This last month I have reflected on Augustine, particularly his words and work around the Donatist controversy and schism in the fourth century. Donatist argued that the clergy must be without fault in order for their ministry to be effective and valid. If they were with fault then God in fact would not hear their prayers and when they administered the sacraments it would not have been valid. I remember reading about Augustine’s conversation with Donatist. He said, “You might actually be right, and clergy should of course strive to live a holy and blameless life, however, at this juncture, I believe unity is of greater importance.” This of course reminds me again of Jesus prayer in John 17. I imagine him praying and really pleading with his father, begging in fact, that his disciples would be united and would be ONE. I think in that moment he knew that Judas would betray him, he knew that there would be a schism later about circumcision and new Gentile believers. He knew of the things in generations to come that would would work to divide his followers and he pressed in and begged for unity.
I think about the many things threatening the church today. Divisive conversations and positions in the church regarding LGBTQ+, women in ministry, and alcohol just to name a few that bubble up to the surface. I really believe that God is in all and is working in and through all things to build his kingdom here. My challenge for us, as Jesus people in North Portland, is to press in. Press into the discomfort and the tension, but doing so with an open and attentive heart and a listening spirit. May it be said about the church in North Portland, “Those Jesus people on the peninsula really know how to love each other, even when they strongly disagree, and they have figured out not just how to love each other, but how to love together.” May we be marked, not of course by uniformity, but rather by unity. I really think convictions are important and essential and I think we are stronger in fact when we disagree, but let us never forget that at the end of the day we are all working toward the same goal, the same love, and the same Jesus. It is our deepest desire to see God’s kingdom built and to see people experience the transformative love of Jesus.