Jesus’ prayer for Christian unity:
20 I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that 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. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (The Gospel of John 17:20-23 NRSV)
We are witnesses in the Gulf to the love of God in the unity of the Body of Christ. Our aim is to be the fulfillment of Christ’s prayer for his church, to be one as a witness to God’s love.
Unity is not the same as uniformity. Uniformity is the absence of diversity. We are many churches; diverse in our languages, our liturgies, our doctrine, and yet in our rich diversity we can be unified in love for one another through our love for Christ, enabled by his love for us.
Ecumenism in the Gulf centers around a common witness to God in Christ, not by words alone but in worship; by the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, prayer, penitence, and also by service; by the practice of charity and ministry to the poor and oppressed, to every guest, to everyone unknown, and receiving and allying ourselves with the plight of every human being as a beloved brother or sister.
Our Muslim brothers and sisters often point to the fragmentation of the Christian churches, the multiple denominations and ask how our churches, if they belong to one God, can be divided. Of course Islam too benefits from a variety of schools of jurisprudence and theology and a multiplicity of traditions. Though our Muslim friends say, “Our variety of schools form one community. Shias, Sunnis, Sufis and Ibadis can all pray in the same mosque.” For Christians too, our diversity of theology, liturgy, language, church order and ethnic heritage are enriching to the Body of Christ. But if we fail to demonstrate a unity of fellowship, a unity of service and a unity of love in the Body of Christ, then our witness is not to God, but to our human pride and our organizational particularities.
The societies of the Gulf in which we live are paying very close attention to our actions and our character as Christian leaders. When we collaborate to serve the poor and needy in our countries we are witnessing to our unity in Christ. When we simply gather for ecumenical worship or to enjoy the fellowship of breaking bread together, we are both nurturing and proclaiming our unity by one faith, in one Lord, through one baptism. Everything that we do as churches together is a witness to our unity in Christ, the revelation of one God.
We recognize that unless we develop a shared voice and common commitment to cooperation, we will not be able to be faithful to the mission of unity to which we have all been called. Therefore the way forward will require an intentional effort to build relations of trust and a network of people among all Christian churches of the Gulf who have a shared sense of mission, which is rooted in our common theology.
Just as God’s Holy Spirit led the earliest church in the unity of hearing many diverse languages being spoken as one language on the day of Pentecost, so too we pray for God’s Holy Spirit to lead the churches of the Gulf to a new and fresh understanding of the unity of the Body of Christ in this place, the Church in the Arabian Gulf.