Prayer For Unity In The Body Of Christ
The Truth about Unity in the Body of Christ by Steve Crosby
It is sad to say but very few believers actually understand the truth about unity in the Body of Christ. What follows doesn’t come from a sermon series or hand picked bible verses, but it is the product of what has been forged at a great price in the trenches of Church life. JLB Editor
There’s an old saying that if we ever saw sausage being made, we would never eat sausage! Saying you favor Christian unity is saying you love sausage. Anyone can wax eloquent about the philosophical virtues of ideal sausage.
The question is, do you have the stomach for the process of making sausage? Yielding to the processes of God that will actually yield John 17 Christian unity rather than cheap counterfeits is an entirely different matter than agreeing about the eternal priority of unity.
How unity is defined, implemented, and embracing its cost will separate sausage lovers from sausage producers. God has called us to produce sausage, not just rhetorically extol its virtues. It is not for the faint of heart.
Too often unity is defined emotionally, psychologically, and culturally rather than biblically. There can be a mindset that if we could just recover some imagined idyllic condition of the first one hundred years of the Church, or if we were just “nicer” to each other, that we would have unity and revival. Here are a few snapshots of the “ideal” first century church:
- At the end of his life, Paul was abandoned by almost everyone. Did he/they not value unity?
- Paul confronted Peter, publicly. How does that make for unity?
- Jesus called people names and insulted them. Is that the way to build “unity?”
- The Corinthian church was divided over relational apostleship. Paul writes a letter that was read publicly, rebuking them all. Is making people uncomfortable in public good for unity?
- The Judaizers were aggrieving the Galatian churches. The Gnostics were dividing the Colossian and Ephesian churches. Doctrine just divides. Shouldn’t we just love everyone in unity?
- Paul publicly mentions people by name as causing division; he puts fornicators the church. That is so harsh and judgmental. That’s not conducive to unity.
There’s no place in the ekklesia for romantic notions regarding Christian unity. With romanticism the way, let’s take a look at sausage loving unity and then finish up with some real sausage making.
Church Culture Unity – unity similarity of expression, style, practices, tastes, preferences, s and diss, age, economic status, etc. We are united as long as we all think, look, and act a and value the same things. This is conformity of culture, not biblical unity.
Programmatic Unity – unity driven by doing projects and events together. We come together to “work,” but there is no spiritual substance beyond that.
There is no genuine cost to this type of unity, because all the participants know that after the event is over, there is no pressure to have to relate with fellow participants. The event is the bond, rather than genuine love, the only legitimate biblical cement (Col.
3:14). The best program unity will ever produce is the context for the possibility of real unity.
Persecuted Unity – I once knew a missionary who lived in Uganda during the reign of Idi Amin.He discovered that while Amin was martyring thousands of Christians, there was a “coming together” and unity in the Church. Unfortunately, as soon as the pressure of persecution ceased, so did the apparent unity.
Everyone reverted to pre-persecution habits and patterns. Even life and death persecution cannot produce real unity.
Socio-Cultural Norm Unity – unity avoidance of conflict and confrontation. Individuals who have embraced this will emphasize inordinate sensitivity on not doing or saying anything that upsets anyone.
The objective is that no one would feel any discomfort for any reason, at any time. It is a unity that avoids group discipline. Anything goes.
There is nothing in scripture that remotely hints that avoidance of subjective discomfort is the basis for Christian unity.
Denominational Unity – is unity assumed to exist within a given denomination or group. I know many ministers who attend their denominational meetings and are heartbroken because of the absence of genuine unity and organic relationship. Wearing the same uniform does not produce unity. The uniform is supposed to be a symbol of something genuine.
Vision Unity – is similar to programmatic unity. Often times there can be an exciting “vision”’ or presentation of Gospel truth that attracts and becomes the gathering focus for unity.
The problem with vision unity is that if a more exciting vision comes down the line, the unity built upon the previous vision evaporates. Vision unity is jumping on the bandwagon for a passing fad.
The latest “new thing” becomes the unifying factor.
Lowest Common Denominator Unity – is the “leave-your-distinctive baggage-at-the-door-unity, the curse of many “pastor’s prayer networks.
” Of course, it is always the “other guy” who has to leave his baggage at the door because we don’t have any baggage! This unity lowers the bar for participation as low as it can possibly go, fear of being exclusionary or hurting someone’s feelings.
