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Evangelism and Unity - the Mission of the Church

May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me (John 17:23).

This part of Jesus’ prayer petitions God to enable the church to accomplish its mission so “that the world will  know.” At the dawn of creation, there was unity between God and humans. Sin broke the unity which God, through Christ, restored through death on the cross and the resurrection. The church - the body of Christ - is established through the evangelical call - those who hear the gospel and believe.

All those who hear and place their faith in Jesus Christ become part of the church family, based on the unity of the Father and Son. That is how the church is established, through hearing and believing, but the call of the church, once already established, is to perfect unity, so that the world may know and the kingdom of God grows.

This is the evangelical call from which all other evangelical endeavors, including going into all the world and preaching the gospel, flow. The ineffectiveness of much preaching is precipitated by the lack of unity within the church.

Unity requires diversity in order for it to be visible, but clearly it is a diversity which does not cause division but enhances or illuminates the beauty of the unity which is present. Thomas Ryan asks, “Is peaceful coexistence what this is all about, or are we looking for more?” If the world is to know that Jesus was sent by God, nothing more than peaceful coexistence may be the antithesis of Jesus’ prayer.

The unity that allows the world to know that Jesus was sent by God is unity that exists in truth, not in compromise. That unity can only be accomplished by the same love which sent Jesus to his death and ultimately the same love which led to his resurrection. The world will have to see Jesus’ sacrificial love active in the church.

The love for which Jesus prays is a love which “does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” This is the love to which Jesus refers when he prays that the world may know of the mutual love within the Trinity and between Jesus and his church.

The mission of the church is not “peaceful coexistence.” It is a love which is so profound that the world can’t help but know that Jesus was sent by God.

And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. (John 17:21). Amen.

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