I believe in the importance of unity among those who know Christ, who profess to be “Christians”. Remember that was not a title the New Testament believers gave themselves; it was what they were called by their accusers who witnessed a change through their commitment to Christ as the Messiah. Today many among Protestants and Catholics call themselves “Christians” merely because they are part of a religious group. And there is no noticeable difference.
For many years I have been encouraging believers to become an answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. He prayed that we would first be “one with the Father as He is.” That means we know God as Father through a personal relationship, the result of a spiritual rebirth. He prayed for us to be protected from the evil one in this world of prevailing deception and darkness. Jesus continued, asking the Father to sanctify us, purify us, and make us holy through the Word. He wanted us to develop spiritual maturity through the power of truth, not to be divided by it, beat up or bludgeoned with it. His Word divides light from darkness, and good from evil, but it should not divide the family. Too often when Christians disagree, they immediately go their separate ways failing to recognize that we all “at this time see through a glass darkly.” Protestants and Catholics have theological differences which are not likely to be settled until the future kingdom that is to come, but any realistic hope for theological correction will come only when we share truth with one another in a spirit of undeniable love and concern.
Billy Graham’s wise advice, “I suggest you spend time with people you’ve been taught to avoid,” has had a profound impact on my life. It has proven to also bless those I’ve spent time with. Once they learn that I really want to hear their heart, not just their words or what others have said about them, they become very interested in hearing my heart and together we seek diligently to hear the heart of God more clearly.
I believe there is an important spiritual awakening beginning in the hearts of those truly committed to Christ in the Protestant and Catholic communities. Is it possible that Pope Francis may prove to be an answer not only to the prayers of Catholics, but also those known as Protestants? He has made it clear that typical traditional practices are not nearly as important as a personal relationship with Christ, a deep love for Him, and love for others, especially those who are normally overlooked.
For a long time Catholics have secured our relief goods in Third World countries inside their compounds. They were the only safe places we could store food and medical supplies for refugees in crisis situations. We were brought together by the love of God on behalf of those who suffer. We did not stand there debating our theological differences while people perished. We found common ground to address common concerns. All who understand the Creator as our source, our strength, and our Father need to look for every opportunity to join together putting His arms of love around a hurting world.
Yesterday I had the privilege of joining with Jack Hayford and Tom Phillips, Vice President of Billy Graham Library, and spoke in Virginia as part of a meeting hosted by concerned Catholic laymen and priests who are longing for people to come to know Christ, love Him, and love one another while reaching out to those who suffer. Also on the program was Fr. Cantalamessa who holds the title “Preacher to the Papal Household.” Before our meeting, he spoke to Regent University students and proclaimed justification by faith through Christ and the grace of God essential for both salvation and life. He closed his message asking the student body to sing with him “Amazing Grace.” It was an amazing moment.
Then Jack Hayford, Tom Phillips, and I spoke on the need for spiritual awakening and the unity Jesus prayed for in John 17. Paul challenged the believers in Ephesians to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in a bond of peace.” Cantalamessa brought the greatest response from everyone in attendance (Catholic and Protestant) when he said that since the critics of the church and of Christians and those who persecute believers think we are one and the Father has desired us to be one as a family, and Jesus prayed we would be one, it seems logical that we would also say we are one! Interesting thought. When the world attacks Christ and Christianity, they don’t say “Catholics and Protestants,” they say “Christians.” The critics are attacking those who believe that we have a reliable Word – the Bible – as a reliable source. They oppose the thought of one God, Father, and Creator. They oppose the significance of the cross and Christ as Lord and Savior – the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
Everyone must understand “religion” and being identified with a faith group does not mean that we have faith and trust in Christ. In my message yesterday I shared the story of when Betty and I were first dating as teens. She was a wonderful, dedicated Baptist church girl, choir member, and Sunday School teacher for young children. But amazingly, one Sunday she came out of the choir to publically commit her life to the Jesus who had transformed the boy she was dating who had grown up in a dysfunctional fatherless home. So obvious was my transforming spiritual birth, she realized religious activity and performance did not make her a child of God. She experienced a glorious transformation and she has never wavered in more than 50 years we have been together. I am praying for all people, whether Protestant, Catholic, or part of any tradition, to personally experience the power of the Gospel of Christ and to grow in their love for Him and others.
You will have the opportunity of hearing a personal word from Pope Francis on LIFE Today on Monday, May 5, on major networks around the world. One of his very best friends, Bishop Tony Palmer, whom we have supported in mission outreaches for years, shares the message that Pope Francis asked him to deliver to evangelicals and protestant believers. He made it very clear that he was seeking to speak from his heart and the heart of God to all of us who know and love Christ as our Savior and our Lord. I hope you will watch the program and encourage others to do so.
Please join me seeking the supernatural unity Jesus prayed for in John 17. This can lead to the next great spiritual awakening all of us recognize is so desperately needed. There is a flood of evil being poured out on planet earth that can only be offset by the power of God’s truth and the transforming work of His Spirit through the redemptive power of the Cross and the supernatural unity among those who truly know Him and love Him and their neighbors. I am praying for the miracle Jesus prayed for and by the grace of God I will live not only to see it, but to be a part of it. Let’s become the answer to His prayer together and fulfill the desire of God the Father to have a family through whom He can bless the nations of the earth.