Good definition of vision: A picture of the future that produces passion in you. Here’s a picture of the future that’s currently producing a lot of passion in a group of Boston Christians.
What do U2’s Bono and Fuller Seminary’s David Taylor have to do with Christian unity? They tell of the end we all share in Christ which is no end at all.
A few years back, in 1647, a group of Presbyterians composed a little instruction booklet which they called, “The Shorter Catechism.” This booklet was composed for the purpose of instructing Christian youth, as well as newer Christians of any age, in the basics of the Christian faith.
Essentially what this Presbyterian working group did was to explain the Christian faith using the construct of 107 component parts–a series of 107 questions and answers bringing clarity and definition (so they hoped) to the faith. We may agree or disagree with the whole of the Christian faith being organized in such a fashion and at such a number, but it worked for them. (And, by the way, it continues to work for Presbyterians today as this catechism remains a part of the principal teaching documents of the Presbyterian Church, enshrined still in their ‘Book of Confessions.’)
What should catch one’s attention about this particular presentation of the Christian faith is what this Presbyterian working group of 1647 chose as the preeminent component part of the faith (#1 of 107 questions & answers); it is the following: “Q: What is the chief end of being human? A: The chief end of being human is to glorify God, and to enjoy God forever.”* In other words, the meaning of life–of our human lives–pertains to glorifying and enjoying God.
Glory as a word and concept is somewhat abstract and can often strike us as being a bit ‘up in the clouds,’ but here the takeaway is straightforward: giving glory to God is a really big deal. The ‘New Dictionary of Theology’ defines the glory of God in this way: “Excellence and praiseworthiness set forth in display.” Now, follow me to John 17 where Jesus prays for his disciples and all who would follow him. In John 17:1b, Jesus begins his prayer to the Father, saying, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you.” Jesus is speaking of the Cross. Thus, we can make the following and certain translation: ‘Father, make me excellent and praiseworthy in my humiliation, so that I may make you excellent and praiseworthy.’ Or: ‘Father, make me excellent and praiseworthy in my abandonment (remember, Jesus cites the psalmist, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?), so that I may make you excellent and praiseworthy.’
Our Christian faith stands on this point, on this paradox, on this upside-down truth, like a chorus of angels on the head of a pin. The power of the Gospel is concentrated here in this single point, not unlike the power of the universe being concentrated in a single point of immense and immeasurable density and heat some 13 1/2 billion years ago that proceeded to explode into Creation.
And all of this brings us to the work of Christian unity; John 17 is the biblical text of biblical texts for practically all practicing ecumenists. We shouldn’t miss that Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for his disciples, and for the unity of his disciples, is founded upon glory–the excellence and praiseworthiness of Jesus Christ actualized in his suffering and then in his overcoming; the glory of God in the torment, death and resurrection of Jesus being the foundation of all true Christian unity.
The glory of God was preeminent for those 1647 Presbyterians and a pretty good starting place for us as well.
Institute for Christian Unity
*I have taken the liberty here to update the text a bit, making it more gender inclusive.
About six months ago or so I attended a presentation by a well known Christian author and speaker. In the course of his presentation he shared a story about how one of his neighbors had approached him to ask his counsel about what to do about Christian radio. The neighbor had been listening to some Christian radio programs and had become distressed at the amount of bigotry and ignorance exhibited by the programs’ hosts and callers.
The speaker’s reply to his neighbor was to say that he, himself, chose not to listen to Christian radio for just those reasons and that he encouraged others to do the same–to not listen to it, to turn off Christian radio. As I sat there in the audience that day listening to the speaker’s story, I thought to myself, ‘Wow.’ The speaker’s counsel to his neighbor was certainly understandable, but it was also certainly representative of where we are today both in the Church and in society at large.
Rather than doing the more difficult and often emotionally disagreeable work of separating the good from the bad in the world of Christian thought and practice, we simply ‘turn off’ that perspective to which we are disinclined. (It goes without saying that we see this same dynamic at work–at jet engine levels–in our present political situation.)
