When representatives from more than a dozen countries met in Munich last Friday to discuss a possible ceasefire in Syria, few seemed to expect it to amount to much. Skepticism continued to abound even after those leaders announced that a plan was in place to begin a “cessation of hostilities” within a week’s time between Syria’s government forces and the rebels they have fought for the past four years.
Yet despite the doubts, it allowed many to begin fostering a rather unfamiliar feeling with regards to the civil war: hope. If the agreement was upheld, it would allow all involved to focus their attention on fighting ISIS and other terrorist organizations in the region. Moreover, humanitarian aid could be brought to the groups that Western powers believe are being starved into submission by embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Unfortunately, while U.N. convoys are expected to start delivering aid to the Syrian needy in the coming days, that appears to be the limit of the good that will come from the agreement. In the days since Munich, attacks have intensified rather than abated. Al-Assad openly questioned the viability of such a truce on Monday, telling a group in Damascus, “We hear about them requesting a ceasefire within a week. Ok, then who is capable of bringing together all these conditions within a week? No one.”
The Syrian president went on to name concerns related to how the fight against the terrorists would be impacted by such a truce, a complicated issue considering he believes that “anyone who bears weapons against the state and against the Syrian people is terrorist, and this is indisputable.” It appears that he sees little difference between the threats posed by ISIS and that of the rebels, so he is not terribly inclined to stop fighting either.
However, the Syrian government is not the only reason that the agreement appears to be in jeopardy. On Monday, four hospitals and a school were hit by missiles in Syria’s northern provinces of Aleppo and Idlib. At least forty-six were killed and many expect that number to rise in the coming days. Several countries have labeled the attacks war crimes, but debate continues over who was ultimately responsible. The Western powers and Turkey have largely blamed Russia and Syria while the latter group claims that the U.S.-led coalition was to blame for at least part of the attack.
As the battle in Syria continues to look more and more like a proxy war between Russia and the West, U.S. State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner spoke for many involved when he said it’s time for Russia to “put up or shut up” in implementing the truce. Sadly, it would be quite a surprise if the various nations were able to work through their issues in time for the ceasefire to go into effect. There are simply too many conflicting agendas and, without a common goal that each party is willing to prioritize, the stalemate will likely continue.
Our churches today are often divided for the same reason. Much is often made of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that his followers would be one as he was one with the Father (John 17:20–26). After all, our unity presents a powerful witness to the world around us. However, less attention is typically paid to the manner by which we are to gain that unity. You see, Christian unity is only possible when we share a common goal, namely seeing God’s will done by advancing his kingdom through the good news of Jesus Christ.
In this life there will always be the threats of conflicting agendas, personal differences, and a myriad of other issues that can prevent us from experiencing that unity. But Jesus dealt with many of the same things and still modeled a constant commitment to the Father’s will in every action, word, and thought. If we want to experience the unity for which he prayed in John 17, we must do the same.
Jesuit missionary Charles Henry Brent once said “The unity of Christendom is not a luxury, but a necessity. The World will go limping until Christ’s prayer that all may be one is answered . . . A unified Church is the only offering we dare present to the coming Christ, for in it alone will He find room to dwell.”
Could God dwell in your church today?