A Unified Body of Believers
As we have noted in previous blog postings, the Father and the Son are so completely unified that Jesus can say to Philip, “He who has seen me has seen the Father,”1 and to the Jews, “I and the Father are one.”2
It is that level of oneness to which Jesus calls us, referring to us as, “those who believe in Me through their word,” in his John 17 prayer. It is his deep desire that we – his body, the church – would be one to the extent that he and the Father are one. It is through that oneness that the world will know and believe, and until we submit to that oneness, the world will remain understandably skeptical.
Our church-growth efforts tend toward concentration on finding and developing increasingly dynamic speakers. We bolster our media programs, and polish our showmanship in our efforts to appear contemporary and relevant. George Barna3 made a career out of analyzing church growth statistics, analyzing and studying religious trends in the U.S. and compiling this into metadata that is supposed to assist church leaders in determining how to grow their church families.
While there are undoubtedly other contributing factors, Jesus taught us through his John 17 prayer that at least one reason the world finds it so difficult to believe in him as the Son of God is that we are a fractured body of believers. As the church is so bent on finding reasons to further partition the body of Christ, God in the flesh, Immanuel is praying for unity, oneness.
Given that this is a prayer from the lips of the I Am, I have to believe it is a prayer that will come to fruition. It may not happen in my lifetime, but I believe it will happen. And I believe that a follower after Christ will long for and ache for the unity of all believers. The splintering seen in the body of Christ is something a Christ follower finds deeply distressing.
“This I command you, that you love one another.”4
An Accessible Body of Believers
Just as we are to make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace5 with other Christ-followers, we also refuse to coldshoulder those who are outside the family of believers. Jesus repeatedly shattered societal and religious barriers, as he maintained that it is not the healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick.6
Neither did Jesus wait for those who needed him to find him. He actively sought them out. Jesus plunged headlong into the brokenness of humanity: Adulterers, prostitutes, traitors, Samaritans, Samaritan women, Roman soldiers, lepers. It is almost as though Jesus is saying the religious leaders of his day, “If you will not minister to these people, I will.” And he touched them all.
In contemporary society, we note that the more of a public figure one becomes, the less access to them is granted. I have witnessed well-known pastors who travel with security detail around them, precisely for the purpose of keeping people away. With Jesus, the opposite is true. When the disciples attempted to prevent access to Jesus, they earned a stiff rebuke for their trouble.7
Throughout the gospels, no one is ever denied access to the Savior. Author Randy Alcorn once said, “The greatest danger of notoriety is you start thinking about you. People then exist to serve you, exactly opposite of what Christ modeled.”8
So pervasive was Jesus’ reputation for keeping company with disreputable society that the scribes and Pharisees repeatedly attacked him for it, though not directly. They had no stomach for an open confrontation with Jesus, so they picked on his disciples instead.
And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to his disciples, ‘Why is he eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?’ – Mark 2:16, NASB
The Pharisees and their scribes began grumbling at His disciples, saying, ‘Why do you eat and drink with the tax collectors and sinners?’ – Luke 5:30, NASB
And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’ – Luke 15:2, NASB
If those typically shunned by society are not drawn to me in the same way they were drawn to Jesus, I need to examine the extent to which I am reflecting the mind and values of Jesus. Jesus was a sinner magnet.
1. John 14:9, NASB
2. John 10:30, NASB
3. George Barna is a well known conference/seminar speaker, and author, best known for his church growth focus. He is founder of The Barna Group, a research firm specializing in the study the religious beliefs and behaviors primarily of North Americans.
4. John 15:17, NASB
5. Ephesians 4:3
6. Luke 5:31b
7. Matthew 19:14
8. Alcorn, R., (September 16, 2013). randyalcorn. Tweet.