Participants cannot be, do, or say who they really are for fear of offending someone else, who will then take his or her ball and go home, thus ending unity.
Prayer Unity – centers around prayer and fellowship only. Not only does it normally not go much beyond that, but sometimes it is also forbidden to go beyond that because any thing approaching authenticity in relationship would be considered bad for unity.
Prayer may be a good place to start, but too often it is the place we settle for because the cost of going deeper toward reality in authenticity as human beings and brothers is simply more than most are willing to pay. You don’t have to trust someone to pray with them.
Pray unity is again, at best a starting point as a context for the potential for real unity.
Political Unity – is the shallow, glad-handing spirit that prevails in many pastors’ networks. The unity meeting is a means of personal advancement and self–realization and the self-promotion of the minister, the minister’s organization, and personal agenda.Transparency and honesty are avoided because they hinder the path of self-esteem, peer-esteem, and ministerial advancement. I have had more than one pastor tell me explicitly: if they got real in relationship, it would cost them everything “they have built” and they are unwilling lose that.
That attitude is unworkable unity material.
What Does Genuine Christian Unity Look ?
Psalm 133 is the Old Testament classic on the subject: the tribes in Jerusalem were gathered to worship Yahweh at feast time.
The first thing we need to remember is their diversity. Other than their worship, they did not share values and priorities.
A landlocked Israelite would not have the same values or priorities as a covenant brother living on the Mediterranean coastline. Their unity could contain those differences.
Secondly, the Psalmist uses a Hebrew literary device—the metaphorical couplet—to convey a unified thought: the oil on Aaron’s beard and the dew of Hermon.
The oil was poured on Aaron’s head and ran down to his collar, not his feet as is commonly believed (The KJV ‘skirt’ is a most unfortunate rendering). The priestly anointing oil was held in very small quantities in a cruse or horn. The reason for the small quantity was because of its costly preciousness. The oil was obtained by crushing different costly spices and the oil together.
Genuine Christian unity that commands the blessing is not some cheap sing-along where we all get together, smile at one another, sing a few non-controversial hymns and go home. God’s unity begins with crushing and cost.
God’s unity starts with Calvary: Calvary for us, and Calvary in us.
Only those who walk in the spirit of Calvary who themselves have allowed the crushing experiences orchestrated by the Holy Spirit in their lives to have full effect, will ever be workable material for the unity that commands the blessing.Mt. Hermon was on the northern border of the Amorites at the full geographical extent of Joshua’s victory. Hermon’s dew was carried by winds and settled or watered Mt. Zion and was known for being refreshing.
Both poetic metaphors are analogies of descent, (something starting from above, downward) and transference. The psalmist’s point is that commanded blessing unity:
- Does not have its source in us.
- It comes from above/the Head
- It must be transferred.
- It is refreshing and sweet.
Transference is a download: one source has it; another doesn’t, but needs it. Biblical Christian unity is transferred from the heavenlies to earth. It doesn’t start with us. It must descend and be transferred upon us. It cannot be organized and legislated from below. It can be received and entered into.
The commanded unity blessing will only occur when individuals who themselves have been “touched from on high” and who have experienced the inner healing of identity and the outer healing of relationships,gather together in determinate love one for another.
A collection of Cross-dodging self-centered people will never produce biblical Christian unity.
If our lives are broken, marriages fragmented, families shattered, and local churches relationally inauthentic, merely gathering the aforementioned in one place under one purpose, will never produce biblical Christian unity.
It is just an agglomeration of dysfunction trying in the power of the Adamic nature to fulfill John 17.
The only thing worse than dysfunction is thinking that if we just gather more of it in unified purpose under unified government, something wonderful will happen!
Unity in the Body of Christ
Unity is not difficult. It’s just costly. Our unity must be in Christ, and Christ alone. Unity must begin and be sustained by our revelation of our union with Him and one another. It is the logical overflow of superabundant love.
No vision, no organization, no plan, nor dream will ever realize that which is only possible in response to a gracious heavenly outpouring that transforms hearts causing us to fall irrevocably in love with one another.
We simply must become necessities for each other, in the deepest and most genuine way.If my American rights to independence and privacy in time, personal space, and money are more important to me than you, your pain, and your needs, we can forget romantic ideals of Christian unity, on any scale.
