Read John 17.
This chapter records Jesus’s prayer for his disciples and the disciples who would believe through their witness (v. 20). The main subject of his prayer was unity (v. 11f, 21) and the standard for that unity was high: “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you” (v. 21a). It is hard to imagine any group of Christians being as tight as the Father, Son, and Spirit are, but that’s what Jesus prayed for.
Such unity would be powerful, too: “…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” (v. 23). The unity of believers in Christ would be a powerful witness to the truth of Christianity.
I have heard many people bemoan the lack of unity in the body of Christ, and I understand and sympathize with them at times. Usually, though, the prescription that is given for a lack of unity among Christians is to dumb down our faith to the common essential elements. It is like ordering a cheese pizza for 5 people because nobody can agree on anything more than that.
There is a place and a value to discussing what theologians have called the “irreducible minimum” that anyone must believe to be considered a Christian. But Jesus did not pray that we would unify around the irreducible minimum. His prescription for unity was not about finding the least common theological denominator; his prescription was for us disciples to know the truth.
Just before he prayed “that all of them may be one” (v. 21a), he prayed, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (v. 17). What sets us apart and unifies us is truth–the revelation of God’s word. What we need as disciples to unify us is not to avoid disagreements but to press into the scriptures together to find the truth.
Evangelical Christians have a remarkable amount of unity when it comes to the doctrines of the faith, if you think about it. We may disagree about baptism or eschatology, but we fully agree on the inspiration and inerrancy of scripture, the Trinity, the humanity and divinity of Christ, the depravity of humanity and our absolute need for grace, the importance and significance of Christ’s death and resurrection, and other factors. This unity has been worked out over the past 2,000 years or so, not by avoiding issues of conflict but by studying, discussing and debating, and accepting the scripture’s teaching on these things.
God is answering Jesus’s prayer here in John 17 but we need to keep coming to the truth–the word of God–to find our unity there.