Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Disunity in the World and the Unity of All Believers

In his fine commentary on the Gospel of John, New Testament scholar Craig S. Keener points to something about Jesus' prayer in John 17, something I'd never noticed before. Of course, I had noticed that Jesus prays more than once for the unity of all his future disciples:

  • " . . . that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you" (v. 21).
  • "May they be brought to complete unity . . . " (v. 23).
What I had not seen was that, in the Gospel of John, the unity of all believers is quite a contrast to the divisions among unbelievers and, also, divisions between people who believe versus those who do not. Check it out:

On hearing his words, some of the people said, "Surely this man is the Prophet." Others said, "He is the Christ." Still others asked, "How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David's family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?" Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. (John 7:40-43)

Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath." But others asked, "How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?" So they were divided. (9:16)

At these words the Jews were again divided. Many of them said, "He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?" But others said, "These are not the sayings of a man possessed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?" (10:19-21)

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God. (12:42-43)

Believers are different from unbelievers. And, in the world of unbelief there are many divisions.

Ironic, isn't it? If there's one thing an unbelieving world might agree about, it's that divisions among Christians are a sign that their message itself is inconsistent. How does the Holy Spirit feel about that?

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