"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." (John 17:20,21)
These words always trouble me. How can we present the reality of the Jesus we proclaim if we, as followers of this Jesus, cannot find a way to hold onto our distinctives without continuing to allow them to be walls of division?
I grew up in a community of faith where it was literally preached that if you do not walk with this particular denomination you were not walking with Jesus. This, of course, was a long time ago, but I cannot help but think that things haven’t changed much. We are more sophisticated, so that we are able to stiff-arm people as we smile kindly and offer soft words, but it’s a stiff-arm none the less.
Our church practices what some have called open communion, which means if you are a follower of the Jesus-way you are welcome to partake of the LORD’S Table, but we do not accept another church’s baptism unless it is the same mode -- immersion, and the same meaning -- believers baptism. These are our distinctives, yet, there are times this will not fit the moment.
Several years ago I was called upon to visit a dying man. He was a relative of a church member who had asked to see a clergyman. When I made the call several family members were there, but as soon as I introduced myself they left me alone in the small apartment with the man who was ill.
He told me his story -- I could tell he had given much thought to what he wanted to say because he got right to it -- explaining that he had decided to follow the ways of the Christ as a youngster, but that he had never been baptized, and he wanted me to baptize him right then!
Of course, immersion was not possible, the man was too sick, which meant I had a decision to make. It really wasn’t very difficult to see what needed to be done. I got a towel and a small pitcher of tap-water from the kitchen, and while I held his head up from his sick bed I baptized him in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. I saw relief crease his face, and I felt something as well. In fact, it was so sacred a moment that I never gotten over it. There, alone in that room, the spirit of Jesus visited us both. His faith was made complete and somehow so was mine.