This month, Christians throughout Canada and around the world will gather to celebrate the common faith they share in Jesus Christ. Differences in approach to church practice and interpretation of Scripture will be transcended in recognition of Jesus’ prayer that “they [all Christians] may be one as we [Jesus and the Father] are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity” (John 17:22-23).
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which originated at the turn of the 20th century, was initially referred to as the Octave (eight days) of Christian Unity. The use of musical nomenclature was telling, as church leaders called all Christ followers to live in harmony, thus fulfilling the prayer of Jesus “that we may be one.”
The week begins on January 18, traditionally viewed as the confession of St. Peter, and ends on January 25, when many Christians celebrate the conversion of St. Paul. “You are the Messiah,” declared Peter (see Matthew 16:13-20) at Caesarea Philippi. Paul’s transformation took place on the road to Damascus when he encountered the living Christ (see Acts 9:1-6). Two thousand years later, these two events help serve as a framework for all Christians to come together in a spirit of unity to celebrate a common faith in Jesus Christ.
Since 1904, different countries have taken turns to develop an appropriate theme and resources for the week of prayer. This year, the theme comes to us from Indonesia: “Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue” (see Deuteronomy 16:18-20 NASB). It is a call for us to move from shared prayer to shared action. Drawing on the traditional values of Bhineka Tunggal Ika (unity in diversity) and gotong royong (living in solidarity and by collaboration), Indonesian Christians invite us to be a united witness, and agents of Christ’s healing grace in a broken world, by making specific commitments to justice, equality and unity. Resources, including an order of service, can be downloaded from the Canadian Council of Churches website: councilofchurches.ca.
Christian unity is a divine imperative, a witness to the world that we belong to Christ (see John 17:23). Why not ask your corps officer or pastor where a week of prayer service is being held in your area?
Lt-Colonel Jim Champ is the territorial ecumenical officer.
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