"that they may all be one"

Heather is working more actively on the internship program for this summer, and it looks like I will be involved in some of the discussions at least. The main focus will be community. This has been a point of some contention between me and others who live here, so I imagine the discussions will be interesting. And I thought it might be good to clarify some of my thoughts on Christian community now, in preparation.

One of the passages that speaks about Christian community most powerfully to me is Jesus' prayer in John 17. Especially this part:

"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 thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.

"The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me." (Jn 17.20-23)
I believe this is what sets Christian community apart: "that they may all be one." That 'all' referring to "those who believe in me through their word." Which is not an institutional unity, or a local organization unity, or denominational unity, but universal Christian unity. In other words, there is only one Christian community: the Body of Christ.

Any communal "boundaries" that are set more narrowly than the one Body I have to reject. Boundaries that make other brothers and sisters in Christ "them" (i.e. not "us") are false, and so that "community" is false, not the one Christian community. To cut ourselves off from other Christians is to cut ourselves off from the Body and thus to cut ourselves off from Christ.

Another aspect of Christian community is seen a few verses earlier in John 17, where Jesus says:
"I do not pray that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world."
This is also unique about Christian community: its mixed-in-ness. In the world but not of it. A people who are different, unique, but not physically set apart or spatially (or even politically) defined. This is how I understand these other words of Jesus:
"The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, 'Lo, here it is!' or 'There!' for behold, the kingdom of God is among you." (Lk 17.20-21)
Just as Jesus had no place to lay his head, Christian community has no "place" in the world, no niche carved out that is "ours," or "home." Nowhere you could say "there it is, there's the kingdom, there's the Body, there's the Christian community."

It certainly exists, however. It is real, with evidence to be seen: the love of Christian brothers and sisters for one another in word and action. But the community, the Body, is not segregated. It does not have its own town or nation or even organization (with duly elected leaders to rule it). We see this reflected in these teachings of Jesus:
"My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world." (Jn 18.36)

"You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you..." (Mk 10.42-43)

"Call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ." (Mt 23.9-10)
That's how the one Christian community is: There is one Head, one Father, one Master. God. And we all obey, cooperating and supporting each other as we serve God's purposes in the world. Not a hodge-podge of institutions and local organizations, each with their own laws and authority structures, but one Body, spread throughout the world, acting in unity and harmony under God's direction, inspired by the same Spirit, the same Love.

There is one body and one Spirit,
just as you were called to the one hope
that belongs to your call,
one Lord,
one faith,
one baptism,
one God and Father of us all,
who is above all and through all and in all.
(Eph 4.4-6)