Jesus is staring down a death of shame and torture on the cross, and He stops to pray. He doesn't simply pray for himself - He prays for His disciples, and all who would become His disciples. In the shadow of the cross, Jesus prayed for us. And of all the things He could have prayed for in that moment, He chooses one that continues to convict me. He prays for unity.
"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—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:22-23)
Jesus sees power in the unity of His disciples. This unity, this oneness in the Body, demonstrates to the world who He is. It puts His love on display.
When I see unity in the church, when differences can be just that—differences—and not a source of division, it makes my heart swell with joy.
I want to share such a unifying effort with you. It has me excited.
In honor of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a group of Protestant theologians and scholars came together to draft "A Reforming Catholic Confession." [Fun fact: One of my beloved professors and the adviser of my seminary program was one of the drafters!] This confession of faith is "reforming" in the heritage of the original Reformers, meaning it seeks to continually go back to the Scriptures as the judge of truth. It is "catholic" in the sense of the early creed, in its universal scope uniting believers. The Reforming Catholic Confession is a unifying statement of faith of the core beliefs Protestants have in common.
When it was released last month, it bore 250 signatures from church leaders hailing from around the globe and from most Protestant traditions. This diversity was shared by the original drafters. As I write this, the Confession has 1162 signatures.
I would encourage you to read the Confession yourself. It's quite in-depth and beautifully written. Remember as you read, this confession of faith represents "mere Protestantism," or the unifying, interdenominational essentials of the faith according to Protestant traditions. In Explanation of the Confession, they say
"While it is tempting to focus on and exaggerate the differences, we want here to strengthen the Protestant cause by focusing on the doctrinal beliefs we have in common, not least for the sake of our common witness to the truth and power of the gospel."
Some may wish to go further than the Confession in their statement of faith. Some may wish to nuance or clarify certain points. But the point was to clearly define—and celebrate—what we hold in common as brothers and sisters in Christ. We can recognize what we hold in common is more important than what separates us.
The drafters are clear to recognize and appreciate the "distinctive emphases" of the various Protestant streams. They have no desire to dissuade people from differing opinions or to claim those differing matters to be unimportant. But the drafters beg for these differences to be worked out in the context of discipleship and right relationship. I thought the wording was eloquent:
"We recall and commend John Wesley’s plea...for right-hearted believers to give up their prideful insistence on their right opinions in order to establish right relations with others whose hearts and minds are set on following Jesus according to the Scriptures."
"We wish to discuss our remaining differences in a spirit not of divisiveness but discipleship."
And so they have - and now over a thousand others have joined them. And my spirit rejoices.
If you want to learn a bit more about A Reforming Catholic Confession, I'd encourage you to read this article from Christianity Today.