Scott Peck, in his celebrated book, ‘The Road Less Traveled,’ said the opposite of love is not hate but laziness. In large part, this is where we are today; absent the love to keep the radio on and get in there with our scalpels and separate out the worthy from the unworthy, the mercy-filled from the unmerciful.
With respect to the content of Christian radio these days, the well known Christian author and speaker was right to acknowledge the bigotry and ignorance (and general foolishness) often found there. However, he left unacknowledged the goodness and grace that is often found there as well–on those same Christian airwaves; people who genuinely love God, who offer genuine encouragement and hope to many who are in need of just such a word and who inspire listeners every day to live a more compassionate, Christ-like life.
So, what is our work here? Our work is to do what not too many seem to be doing at the moment…take the time to really understand what the other is saying and why they’re saying it. To affirm what we can affirm and critique what we believe should be critiqued. And this can only happen if we keep the radio on.
Institute for Christian Unity
- Friday evening, March 24th – 7:30pm in the Fulton Hall Auditorium, Boston College
- Saturday afternoon, March 25th – 3:00 pm at the Paulist Center, 5 Park St, Boston
- Sunday evening, March 26th – 7:00pm in the lower church, St. Joseph Parish, Needham, MA
- Monday evening, March 27th – 7:00pm in the Maison de Francaise, Assumption College, Worcester, MA
This year, we sought to make the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity truly reflective of the denominational and ethnic diversity within Boston’s Christian community.
By God’s grace, this happened! The anchor event on Saturday, January 21st had 22 co-sponsoring churches and institutions, drew together over 800 people, and has been called the largest and broadest gathering for Christian unity in Boston ever.
The concluding line in the gospel reading for that day was “We have seen incredible things today.” Indeed, God did great things in our hearts as we lifted up Jesus together, both on Saturday and throughout the week of nightly prayer gatherings. But, don’t take my word for it! Check out the photos and testimonies below to celebrate what God has done!
“I would like to express my gratitude to all who contributed a piece to the rich mosaic-experience we all enjoyed on January 21st. It is one of the stand-out Week of Prayer for Christian Unity events in my 35 years of ministry devoted to the cause. All who gathered around tables for both food and faith-sharing, who in church joined their hearts and voices in prayer, young and old, black, white and brown, robed in various styles—all, together, represented a microcosm of the human family and gave us a glimpse of God’s dream for us: reconciled to God and to one another. Jesus must have had a joyful smile on his face!” -Fr. Tom Ryan,Paulist North American Office for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations
“What a great privilege and delight to worship the One True God together in the unique forms of each branch of the Christian Church. It was incredible to experience our agreement in who God is and who we are. I’m especially thankful for the Cardinal, his leaders, and the leadership of the Orthodox church, for their humility and at the depth of their willingness to come together.”
-Ellen Bass, Black Ministerial Alliance
“What an amazing witness this was of the variety and Christ-centered unity found in the Body of Christ!”
-Edouard Pichette, OneUnited
“God wants this Church to be one… and to see that expressed so beautifully here, that’s really fun. It’s different tastes and different flavors, and you start to realize folks love Jesus in ways that you don’t appreciate until you see them and get to connect with them. You see that people are really different, and yet their hearts are coming from a love of the Lord that’s really neat to see.” – Jeff Bass, Executive Director, Emmanuel Gospel Center
“It was incredible, wonderful to see so many different Christians together and the music… I was crying. The Holy Spirit was there.” – Lorna DesRoses, Director of Black Catholic Ministries
“I’ve always felt the importance of Ecumenism. I’m a very strong Greek Orthodox Christian, but I went to Catholic schools and I’ve had very strong friendships, relationships with Catholic Christians, and they’ve just given me so much support in my faith. I just love the coming together of people of different Christian denominations, and I feel so excited about progress in Ecumenism. I feel like we’re getting closer.”
