Thursday, October 23, 2008

On Christian Unity

Special to The Post and Courier

It started out as a recipe for key lime double chocolate chip cookies. But after mixing the ingredients, I thought the pre-baked conglomeration looked too wet. There was absolutely no way I could roll one-inch balls of dough out of this soup. So I decided to add almost double the flour. Then (amateur that I am) I thought I ought to add some more of the other ingredients to try to even out the proportions. Good intentions, bad idea. After the timer sounded, I pulled my confections out of the oven, and voila! Cakies. They are round and somewhat flat like a cookie, but overly moist and airy—not crispy or buttery. Cakies look and smell a lot like cookies, but they aren’t.

Now, some might say, “Hey, those are great! Cookie meets cake. And since everyone has differing tastes in desserts, all the merrier.” To a certain extent, this is true. But what if folks called those cakies “cookies,” and for the next two or three hundred years, this crazed recipe took off and my cakies were baked all over the planet and called “cookies.” Then, after a half of a millennium, someone shows up with a recipe calling for half the flour and proportionately less sugar and eggs claiming that these are actually cookies. Citizens angrily suggest that the baker is trying to force his (presumably) ancient recipe for his “cookies” on them. Cakie enthusiasts insist, however disconnected from the past, that they know what a real cookie is. After all—everyone knows that they are supposed to be light and fluffy and moist.

In the heat of the debate about the ancient recipe and the newer one, there is a group of folks who think it is not worth battling over which is the true cookie. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” they thought, “if we just got together to bake.” And so they did. Some baked cakies (calling them cookies) and some baked the ancient treat, and they were content to “just bake together.” They thought that this would unify them. But did it?

Our Lord Jesus Christ prayed in the Garden prior to his passion, “that they may all be one,” and with a purpose—that the world might know that God the Father sent Jesus Christ into the world to save us. When self-professing contemporary Christians read these verses and look around, many assume that the denominations of Christianity are God-willed and God-sanctioned—like varieties of cookies and cakies or the 31 flavors of Baskin Robbins. Some attempt to justify these differences, saying that hands and feet and ears all make one and the same body. Others claim that God “wired” us all differently for different “expressions” of church. Still others figure that there is little use in worrying about the differences, and that self-professing Christians ought just “to do things together” to show unity (have communion, pray, build houses, go on retreats).

But the Christian life is so much more profound, and frankly, so much simpler. It is certainly good when Christians get together to serve others to bear witness to God’s love, and we should make the effort more often. But this action of doing things together is not the unifying factor of the Christian faith. We are not made one by a common cause. Rather, we are made one by Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We are not called—to make reference to the story above—just to bake together, we are called to make true cookies and to pass the same recipe on to the next generation.

Unity in the Christian understanding is not simply an outward unity that covers up a multitude of polar disagreements on the fundamentals of faith—such as baptism (who, how, when?) and the Eucharist (body and blood of Christ or not?)- or whether or not fornication, unchastity, adultery, and porneia are sins (they are!). Rather, the unity of Christians and the inherent Oneness of the Church (which to this day is not fractured) is established by knowing the unchanging Jesus Christ and living the Christian life as it has been traditioned (handed down) to us, from the beginning, starting with our Lord.

St Irenaeus of Lyons (disciple of Polycarp who was a disciple of John the Evangelist, who was among the closest to Jesus) described this reality beautifully in the second century:

The Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth…For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East... But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shineth everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it (Against the Heresies, Book I, Chapter X).

So, we ought not to overlook our differences. Rather, we ought to seek, each of us, to root out everything in our selves and souls and our practice that has not been believed in every place at all times by all Christians, and from this starting point, to know the true Christ as he really is. From there we can begin to serve the world in true unity.

Fr John Parker is priest-in-charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I’On. He can be reached at or visit

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