses to convince the world that Jesus is the Messiah. But why is our unity so important to effective evangelism?

This passage suggests that it is because our unity is far more than mere group agreement and far more than just mutual love. It is in fact the body of Christ imaging the Trinity here on earth. In other words, when we are truly united in Christ we are representing, even revealing, the very character and nature of God.

Jesus begins by praying that we, those of us who come to believe in Him, would be one. But then He goes on to describe the nature of that unity in these words: "Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." So our unity is, in some sense, a representation of the unity that is evident in the Godhead.

"When we are truly united in Christ we are revealing the very character of God"

That is why it is far more than mere agreement or mutual love; it is a witness to the unity of the Father, Son and Spirit. And that is also why our unity is so pivotal to the task of evangelism. For in being united we are actually demonstrating not just what love is like or what group agreement looks like, but rather what God Himself is like.

Divine unity

Jesus goes on to pray that we would be in God so that the world may believe: "May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." But what does this mean? I have noted that God calls us to be one in the same way that the Father and the Son are one. But here Jesus is going further and suggesting that our unity will only be achieved as we also participate in this divine unity.

In fact, the strong suggestion is that it is only as we participate in divine unity that, as a body of believers, we also can be genuinely united. If we reflect on this, it is truly a profound thought and it further demonstrates why Christian unity is a unique phenomenon. Fundamentally, what it is suggesting is that true Christian unity is not just unlikely but actually impossible if we are separated from God. Our unity is only possible as we somehow participate in Him.

In other words, doctrinal agreement and mutual love are not by themselves the kind of unity that is being talked about here. Any group can find themselves agreed on some topic, but that is not true Christian unity even if the topic they agree on is a set of Christian doctrines. And any group can find itself in deep mutual admiration, even love. But that is not true Christian unity even if the motivation is the love of Christ.

"What is actually required is simply far more time on our knees"

No, real Christian unity comes from our participation in the unity of the Godhead, so that we derive our unity from that participation. Of course, when we are united with God in this way, we will also be in doctrinal agreement and express deep mutual love, but those things will not happen independently of God. Rather, we will have them as the outflow of our participation with God. It is because we are united with God that we will believe the same and have love for one another.

All of this suggests that if we really want to be united and thereby witness to the world, what is required is not so much more hours in discussion trying to thrash out our theological differences, nor is it an increased human effort to try and love one another a bit more. Rather, I would suggest what is actually required is simply far more time on our knees, pressing into the One who demonstrates the nature of real unity, and finding our joint identity, and therefore unity, in Him.Justin Thacker

Justin Thacker is the Alliance's head of Theology

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