Any model of unity that is based upon mere cooperation or group conformity is doomed to fail because that kind of unity must be maintained by external pressure rather than internal empowerment from transformation.
Unity that is maintained by external constraint betrays the Spirit of Christ in the process of pursuing the unity in Christ.
As long as pastors, ministers, and other types of leaders view people, money, property and assets as “theirs,” there will never be Christian unity. As long as leaders insist on the primacy of their own parochial self-interest masquerading as the “mandate and vision God has given me,” John 17 unity will remain a philosophical platitude.
Unity that is Spirit-born, touched with Calvary, descending from heaven, transforming us inwardly so we can unite outwardly, is in indeed precious. It is circumstantially indissoluble because its quality is eternal. No offense of humanity or attack of the devil can dislodge the Calvary-saturated, commanded blessing unity.
Christian unity is relational and covenantal. It is His cross: revealed, appropriated, and applied. It is covenantal love that is maintained in the presence of conflict and differences, at great emotional, spiritual, psychological, time, and financial.
So are you and I sausage lovers or sausage makers? Are we serious about the hard work of Christian unity? Are we ready to give ourselves to the real thing, or are we going to settle for the less costly counterfeits? Jesus is for us, and in us, to accomplish through us, what our flesh and ego will allow.
By Steve Crosby
Copyright 2014, Dr. Stephen R. Crosby, www.stevecrosby.org. Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you to partner with us in distributing our materials and perhaps generate some income for yourself? Please go to www.stevecrosby.com for details of our Affiliate program. This ministry is sustained by the freewill offerings of those believe in the message of a radical grace in a new covenant understanding. If this article has been a blessing to you, would you prayerfully consider making a tax-deductible contribution through our Paypal button to help? Thank you and God bless you.
Concerning the Orthodox Prayers for the Union of All and the Prayer in St. John 17
Now, when the Faithful are urged by the Deacon to pray “for the good estate of the Holy Churches of God,” are they being urged, in fact, to pray for the Orthodox Church and the different heretical communities, understood together as Holy Churches of God?
Certainly not! Such an interpretation would constitute the most abject impiety.
“Holy Churches” are considered and called by Sacred Tradition the Most Holy local Orthodox Churches everywhere in the world, which, being in a communion of Faith and perfect love, jointly comprise the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem, referring to the geographical meaning of the term, says that the Church “is called Catholic because She extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other.”
Metrophanes Kritopoulos, the Patriarch of Alexandria, writes that the Fathers called the Church “catholic”
…on account of the unity of the individual and local Churches scattered everywhere, which all, by the bond of the All-Holy Spirit, constitute the One Catholic Church.
But the local Orthodox Churches are subject to the danger of being shaken by heresies and schisms, and of losing “sound doctrine” and their immovable stability on the foundations of correct Faith, so that the unity between them in faith and love is torn asunder and they fall away from Catholic unity.
Intense and fervent petitions, therefore, should be offered by the pious pleroma of the Faithful for the preservation of unity among the Most Holy local Orthodox Churches—in correct teaching, to be sure, of the word of Truth and of the Apostolic Faith, but also “in the bond of peace” and of love, “which is the bond of perfectness.”
In this regard it has been very correctly observed that this petition recapitulates, in the form of a prayer, the injunction of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians: “Stand fast [in the right Faith], and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle [viz., of the Apostles].”
+ + +Moreover, that the truly compunctionate petition by the Deacon “for the good estate of the Holy Churches of God and for the union of all” cannot include the assemblies of the various heretics and schismatics, which—according to the Holy Fathers—are pseudo-churches and are, strictly speaking, called “churches of evildoers” and “abominable gatherings,” is proved very plainly, also, from the petitions used in the most ancient liturgical practice, as it is preserved for us in the Apostolic Constitutions.
Here are two typical diaconal exhortations:
Let us pray for the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, which is spread from one end of the earth to the other; that the Lord will preserve and keep Her unshaken and free from the waves of this life, until the end of the world, as founded upon a rock….
Let us pray for every Episcopacy under Heaven, of those that teach aright the word of Thy truth.
+ + +
However—so as to complete the picture—, the second part of this petition, “for the union of all,” is best interpreted by means of the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great.
