Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17

John 17:20 "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: 23I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."

Our friends in Rome like to point out that Jesus prayed in His "high priestly prayer" at the Last Supper that His followers would be in "complete unity", that they would "all...be one, Father..." So, they ask, why aren't Sola Scripturists joined together in perfect unity, as one institution, the Church? Did Jesus' prayer fail? Don't you Calvinists always say that God's will is always performed successfully?

We respond (for example, here, said far better than I ever could) that the unity Christ prayed for was not organisational or institutional in nature, but rather spiritual, as God builds together the Body of Christ into spiritual union with Christ. Presumably, RCs and Eastern Orthodox do not accept this identification of the unity Christ prayed for, but rather insist that the unity is institutional and organisational in nature. Let us see whether their contention holds water.

1) It has been proven over and over again at the Beggars All blog alone that this claimed unity within Eastern Orthodoxy and Rome does not exist in reality.

2) Our opponents criticise the Calvinistic doctrine of God's preservation of His saints, once justified, as a violation of the free will of each person (not to mention other points of Calvinism, such as irresistible grace). Yet the very building of an institutional unity into a group of disparate and different people who have sinful tendencies, in order to bring an answer to the prayer of the Lord Jesus, would require "violation" of their free will. I mean, Protestants are creatures "blessed" with free will, and just look how organised they are, in their sin! (There are RCs who are more Augustinian and who are less; this would be an argument against the latter and against EO-dox.)

3) On that same topic, take a look at John 17:15 - "I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one."
Isn't it RC and EO dogma that God does not preserve His believers, but that they can in fact fall out of a state of grace? Didn't Jesus' prayer thus fail here (on RC and EO presuppositions)?

4) More pointedly, apparently the fact that we Sola Scripturists are not in communion with the RCC or the EOC is not an obstacle to our eventually landing in Heaven.
Whenever the Sacrament of Baptism is duly administered as Our Lord instituted it, and is received with the right dispositions, a person is truly incorporated into the crucified and glorified Christ, and reborn to a sharing of the divine life, as the Apostle says: "You were buried together with Him in Baptism, and in Him also rose again-through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead".

Baptism therefore establishes a sacramental bond of unity which links all who have been reborn by it. But of itself Baptism is only a beginning, an inauguration wholly directed toward the fullness of life in Christ. Baptism, therefore, envisages a complete profession of faith, complete incorporation in the system of salvation such as Christ willed it to be, and finally complete ingrafting in eucharistic communion.

Though the ecclesial Communities which are separated from us lack the fullness of unity with us flowing from Baptism, and though we believe they have not retained the proper reality of the eucharistic mystery in its fullness, especially because of the absence of the sacrament of Orders, nevertheless when they commemorate His death and resurrection in the Lord's Supper, they profess that it signifies life in communion with Christ and look forward to His coming in glory. Therefore the teaching concerning the Lord's Supper, the other sacraments, worship, the ministry of the Church, must be the subject of the dialogue.

23. The daily Christian life of these brethren is nourished by their faith in Christ and strengthened by the grace of Baptism and by hearing the word of God. This shows itself in their private prayer, their meditation on the Bible, in their Christian family life, and in the worship of a community gathered together to praise God. (source, emph. mine)
Or:
For there are many who honor Sacred Scripture, taking it as a norm of belief and a pattern of life, and who show a sincere zeal. They lovingly believe in God the Father Almighty and in Christ, the Son of God and Saviour. They are consecrated by baptism, in which they are united with Christ... Likewise we can say that in some real way they are joined with us in the Holy Spirit, for to them too He gives His gifts and graces whereby He is operative among them with His sanctifying power. Some indeed He has strengthened to the extent of the shedding of their blood. In all of Christ's disciples the Spirit arouses the desire to be peacefully united, in the manner determined by Christ, as one flock under one shepherd, and He prompts them to pursue this end. (source, emph. mine)
In short, we Sola Scripturists are, by virtue of RCC's ex cathedra statement, united with Christ and thus on our way to Heaven (unless we commit a mortal sin, of course, but our Sola Scriptura convictions, refusal to participate in transsubstantiated Eucharistic suppers, and failure to join RCC are obviously not mortal sins, else they wouldn't have talked about being united with Christ, etc).
And my EO debate counterpart believes I am not headed to Hell as well.

Now, since we are united with Christ but not in communion with institutional RCC or EOC, since Christ prayed that His disciples would be united with Him, and since the RC and EO claim that Christ's prayer for unity would certainly not fail to be granted, we can conclude that Christ's prayer has either not yet been granted or that the unity He had in mind was not institutional / organisational unity. Either of these conclusions declaws the original argument cited at the beginning of this post.

(Also see TurretinFan's recent dealing with this passage and similar topics.)


(Please leave any comments at the cross-post at Beggars All)