December 2015 / January 2016 - Vol. 83

Holy Spirit

Observing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity 

January 18-25, 2016 .

by Dave Hughes

The “Week of Prayer for Christian Unity” is a long-standing observance dating back to 1908 and has deep ecumenical roots. It is endorsed and jointly sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. 

Each year the sponsors provide a common biblical text and suggestions for observing the week of prayer. The prayers and commentary for the 2016 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity were provided by an ecumenical group of Christians who live in Latvia. They have chosen as the key Scriptural text a verse from the First Letter of Peter:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. - 1 Peter 2:9-10 

This is an excellent verse for those of us who live in covenant community, as we seek to live out the call as an ecumenical people. Many Sword of the Spirit communities have annually observed this week of common prayer, but we wanted to broaden the observance to all our communities in the Sword of the Spirit.

Why are we doing this? 
God desires unity among his people and he is not happy with disunity! We cannot be blasé or self-satisfied or comfortable about this lack of unity. Pope John XXIII (died 1963) said whenever I see the wall dividing Christians, “I try to take out at least one brick.”

We see this desire for unity laid out clearly in the Scriptures:

The revelation of God’s heart: John 17:20-23 “May they all be one.” We need to note that this is an intercessory prayer from the Lord Jesus. When he prays in intercession he always prays in perfect harmony with the Father’s own heart. Thus this is not a “prayer of hope,” it is a prayer to enable and empower unity. Jesus’ prayers are effectual.

The revelation of God’s plan: Ephesians 1:7-10 “a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” Here we see God’s plan revealed. In the end, all brokenness will be healed, all divisions restored: this includes personal brokenness, family brokenness, and the brokenness of the body of his son – the church.

Paul the Apostle’s testimony: In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he prays for the unity of all believers. “For [Christ] is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end” (Ephesians 2:13-22).

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul exhorts his fellow believers to put aside their divisions and to strive for unity: “I appeal to you…that there be no divisions among you…Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:10-13) We can see in this passage that division in the body of Christ dates back to the very beginning of the church. It is our duty to work to bridge these divisions.

So when we pray together for unity we stand at the intersection, the crossroads, of God’s heart and plan as revealed in Scripture and we can have confidence that we are standing in a good place relative to God’s word. When we join in intercession for this area, we pray in line with God’s own heart.

Ecumenical life and work need the support of prayer
The Sword of the Spirit is an ecumenical community, our ecumenism is an intrinsic part of our call and so to pray for the unity of God’s people is a “natural act” for us. Even if we live in a single-denomination local community, we are still part of an ecumenical community through our common participation in the Sword of the Spirit, an international ecumenical community. Our covenant, our statement of community order and our constitution are all based on this core understanding.

As an ecumenical community of communities we want to join with other Christians around the world to pray for a broadening and deepening of the work of unity. Rather than simply doing our own thing, we want to join with others. We see this common week of intercession as a good way to further our ecumenical understanding, since the things that we pray for come more easily to our heart and mind.

Ecumenical life and work need the support of prayer. Ecumenical life is a spiritual exercise requiring a special grace. It requires patience, understanding, and an embrace of those who are different than us. Ecumenical life goes against our flesh. By nature in our flesh we may prefer to foster judgment and separation from those who are different than us rather than working for understanding and unity. We need God’s help to work for unity. Ecumenical life is a means of doing spiritual warfare. In praying for the growth in unity of God’s people, we directly counter the work of our common enemy who seeks to destroy our unity.

Father, make us one
Let’s join with our brothers and sisters around the world in concentrated intercession during this week of common prayer. Let’s pray in confidence, knowing that when we pray, we pray in perfect alignment with the Lord Jesus and his plan, and aligned with the Father’s own heart. In heaven we will be together with all of our Christian brothers and sisters. Let’s make important in our heart what is important in God’s heart.

Father, make us one.
Dave Hughes is President of the Sword of the Spirit's Association of Ecumenical Communities and is the senior coordinator of Word of Life Community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Dave and his wife Jane have five children and a growing number of grandchildren. They are members of Knox Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor.

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