December 13, 2017

Our generation should unite the church

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By Rev. Devon Dick From Jamaica Gleaner

On Tuesday, the Christian world celebrated 500 years since Martin Luther, German theologian, published 95 theses based on his understanding of justification by faith and his angst against the selling of indulgences. One unintended consequence of his action was a split in the Roman Catholic denomination. Since then, denominations have been spreading like wildfire with one estimate made for Jamaica as having 600 denominations.

The Church in Jamaica should become a leader in church unity. However, there is a sense in which church unity is waning.

Church unity is about united efforts by Christians of different denomina-tions based on the prayer of Jesus, which could be expressed in closer cooperation, better understandings, administrative partnerships, mergers and organic unity. It is patterned on the petition of Jesus, ‘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 …’ (John 17:20, 21). This shared understanding will be the primary missional motivation for the joint actions and projects undertaken by the denominations.

It does seem that the relational pattern that Jesus envisaged, based on his relation to the Father, would call for ongoing, sustained and consistent effort on the part of communities of faith to develop and establish a framework of partnership characterised by mutuality (partners are bound by obligations of common interests); equality (before God, under the law, rights and responsibilities); and solidarity (support in times of crises and celebration). This, with the enabling of the Spirit, will be towards the oneness that Jesus prayed for.

There are some things that will be implied by this. Diversity, as expressed in denominationalism, will be justifiable only in the instance(s) where it provides special opportunity and scope, based on particular giftedness by the Spirit to contribute to the common calling and mandate. This will never be at the expense of the oneness prayed for.

Accepting the present state of affairs in terms of the differences and divisions that now exist as the norm and so being comfortable with it has to be judged in light of the prayer of Jesus.

Joint projects and actions undertaken are not the means of achieving the oneness Jesus prayed for. They are the missional fruit of the shared understanding of church unity. They strengthen the oneness but they do not create it.

FOLLOW GOD’S PATTERN

Jesus prayed for the oneness of the people of God on the pattern of the oneness he shared with his Father. This prayer of Jesus should be taken up as one of the efforts of the churches and presented faithfully to God, with openness for it to be fulfilled in our presence, voice and action.

The time is ripe for us to make the reality of church unity a practical project of our local Church. Thankfully, there is a grass-roots church unity to be found in rural communities, where there is an intuitive grasp of the deeper oneness in Christ that allows for joint projects, and actions that is worth emulating by church leaders.

Since the 21st century, there has been no major cooperation, which is an indictment on this generation. In 1965, the Presbyterian Church in Jamaica and the Congregational Union of Jamaica and Grand Cayman merged to form the United Church of Jamaica and Grand Cayman. In 1992, they were joined by the Disciples of Christ. In 1969, the Church of the Reconciliation, St Catherine, was established by the Anglicans and Roman Catholics, which allowed them to share worship space and engage in joint pastoral activities.

The time has come for working towards church unity. This generation needs a commitment to the prayer of Jesus which called for oneness.

– Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of ‘The Cross and the Machete’, and ‘Rebellion to Riot’. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.

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