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DEAR FATHER | We can become the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity if we recognize our oneness in Christ

Why are there so many different types of Protestants?

Immediately prior to His arrest, Jesus made a poignant prayer for unity among His followers: “I pray…that they may all be one, as You Father, are in me and I in you, that they may also be in us, that the world may know that you sent me” (John 17: 20-21). It is clear by His prayer that Jesus understood that the struggle for unity would always be an issue among His followers.

Long before the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century, Christians experienced periods of division. In the early centuries of the Church, debates raged over the divinity of Jesus and the nature of the Trinity, resulting in temporary schisms. As centuries passed there was also a growing division between East and West, leading to the break between the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in 1054 A.D. By the time Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses in 1517, the cracks were already appearing. With the Protestant Reformation, Christendom shattered into sects of Lutherans, Anglicans, Presbyterians and other groups that did not recognize the primacy of the pope.

It isn’t surprising that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Protestant sects. Christians are serious about our relationship with God and want to get it right. Even within our own Church, we have divisions. The Catholic Church understands the importance of unity and, guided by the Holy Spirit, remains one body despite our differences. The Synod on Synodality acknowledges that Catholics disagree on many issues and we need to do a better job of listening to one another without rushing to reject those who think differently than we do. (For this reason, the working document in preparation for Phase One of the Synod was titled, “Enlarge the Space of Your Tent.”) Journeying together as one family is not always easy, but that is the demand love makes of us. We love despite our differences.

Among signs of unity are gatherings where Christians of various denominations pray together as disciples of Jesus. The Week of Christian Unity held each January provides many opportunities to do that. On Jan. 21, at St. John Bosco Church, Archbishop Mitchell T. Rozanski presided over a beautiful ecumenical service that included members of various Orthodox and Protestant Christian communities. There was a clear sense that we are already united with one another through baptism even if there remain differences we need to work through.

As St. Paul tells us, “The world as we know it is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7: 31). In other words, whatever it is that currently divides us will eventually pass. In the life to come, Jesus’ prayer for unity will be fulfilled in ways we can’t imagine. For that reason, we must continue to find ways to recognize our oneness in Christ now, because we share a common destiny in Him. We can become the answer to Jesus’ prayer for unity if we are willing to see one another as brothers and sisters in Christ in the present age.

Father Scott Jones is the episcopal vicar for the Northern Vicariate of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.

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