This post is by Jesus Florez, a Proven Catholic apologist.
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus declared He would draw all men to Himself. He also affirmed that there would be one flock and one shepherd.
This is a clear indication that our Lord Jesus intended unity to characterize the new people He would gather around Himself. The early Christians were clearly aware of this. St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote in the early second century to St. Polycarp “let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation”.
Ut Unum Sint
According to Scripture and Tradition, the Catholic Church believes that the unity Christ willed for the new people of God is one of a common faith, worship, and government: doctrine, liturgy, Magisterium.
Throughout the centuries there have been many heresies and schisms that have threatened to sever these bonds. In our present time, we experience the great divisions among Christians precisely over matters of faith, worship and government. The rampant fragmentation among Protestant Christian communities is only one example of how deep these divisions run and how serious they are.
Be Reconciled to Your Brother
We seek the reconciliation of all Christians in accordance with the will of our Lord and the means He provided for the continual transmission of the Christian faith. Among other things this means communion with the successor of St. Peter, the bishop of Rome, whom Jesus Christ our Lord established as His vicar on earth and the principium unitatis, the principle of unity, among believers.
In 2016 Pope Francis met with several Protestant pastors from different denominations and traditions in an effort to promote ecumenical dialogue and foster collaboration among fellow Christians. One of them was Kris Vallotton, Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church in Redding, CA.
After meeting with Pope Francis, he proceeded to write an article and preach a sermon (iTunes podcast link) to his congregation in which he talked about unity among believers. I’ll comment briefly on three points I believe to be praiseworthy and then I’ll complement with additional reflections and considerations.
A Path to Reconciliation
When Pastor Kris met with Pope Francis he was very pleasantly surprised by his gentle demeanor and remarked during his sermon that he was convinced the Pope was filled with the Holy Spirit.
He also led a prayer for the Pope as part of his preaching. As a Catholic, it’s very encouraging to see this from a Protestant pastor who influences many people. It’s a clear sign that he has the right disposition of heart in order to make ecumenical dialogue possible. I applaud this as a Catholic and see it as an exhortation for all of us to do the same.
Towards the beginning of his sermon, Pastor Kris made the interesting observation that the first Christians didn’t have a New Testament, let alone the whole Bible. He also commented on how important it was to have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. We wholeheartedly agree with Pastor Kris on the importance of a personal relationship with Christ. The Church enjoins us to approach Jesus in constant and fervent prayer and to hear His voice by frequent and prayerful reading of the Holy Scriptures.
Having said all this, realizing that the New Testament Scriptures didn’t exist as a unified canon for centuries and mentioning this during a sermon calls into question the Sola Scriptura paradigm whereby the Scriptures function as the formal principle of theology and the formally sufficient rule of faith without the need of a divinely appointed teaching authority.
We would encourage anyone that has become aware of this fact to continue to explore how in light of this millions of people, most of whom were illiterate, came to faith in Jesus and flourished in their relationship with Him.
Come, Holy Spirit
During the last portion of his sermon, Pastor Kris talked at length about the role of the Holy Spirit and how through it we can become part of the mind of Christ and achieve unity even if disagreement remains concerning doctrine and church government.
We readily agree with Pastor Kris in acknowledging the crucial role the Holy Spirit plays in the economy of salvation and God’s designs. One needs to look no further than St. John Paul II’s encyclical “Dominum et vivificantem“. However, we would balk at the idea of achieving unity while jettisoning unity of faith and government.
We would encourage people to explore the possibility that the gifts and operations of the Holy Spirit are not only personal and experiential but also hierarchical and communal.
For example, we believe that by a special gift (or charism) of the Holy Spirit the Roman pontiff is protected from error in declaring a point of faith or morals to be definitively held by all the faithful. We also believe that this gift is passed on by means of material succession within the context of the family of God.
Looking to Jesus, the Pioneer and Perfecter of Our Faith
Before His Passion, our Lord Jesus Christ prayed for the Church. Since it is Him doing so, we believe that His prayer is infallibly effective, and therefore there will always be only one true Church of Jesus Christ.
We confess, in the words of Blessed Paul VI, that “the Church founded by Jesus Christ and for which he prayed is indefectibly one in faith, in worship and in the bond of hierarchical communion” (Paul VI, Creed of the People of God, 21).
We earnestly pray so that all who confess Jesus as Lord and Savior work together to overcome division and return to the one household of God, the Church of the living God, so that the world may believe that the Father has sent His Son to unite all things in Him.
Lord Jesus, hear our prayer!
About the Author
This post is by Jesus Florez. Here’s Jesus in his own words:
I now share his mission to equip Catholics to defend their faith and help Protestants consider the claims of the Catholic Church.
I’m originally from Colombia in South America and grew up Catholic but lukewarm at best. At age 18, I joined a Catholic Charismatic community that helped me have a deeper and more personal relationship with our Lord Jesus. Since moving to the United States in 2015, I became very interested in apologetics and in 2016 I participated in Devin Rose’s Proven Catholic apologist course as a beta tester and earned my certificate soon after.
I work full time as a receptionist at a local nursing home and in my free time I enjoy reading about our faith and spending time with my wife.
You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
May the Lord bless you and keep you in the bosom of His family, the Church!