Evangelism and Unity

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As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth. I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:18-21)

51391703915_09e3ae72b2_wChrist prayed for the unity of all believers, that we might share a ‘oneness’ which He didn’t define as to its nature. Jesus expected that the Church would grow embracing new members as a normal part of its existence. Increasing numbers also means increasing diversity and disagreements.  These new members were to share in this Christian unity of all believers. Did He expect us to agree on everything? Or did He envision this oneness as simply being the result of believers loving one another as He commanded us? Did He imagine that ‘oneness’ would have to be enforced by leaders or law? Christ doesn’t say, so maybe He really did think love would conquer all. David Beck in his book, FOR THEY SHALL SEE GOD, offers a couple of thoughts for Christians as to how this unity might emerge or be maintained:

“It is not enough to belong to the church. We must instead participate deeply in her life: by partaking regularly of the sacraments; by praying together as a body; by fasting, and practicing the acts of asceticism prescribed by her; by giving alms to the poor and practicing acts of love.” (p 36)

“Father Seraphim Rose taught:

‘The Church of Christ is alive and free. …  You are in Christ’s Church whenever you uplift someone bent down in sorrow, or when you give alms to the poor, and visit the sick. You are in Christ’s Church when you cry out: ‘Lord, help me.’ You are in Christ’s Church when you are good and patient, when you refuse to get angry at your brother, even if he has wounded your feelings. You are in Christ’s Church when you pray: ‘Lord forgive him.’ When you work honestly at your job, returning home weary in the evening but with a smile on your lips; when you repay evil With love—you are in Christ’s Church. Do you not see, therefore, young friends, how close the Church of Christ is?’” (p 114)

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Unrelated to the above thoughts but from The Apostolos reading for the day we read this passage:

So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening. And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved.  (Acts 28:23-24)

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The Apostles evangelizing their fellow Jews used the Old Testament texts to prove that Jesus was the Messiah and to persuade other Jews to believe in Him. Evangelism directed toward non-Jews would not be able to rely as much on the Old Testament texts as they weren’t that significant to the Gentiles. But the early evangelical efforts of the Apostles made extensive use of the Old Testament to help Jews see Christ in their Old Testament Scriptures. Matthew Baker offers us three thoughts about this in his book, FAITH SEEKING UNDERSTANDING:

For Ephrem, it is Christ who is the bridge over the chasm between Creator and creation. Yet, before taking on flesh, God first builds the scaffolding of this bridge, so to speak, by means of the words of Scripture. (p 74)

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This is to say that the Word’s putting on the ‘garment of words’ in Scripture anticipates his putting on the garment of flesh in the incarnation. (p 83)

The ultimate goal of God’s communication of the Word through the garment of human words in Scripture is a soteriological one, no less than that of theosis: ‘He clothed himself in our language, that He might clothe us in his mode of life.’  (p 84)

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The use of the Old Testament to prove that Jesus is Lord and Christ involves not just finding verses to quote, but an entire understanding of what the Scriptures are and how as a whole they reflect the Word of God so that we can recognize the Word becoming flesh in Jesus Christ.