The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. – John 17:20-21

“Interior repentance is a radical reorientation of our whole life, a return, a conversion to God with all our heart, an end of sin, a turning away from evil, with repugnance toward the evil actions we have committed. At the same time it entails the desire and resolution to change one’s life, with hope in God’s mercy and trust in the help of his grace.” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1431.

After a brief hiatus to work on an upcoming book (and hopefully spend some extra time hanging out with his family) Mark Driscoll was back in action January 2nd preaching a Sermon called “Jesus and Repentence.” Whether he knew it or not, some of the sermon’s contents were quite fitting for the month of January which Marks the upcoming week of prayer for Christian Unity.

Thirty Eight and a half minutes into the sermon Mark Driscoll declared:

Repentance is not just something that you do to become a Christian. It’s what you also do to grow as a Christian. Christianity is in some ways divided around something called the Protestant Reformation. Now, I don’t mean to get into all the issues of Catholicism. I was raised Catholic. Altar boy, went to Catholic school for a few years. There are some Catholics who love Jesus. But I’m a Protestant and I agree with the criticisms of the Protestant Reformation against Roman Catholicism.

And the Protestant Reformation was an effort to correct or to bring to repentance some errors within the Catholic Church.  And it culminated around a man named Martin Luther. He had previously been a Catholic monk and scholar and theologian. And then in studying the Bible he realized that the church had some false teaching and some bad doctrine and some error.  And he posted this on something called the Wittenberg Door.  It was like a bulletin board in that day.  It was where issues of culture and theology were posted for discussion.  And that is seen by some as the opening salvo of the public issue of the Protestant Reformation.  And the opening line of the 95 Theses of Martin Luther was incredibly important.  And he said this, quote, “All of a Christian’s life is one of repentance.”  The Christians are not the nicest people, the most consistent people, the most generous people, the most winsome people, but by God’s grace we should be.  The true mark of a Christian is repentance.

Christianity is not sort of divided over something called the protestant reformation. It is divided over something called the protestant reformation. As I have observed earlier, this is not something that Christians should be proud of. Our present disunity is contrary to the will of God who wants for us to be united. The good news is that God will provide the Church with grace so that His desire for us to be united might become reality.

This can only be brought about if Christians repent. As Mark Driscoll says with great clarity above, “The true Mark of a Christian is repentance.” Christians have to repent of their sins that divide the body of Christ. We need to repent as individuals when we act uncharitably to Christians of other denominations. But we also need to repent collectively as a Church, which is called “Communal repentance.”

As a member of the Catholic Church I am quite proud of how the Catholic Church repented of its sins that it committed prior to the reformation. Although Pastor Mark didn’t mention it in his sermon, after the Protestant Reformation was set in motion, all the pastors of the Catholic Church (which we call bishops) got together in a city called Trent and they talked about things that Martin Luther and other reformers were saying about Jesus, the Bible, and what it means to be a Christian. During this meeting, which is known as the Council of Trent, the Bishops accepted some of the criticisms of the reformers and put an end to an abuse of its teaching of indulgences.  They did not, however, affirm everything that Luther said and they also stated clearly where Luther had erred. The Council was one of the most important events in what is known as The Counter Reformation, which is the Catholic Church’s response to the Protestant Reformation.

Although the Counter Reformation was a positive step towards reestablishing communion with protestants, we recognize that there is still a lot of progress that must be made in restoring unity to the body of Christ. One way that we make unity in the Church a reality is to pray for Christian unity. The week of prayer for Christian Unity is being celebrated from January 18 through January 25. Many Churches, including the Catholic Church, will devote time during this week to repent of the sins which cause disunity and pray for God’s will that full Christian unity might happen again in our world.

Mark Driscoll has spoken about Unity in the Church before. Lucky for Catholics and Mars Hill Christians, we actually agree quite often as to what authentic unity really is.  Mark Driscoll said it well:

There is one God: Father, Son and Spirit. They are one. They live in love and unity, working together. That is the pattern for God’s people, the church. So, when you become a Christian you’re reconciled to God, and reconciled to the church. So, in unity, God’s people loving and working together, we show the world something of the nature of the trinity… And so the key is to figure out what Jesus means by unity and the pursuit of unity, and how we can have it; and how we can maintain it and build it and grow it as a church. And let me say this, this verse has been butchered by something called, “The Ecumenical Movement,”* which says, “Jesus wants us all to get along. So, let’s not argue over things, you know, like sin, and hell, and Jesus. Let’s just cook muffins and pray with the Buddhists, and all pretend.” And my answer is, “Naw, let’s not.” Unity in Jesus’ prayer is not just that all Christians would fake like we get along, but that the true Christians would work really hard to actually get along without faking it with those who are not real Christians. (Emphasis mine)

One of the Catholic Church’s pastors, a man named Pope John Paul II, wrote a letter to the whole Church about this very topic and he has similar words that Mark Driscoll uses. He says that we should avoid something called, “False Irenicism,” or “false peace.” In other words, our pastor agrees with Mars Hill Church’s pastor that we should not pretend like we are at peace when we are really not at peace. Likewise, we should not pretend to be in agreement with things when we are really not in agreement.  For example, Catholics believe that Jesus Christ is made spatially present in the bread and wine that are blessed by a validly ordained priest.  That is a very bold statement with gigantic consequences depending upon whether or not it is true or false.  This is an issue that needs to be resolved; not brushed aside so as to pretend that it isn’t a big deal.

I pray that Mark Driscoll and members of Mars Hill will join other Christians in prayer during this important week. I also pray that God will bless DriscollWatch by allowing it to be a place for Catholics and Christians from Mars Hill to discuss all that continues to divide us.

*The Catholic Church uses the word ecumenism slightly differently than Mark Driscoll uses it in a couple of ways.  Firstly, Driscoll talks about ecumenism as having something to do with non Christian religions like Buddhism.  The Catholic use of the word “ecumenism” has nothing to do with non-Christian religions.  For Catholics, ecumenism has a primary meaning of work done to unify the Catholic Church with Eastern Orthodox churches.  It is also sometimes used when referring to protestant churches.  Although the Catholic Church is in dialog with other religions, such as Buddhism and Islam, it does not call this ecumenical dialogue.  Rather, it is called Interreligioius Dialogue. Secondly, in the quote above, Driscoll implies that part of the word’s definition is false peace, which the Catholic Church would label as a false example of ecumenism.

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