“Whenever we Christians are enclosed in our groups, our movements, our parishes, in our little world we remain closed, and the same thing happens to us that happens to anything closed. When a room is closed it begins to get dank. If a person is closed up in that room he or she becomes ill. Whenever Christians are enclosed in their groups, parishes and movements they take ill.” (Pope Francis)
In just a few days it is going to be my privilege to be a part of a group of leaders who are meeting with Pope Francis. Both of our respective Communions are opening doors that have been stuck or in some cases nailed shut for centuries. It seems as if the Holy Spirit is moving behind closed doors. Maybe we are on the verge of another “surprise.”
The need within every group and/or movement is to realize that what ails us is our lack of unity. The gifts that we need are found in other movements. The strength of the church is in the unity of its universal membership.
For centuries Christians have isolated themselves around doctrine, history, long forgotten debates, preferences, prejudice, or culture. By organizing around their “sameness” they have resisted the prayer of Jesus for “unity” (John 17). This has actually hindered the very mission of the Church and has resulted in our own illness.
To those of you who think that I am overlooking the importance of the debate or doctrine I simply want to point out one reality. The Joint Declaration on Justification was signed by Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church in 1999.
Let me quote one statement: “Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ’s saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.”
According to Lutheran Pastor Herbert Anderson and professor of pastoral theology at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago; “It does not resolve every issue between these two expressions of the Church, but it is a small but significant movement toward unity and a powerful witness to the Spirit’s presence.”
This joint declaration reminds all of us of the “new life that we have received, not through any merit of ours but through the free gift of Jesus Christ, this is cause for constant thanksgiving and celebration — something that we can and should do together far more often than in the past.”
I realize that there are many more questions to be asked, but they are secondary to what we hold in common. We can no longer look upon our different expressions of faith as being different armies fighting one another. The basis of the ‘protest’ is over.
This declaration was the first sign that we must now be deeply aware of the need to move further along the path to unity. Though we have not reached the end of the road, there has been good progress made and doors are opening to further achievements.
As I said earlier, maybe the Holy Spirit is about to surprise us again. Jesus prayed for the unity of the Church (John 17) and we all must admit that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to manifest the prayers of Jesus.
According Augustine, “The Father and Son have wanted us to be united among ourselves and with them by means of the same bond that unites them, namely, the love that is the Holy Spirit”
Love, Love that is poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit is the basis of our unity. Love compels every believer in Christ to open doors and to move into the sacred spaces of our brother and sisters.
Unity is the work and results of the work of the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of His Love. Only those who walk in this Spirit will ever understand the “surprise” that is in the air of the Church at this moment.
Paul wrote to each of us; “…endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God, and Father of all, who is above all, and through all and in you all.” (Ephesians 4″3-6).
Cardinal Raniero Cantalamessa makes this observation; “Persecutions, so frequent today in certain parts of the world, do not make distinctions: they do not burn churches or kill people because they are Catholic or Protestant but because they are Christians. In the eyes of the persecutors we are already “one.””
I am amazed that many are not aware of what the Holy Spirit has been doing among Christians in our day. Our enemies see it! Jesus prayed for it! The Holy Spirit is working for it!
We cannot remain behind closed doors! We must open our doors and we must walk through doors that are opening. I am honored to be invited to something this special. I am honored to be a part of the Spirit’s leading.
I ask that you pray. Pray for the Church universal; the Body of Christ! Pray for unity! Pray for the mission of the Church! Pray that the world would know Jesus because they would see that we have love for one another.