The union of all is always understood in the context and on the presuppositions of Orthodox ecclesiology; for this reason, this Holy Father beseeches in the marvellous Prayer of the Anaphora, after the sanctification of the Precious Gifts: “…bring back those who have gone astray, and unite them to Thy Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church”; “make the schisms of the Churches to cease”; “speedily destroy the uprisings of heresies by the power of Thy Holy Spirit.”
That is, only through the cessation of schisms, the destruction of heresies, and the return and reunion of the erring to Orthodoxy is the union of all achieved, by the Grace of God.
2. “That They All May Be One”
Let us come now to our Lord's prayer, “that they all may be one.”
Shortly before His saving Passion, at the conclusion of the Mystical Supper, our Savior Christ prayed to His Heavenly Father for some time concerning His Church.
His Church was already present (the eleven Holy Disciples), and She would increase in the future with new believers.
The Lord prays especially for the unity of His Church, and He reveals the mystery of Her unity.The unity of the Church not only has the unity of the Son with the Father as its model, but is a result of Her unity with the Holy Trinity.
The nature of Her unity is Triadocentric: the Church is united with the Father through the Holy Spirit in Christ the Savior.
Our Lord preserves and safeguards His Body in unity with the Father; there is, however, the danger that someone may fall away from this unity, as Judas did.
Jesus Christ, therefore, through His prayer does not enjoin that the faithful members of His Body be one with those who have fallen away from Her, nor does He regard the Faithful and those who have fallen away as one. But He beseeches the Father to preserve His Church in the God-given unity which She already experiences in His truth, love, and glory.
In such a way, the world, seeing this wonderful unity of the Church, will come to know and believe in the Divine and redemptive mission of Jesus Christ.
+ + +
Although ecumenists appeal to this passage, it can be completely turned against them, because in essence it exposes the nature of their ecclesiological heresy.
They always use this text with the presupposition that the heterodox communities are in a schismatic situation vis-a-vis the Orthodox, but are certainly within the boundaries of the One Church; that is, there exists an “invisible” or “mystical” ecclesiastical unity, which must become “visible.”
a. We have a clear expression of this heresy, when Orthodox ecumenists proclaim, as did the former Archbishop Iakovos of America, that the unity of the Church has clearly been split, and that in the context of the WCC the ecumenists “should bring the ageold division of the Church to a propitious end.”b. Indeed, in this regard, it was recently stated at an official level, in a Memorandum of the Patriarchate of Constantinople to the WCC, that
…the Council, and the ecumenical movement more generally, contribute and render service to the ecclesiological conception of unity, to the extent that they have as their primary objective and raison dtre precisely the restoration of unity in the Church.
c. Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland, in a discussion about ecumenical dialogue, the prospects for unity, and the “stable framework for the journey towards church unity,” concludes with the observation that “only within this framework will the Holy Spirit heal the wounds of the tragic split in the body of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.”
d. A wholly academic expression and a very clear perversion of the meaning of our Lord's Prayer can be found in the views of the late University of Athens Professor, John Karmiris, who maintained that
'…the divided Christian Churches, confessions, and communities' have 'a bounden duty' to work for 'the restoration of ecclesiastical peace, concord, love, and immaculate unity in the Church, thereby responding to the Divine demand for unity in the high-priestly prayer of the Lord (St.
John 17:1213); for the mutual separation and alienation of the members of the single and undivided body of the Church, stemming from earthly things and the aforementioned causes, certainly cannot destroy the internal unity of the Theanthropic Body of Christ, which is the Church, enjoined from above by its one Divine Head; in her essence, therefore, in her origin, and in the will of her Divine Founder, she is one and unique!
e. This misinterpretation of our Lord's words was unfortunately given collective and synodal expression by ecumenists at the “Third Pre-Synodal Pan-Orthodox Consultation” (Chambesy, October 28-November 6, 1986), in the final text that they approved, “Relations Between the Orthodox Church and the Rest of the Christian World”; in this text they state that '
…the Orthodox Church' 'recognizes the actual existence of all Christian Churches and Confessions,' and Her 'dialogue' with them 'is not ly on the human capacities of those who conduct dialogues, but receives supervision from the Holy Spirit by the Grace of the Lord, Who prayed that they all may be one (St. John 17:21)!