It was a very moving experience. It was so inspiring also to see the church so completely filled… Holy Name Church was such a beautiful venue for the gathering. We are so grateful to [those] who worked so hard with so many different groups to bring this very important celebration together. It was astounding.
— Cardinal Sean O’Malley, OFM Cap, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Boston
“What brings us all here really is Christ, and that’s what the point of Christian unity is. If Christ says we should all be one, we should see that, and frankly the world doesn’t feel like that today. I’ve grown more in my faith, and I feel like as a young person I especially have the obligation and responsibility of witnessing to my vocation as the member of the body of Christ.”
The Institute for Christian Unity, in partnership with UniteBoston, the Archdiocese of Boston and the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Boston, is sponsoring a major unity event at St. Ignatius Church next to Boston College on the afternoon of January 21st. Details are below. This event is part of an entire week of prayer gatherings at various churches around Boston. Please join us!
The Institute for Christian Unity exists for the purpose of bringing Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical/Pentecostal and Mainline Protestant Christians into closer proximity with each other–toward a truer, more recognizable oneness in our common faith in the God revealed in Jesus Christ. By the grace of God, good things have happened as we’ve been about our work. Here are a few of those good things that have come to pass in 2016:
+A regional Catholic-Evangelical Gathering hosted and facilitated by Scott Brill, one of our co-Directors, October 24-25, 2016.
+Bi-monthly forums (the WEE Forum) that bring Christians of all traditions together regularly and locally to engage subjects that stir thought & action.
+Conversation re. expanding the WEE Forum to Newport, RI. One United (a RI non-profit) would like to present the forum in Newport.
+The Institute’s participation in the National Workshop for Christian Unity held in April 2016 in Louisville, KY.
+Christian unity ‘101 classes’ beginning December 2016 in local congregations here in the Boston area led by our co-Directors.
On behalf of our co-Directors, Dr. Vito Nicastro & Scott Brill, I thank you for your friendship and prayers on behalf of our efforts in the direction of one Church witnessing to our one Lord!
Wishing you peace & a joyful Advent!
Christian unity–the unity of the Church–comes in more than one stripe. Most often, when Christian unity is discussed, the conversation regards the unity, or desired unity, of the great church communities, traditions, denominations.
But there is another Christian unity–another unity of the Church–equal to or greater than the unity of church communities, and that is the Christian unity of colors, races and ethnicities.
Last summer, in New York City, an evangelistic outreach was held, and, as part of the outreach, there was a concert in Times Square. Matt Redman and his band performed (see below) and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a color, race or ethnicity not represented in this moving and inspiring moment on behalf of the living Christ.
Hard to argue with the forthright logic of Chiara Lubich, founder of Focolare, a unity movement of the Roman Catholic Church. Sometimes we just need to be reminded!
The following is an excerpt from an article appearing in the current issue of Living City magazine, a publication of the Focolare Movement. The article quotes Lubich by way of her participation in an interdenominational conversation dating to November 1988. Her logic is just as persuasive today as it was 28 years ago.
“Though we continually assume that God wants it, we cannot see in detail what a united world would be like…nor can we see when this united world will come about. But some things are certain.
“First of all, I am convinced that Jesus wants it, because he said to his apostles, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the good news’ (Mk 16:15). Therefore, everyone is a candidate for unity, for the Gospel, for a united world–all are candidates. So the first thing that we can be sure of is that Jesus wants it.
“Secondly, we know for sure that Jesus prayed for unity. He prayed, ‘May they all be one’ (Jn 17:21), which means everyone. Since the Son of God prayed to the Father for this, I think it will have to be granted, because it is impossible for the prayer of the Son of God not to be granted.”
Lubich’s logic here is simple and strong–Jesus’ command to make disciples, and his prayer for the oneness of the Church, incite encouragement and confidence, because it is, after all, Jesus making the command and praying the prayer! May our time be God’s time for the fulfillment of his Beloved’s request.