“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you." John 17:20
This passage has been interpreted by different religions in different ways. Some seeing
it as a call for conversion into one "true" religion and others as a general call for unity of belief of Christians. So what is the real meaning of this prayer?
William Barclay in his commentary about this passage says this:
"What was that unity for which Jesus prayed? It was not a unity of administration or organization; it was not in any sense a religious unity. It was a unity of personal relationship… Christians will never organize their churches all in the same way. They will never worship God all in the same way. They will never even all believe precisely the same things. But Christian unity transcends all these differences and joins people together in love. The cause of Christian unity at the present time and indeed all through history, has been injured and hindered because people love their own religious organizations, their own creeds, their own ritual, more than they loved each other. If we really love each other and really love Christ, no church would exclude anyone who was Christ's disciple. Only love implanted in our hearts by God can tear down the barriers which we have errected between one another and between our churches."
Barclay goes on to say in another publication that Jesus anger was against those who loved systems more than they loved human beings. That's why He was angry with the Orthodox Jews who watched Him to see whether or not He was going to heal on the Sabbath (Mark 3:1 – 6) Barclay writes that Jesus was angry with anyone who loved the system of theology or system of church government more than they loved God and fellow human beings. To be more devoted to a system than to God is a common enough fault in the church and, he says it incurs the anger of Jesus.
As we enter the Advent season Christian unity is again an important part of what this time of year is all about.