In conclusion, if we have to invoke the passage “that they all may be one,” we should do this in order to highlight for the heterodox the essence and the glory of the unity of the One and only Church, that is, Orthodoxy, and to call them into this unity, for only then will they be united with the Father through the Holy Spirit in Christ
Pp. 19-21, 24-28. Footnotes within the text have been omitted for Internet posting.
5 Prayers to Pray for Your Church
“Prayer meetings were the arteries of the early church. Through them, life-sustaining power was derived. The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings.
So is the prayer meeting a grace-o-meter, and from it, we may judge of the amount of divine working among a people. If God is near a church, it must pray.
And if He is not there, one of dying first tokens of His absence will be a slothfulness in prayer!” Charles Haddon Spurgeon
When is the last time you prayed for your church body? What about your pastor? Staff? Leadership? Have you prayed for your Sunday School teacher? Have you interceded on behalf of issues taking place in your church or decisions that need to be made?
Our churches are under the attack of the enemy never before. Our leaders and each of our brothers and sisters in Christ need our prayers. We are the Body of Christ and we must lift one another up! Let's use these prayers for the church – both your local church and those around the world.
A Prayer for Good to Prevail over Evil
“‘As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.’ Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” Genesis 50:20
Lord, what the enemy means for evil against our church body, we believe You can use for good. Remind our hearts of this.
When we are being attacked and crushed from all sides, remind us of Your faithfulness to use everything for Your good and Your glory. May we not fear but trust in Your provision for our church family.
May we not only be readers of Your Word but believers and doers. Increase our faith, Lord.
A Prayer for Unity as a Church Body
“I, therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3
God, help our church body to walk in a manner worthy of the calling You have given us. Help us in all our interactions with one another to have humble and gentle hearts. Grant us patience for one another, bearing with one another in love. Grant the Body of Christ unity. May we walk humbly with You, God, allowing You to show us our wrongs.
A Prayer to Seek the Lord
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayer that is made in this place.” 2 Chronicles 7:14-15
Lord, You have told us in Your Word that You hear our prayers. We are crying out to You, we are humbling ourselves before You and seeking Your face. We come together as a church body to seek You. We repent and turn from our wicked ways, thank You for hearing us. Thank you for Your forgiveness and healing.
“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” Romans 14:19
Father God, You desire peace and unity and encouragement for our body of believers. Help us, Lord, to pursue what makes for peace and for building one another up. To pursue the things You will lead to peace and unity.
Give us discerning hearts to know Your will and give us the courage to be obedient. Lord, we know that without You and Your Holy Spirit indwelling each of us, we cannot do any of these things.
But, with You and for Your glory, grant our body peace and unity.
A Prayer to Follow Jesus
“And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Luke 9:23-24
Lord, You have given us what seems an impossible task with this passage. You have asked us to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow You. Even when our spirits are willing, the flesh is weak. You know our hearts, Father.
Help us, with Your Holy Spirit, to examine our hearts and hear from You. The longer we walk with You, the more we look You. We desire to become more and more You, less selfish and more selfless, willing to deny ourselves in any and all situations.
You have told us that when we lose our life for Your sake, we will save it. Save us from ourselves, God.As we lift up these words for our churches, let us come before God with humility and a willingness to obey. Let us put others first and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we seek God first, putting aside our own desires. May we become intercessors for our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we pray more and criticize less. May we be encouragers and uplifters.
Candace Crabtree is just a broken mama thankful for grace and new mercies every morning. She and her husband live in East Tennessee where they homeschool their 3 kids.
Candace also enjoys teaching piano, coffee, good books and blogging at His Mercy Is New.
On her blog, she shares encouragement for weary women from God's Word along with resources for learning to pray the Scriptures.
Publication date: July 7, 2016
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Pope Francis Proclaims the Church is the Living Body of Christ and Calls for Christian Unity
In order to live a Body and its limbs must be united!
Pope Francis continued his teaching series on the Church in his Wednesday message to the faithful who gathered in St Peters Square. His topic was the Church as the Body of Christ.
Too often, even Catholics do not understand that to belong to Jesus the Head means to belong to His Body, the Church. That belonging is meant to be a lived, relational, transforming reality.
The teaching of this pope is beautiful and profoundly important.
