2009 Conference Talk: Jane Morris

Jane Morris's talk at the 2009 Fulcrum Conference

Fulcrum Conference London 2009

Saturday 16 May 2009, 10am to 4pm

Spirituality of Unity

Jane Morris
Vicar of Cricklewood, London


Christian Unity. Christians united in Christ. But often in our denominations, our institutions, our streams within the church, we find it hard to stay together.

Perhaps by the grace of God today, we can take a step back and take time out with God and with one another to seek some keys to this elusive unity.

Our difficulties and divisions are often quite subtle, and we need wisdom, Christian character and the grace of God to

'Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.' (Ephesians 4:3)

As people who are seeking to live under the inspiration and authority of the bible, perhaps the first place to start in seeking some keys to unity is in the Scriptures.

I would like to start by offering one or two starting places for our thoughts and prayers:

John 10:16: 'They...will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.'

We learn from Jesus that Christians are one flock with one shepherd. And maybe a key here is in sheep that are listening out attentively for the voice of the shepherd.

John 17:20-21: 'I pray ..that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you...so that the world may believe that you have sent me.'

Also John 17:23: 'I in them and you in me - so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.'

Another key to unity is that it starts at the heart of who God is. And so Jesus prays this great prayer – not just for his followers at the time, but for us too. He prays that we will be in unity with one another and in doing so we live out who God is.

It is true that when go out side by side in sharing our faith and living it out in our service, that we find unity as we share a common task. But Jesus’ prayer points to a deeper witness when Christians are united in Christ. When people see that sort of Christian love and unity, then they start to meet with who God is.

1 Corinthians 1:10: 'I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.'

Here at the start of 1 Corinthians, Paul is writing to a divided church with factions around individual personalities, who were quarrelling with one another. And Paul encourages them to be united in Christ. To have a concern to share their Christian faith with others. And to remember to keep the cross of Christ and the message of the gospel at the heart of who they were.

I thought it might be helpful to move from the key to unity that is in the Scriptures, to look at some principles that are fundamental to our unity.

Firstly, although it is obvious, our Christian unity is in Christ!

At the heart of our Christian faith is relationship. Evangelical Christians (as well as other streams of the church) have always centred on a personal devotional love for Christ. Simply put, the closer we grow to Christ, the closer we are to one another.

Our Christian unity is in Christ, and it is also from Christ. We can’t make it on our own – and we need to pray with others the prayer of Jesus for the unity of his Church.

Our unity is also from the Holy Spirit. In the title of today, we have the word 'spirituality.' And the earliest meaning of that word is literally 'Life in the Spirit.' Love for other Christians is a mark of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives as individuals and as the Church of Jesus Christ. And so we need to be in prayer to be being filled with the Holy Spirit, who can work the character and wisdom of Christ into our lives. In Ephesians 4, Paul talks about the 'unity of the Spirit.'

Unity is also bound up with truth. Firstly the truth of Scripture. But also living truthfully. And speaking truthfully and in love.

Our unity is also helped when in our dealings with one another, we demonstrate Christian character. When we are people seeking God for the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

I love the description of Jesus that he was 'full of grace and truth.'

It is sometimes very hard to hear truth when it is not coming graciously. How we need God's grace - and his graciousness in our dealings with one another.

And this also means applying the stuff we know about Christian relationships to our life together in the wider church.

  • When we are angry with one another - to deal with that quickly and not let it take root
  • Sometimes we need to repent of our - lack of love or of words carelessly spoken
  • To speak to one another rather than about others. In our church, we have a phrase that it is good to talk someone up behind their back!

One of the bad habits of evangelicals is that when we disagree with one another, we think of a series of boo-words to describe the others we disagree with. And we gather with others who are like-minded.

New there can be a whole lot of strength and encouragement and vision within our various networks. Everyone loves to gather with other like-minded people.

It's great to gather with others.

But it's important when we are talking about the areas on which we disagree that we remember just how much we do have in common.

  • a common love of the bible and a desire to live under its authority
  • The centrality of the cross of Christ
  • The importance of saving faith in Christ
  • The truths of our faith as given in the catholic creeds
  • Our call to make Christ known
  • The transforming power of the Holy Spirit

And when within all this, we do disagree - it's not so much whether we disagree that matters so much as how we disagree.

Whether we listen carefully to one another.

As I have thought about some of these keys to unity, I have been reminded that it is not so much that we need to be always finding out new things, as much as we need to be reminded of what we already know.

A few months ago, I went to the collation of the new vicar in one of our next door Parishes. I double checked that they did mean it when they invited me to robe, and I had to ferret deep in the back of my wardrobe for the right kit, that I am not sure I had worn before in 15 years of ordained ministry. I was the only woman among a sea of cottas, and was acutely aware of that. But in the service, we were reminded very clearly of the importance of faith in Christ, of growing in our Christian discipleship, of the importance of evangelism. And I came away reflecting again that my enemy is not my brother and sister in Christ as much as the advance of secular liberalism.

None of us can make that stand on our own – and our unity in Christ is vital if we are to see our nation turned back to Christ.

Finally, let's remind ourselves that we can't make it on our own. We need to pray for unity. Pray that God will raise up godly and wise leaders in the church both in the present and for the future. Pray that we will be confident and united as we go out with the good news of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Some topics for prayer:

  • Pray inspired by Jesus' prayer in John 17
  • Ask God for grace and truth
  • Pray for today's church leaders and that God will raise up wise and godly leaders for the future

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