Pope moves through the crowd to give his general audience
By Deacon Keith Fournier
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
6/21/2013 (5 years ago)
Published in Europe
Keywords: Church, ecclesia, communio, communion, Body of Christ, Catechesis, General Audience, Pope Francis, ecumenism, unity, Vatican, Deacon Keith Fournier
P>VATICAN CITY (Catholic Online) – Pope Francis continued his teaching series on the Church in his Wednesday message to the faithful who gathered in St Peters Square.
His topic was the Church as the Body of Christ. Too often, even Catholics do not understand that to belong to Jesus the Head means to belong to His Body, the Church.
That belonging is meant to be a lived, relational, transforming reality.The early Christians believed that to belong to Jesus was to belong to His Church. Do we? They believed that just as we were all born from our mother's womb – so we are invited by God, in and through Jesus Christ, to be born again into the Church, the new humanity, which is being re-created in Him.
The process of redemption began when we pass through the Sacramental Waters of the font of Holy Baptism. It continues as we cooperate with the Grace given to us in our life within the Church. It will only be fully completed when the Lord Returns and we are raised in Resurrected Bodies and live in a new heaven and a new earth!
This understanding of the Church as a participation in the Body of Christ – and an entry into the Trinitarian Communion – runs throughout the writings of the early Church Fathers. Let me share just two snippets as an example. First some words from Origen:
“Christ has flooded the universe with divine and sanctifying waves. For the thirsty he sends a spring of living water from the wound which the spear opened in His side.
From the wound in Christ's side has come forth the Church, and He has made her His bride”
Then, from Bishop Ireneaeus of Lyons, a disciple of Polycarp who was himself a disciple of the Apostle John: “We need to take refuge with the Church, to drink milk at her breast, to be fed with the scriptures of the Lord. For the Church has been planted in the world as a paradise”
The early Christians did not see the Church as something onerous or optional, they saw it as normative for every Christian and life giving. So should we. Our Catholic faith is about a continuing, lived, dynamic, relational encounter with the Lord and all those who are now joined to Him in His Mystical Body, the Church, of which we are members.
The Church comes from above. It is a participation in the Divine Nature, instituted by the Lord and not designed or redesigned by us. The Apostle Peter wrote of this truth in his second letter to the dispersed early Christians:
“His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power. Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature.” (2 Peter 1:4)
The Church is called a “mystery” (the Greek word mysterion). It cannot be fully grasped or explained by words. St. Paul writes regularly of this mystery. His writings concerning the Church in his letters to the Corinthians, the Romans, the Ephesians and the Philippians all demonstrate the integral place of the Church in his understanding of the Christian faith.
His encounter with the Risen Lord on the way to Damascus reveals the ground of his ecclesiology.
(Acts 9: 1-22): We read, “Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him.And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to Him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
The voice Paul (then Saul) heard from heaven asked him why he persecuted “Me”. Saul had never met Jesus in the flesh. He had however persecuted the Church. Jesus is identified with the Church and her members. He is really, truly present in His Body on the earth. In the words of St. Augustine, the “whole Christ” cannot be separated, “the body as a unity cannot be separated from the head.”
The Church is an encounter with that whole Christ, the Risen Lord. He is ther Head and the Church is the Body. It is an entrance through Him into the Trinitarian communion.
That encounter and the relationship it supports is spoken of throughout the Christian Tradition as being 'nuptial', this is wedding language; the Christian vocation is to be espoused to Jesus Christ as a bride to a bridegroom for all eternity.
This message from Pope Francis on the Church needs to read, re-read, prayed over – and lived. Below is the Vatican Radio translation.
***** Pope Francis:
Dear brothers and sisters, good day!
Today I will focus upon another expression with which the Second Vatican Council indicates the nature of the Church: that of the body, the Council says that the Church is the Body of Christ (cf. Lumen Gentium, 7).
I would to start from a text of the Acts of the Apostles which we know well: the conversion of Saul, who will then be called Paul, one of the greatest evangelists (cf. Acts 9:4-5).
Saul was a persecutor of Christians, but while he is on the road leading to the city of Damascus, suddenly a light envelops him, he falls to the ground and hears a voice saying “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? '.He asks: “Who are you, Lord?”, And the voice answers: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (v. 3-5).
This experience of St. Paul tells us how deep the union between we Christians and Christ Himself.
When Jesus ascended into heaven he did not leave us orphans, but with the gift of the Holy Spirit, our union with Him has become even more intense.
The Second Vatican Council says that Jesus ” communicating His Spirit, Christ made His brothers, called together from all nations, mystically the components of His own Body” (Dogmatic Constitution. Lumen Gentium, 7).
The image of the body helps us to understand this deep Church-Christ bond, which St. Paul has developed especially in the First Letter to the Corinthians (cf. chap. 12).
First, the body brings our attention to a living reality. The Church is not an charitable, cultural or political association, but a living body, that walks and acts in history.
And this body has a head, Jesus, who guides, feeds and supports it.
This is a point I want to emphasize: if the head is separated from the rest of the body, the whole person cannot survive. So it is in the Church, we must remain bound ever more deeply to Jesus.
But not only that: just as the body needs the lifeblood to keep it alive, so we must allow Jesus to work in us, that His Word guide us, that His presence in the Eucharist nourish us, animate us, that His love gives strength to our love of neighbor. And this always!Dear brothers and sisters, let us remain united to Jesus, let us trust in Him, direct our life according to His Gospel, nourish ourselves with daily prayer, listening to the Word of God, participation in the Sacraments.
And here I come to a second aspect of the Church as the Body of Christ.
St Paul says that as members of the human body, although different and many, we form one body, as we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body (cf. 1 Cor 12:12-13).
In the Church, therefore, there is a variety, a diversity of tasks and functions; there is no dull uniformity, but the richness of the gifts that the Holy Spirit distributes.
But there is communion and unity: we are all in a relation to each other and we all come together to form one living body, deeply connected to Christ.
Let us remember this well: being part of the Church means being united to Christ and receiving from Him the divine life that makes us live as Christians; it means remaining united to the Pope and the Bishops who are instruments of unity and communion, and also means overcoming personal interests and divisions, in order to understand each other better, to harmonize the variety and richness of each member; in a word, to love God and the people who are next to us more, in the family, in the parish, in the associations.
In order to live a Body and its limbs must be united! Unity is beyond all conflict. Always! Conflicts, when they don't end well, separate us from each other, they separate us from God.
Conflict can help us to grow but can also divide us.
We must not travel the path of division, of conflict among us, no we must all be united – with our differences – but united because that is the path of Jesus!
Unity is beyond all conflict. Unity is a grace that we must ask of the Lord so he may save us from the temptations of the division, from internal struggles and selfishness, from gossip. How much damage gossip does! How much damage! Never gossip about others, never! How much damage divisions among Christians, being partisan, narrow interests, causes to the Church!Divisions among us, but also divisions among the communities: evangelical Christians, orthodox Christians, Catholic Christians, but why divided? We must try to bring about unity. Let me tell you something, today, before leaving home, I spent 40 minutes more or less, half an hour, with an evangelical pastor. And we prayed together, seeking unity.
But we Catholics must pray with each other and other Christians. Pray that the Lord gift us unity! Unity among ourselves! How will we ever have unity among Christians if we are not capable of having it among us Catholics,…in the family, how many families fight and split up? Seek unity, unity builds the Church and comes from Jesus Christ. He sends us the Holy Spirit to build unity!
Dear brothers and sisters, let us ask God to help us to be members of the Body of the Church always deeply united to Christ, help us not to hurt the Body of the Church with our conflicts, our divisions, selfishness: help us to be living members bound to each other by a single power, that of love, which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts (cf. Rom 5:5).
Below the English language summary
Dear Brothers and Sisters: In our catechesis on the Creed, today we consider the Church as the Body of Christ.
Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, received in Baptism, we are mystically united to the Lord as members of one body, of which he is the head.
The image of the mystical body makes us realize the importance of strengthening our union with Christ through daily prayer, the study of God's word and participation in the sacraments.
Saint Paul tells the Corinthians that the Body of Christ, while one, is made up of a variety of members. Within the communion of the Church, and in union with the Pope and Bishops, each of us has a part to play, a gift to share, a service to offer, for building up the Body of Christ in love.
Let us ask the Lord to help us reject every form of divisiveness and conflict in our families, parishes and local Churches.At the same time, let us ask for the grace to open our hearts to others, to promote unity and to live in harmony as members of the one Body of Christ, inspired by the gift of love which the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts.
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