J. Gordon Melton is an American author, theologian, and the founding director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion. Currently, he’s the Distinguished Professor of American Religious History with the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he resides.
The author of more than 45 books, Melton is known for his encyclopedic knowledge of world religions, religious traditions in America, and his research into cults and extremely unusual religious groups. “It’s my little niche,” Melton said.
“In 1900 there were 330 different religious groups,” Melton observed. “Now, there are over 2,000, and I find every one of them incredibly interesting.” Here are a few of the more unusual.
♦“The Church of God Anonymous.”
♦”The Embassy of Heaven” in Strayton, Oregon.
♦The “All-One-God-Faith Inc. based in Escondido, California.
♦”The Church of the Mystery of Universal Wisdom,” who believe they can communicate with aliens and seek guidance from flying saucers.
♦”The Nudist Christian Church of the Blessed Virgin Jesus,”
Among mainstream Protestant groups there 22 different kinds of Presbyterians. 42 various groups of Methodists. And 88 denominations that identify as Baptists.
Apparently, neither these groups nor Melton has captured the essence of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.
The prayer is easy to outline. First Jesus prays for himself (vs. 1-5). Secondly, he prays for His disciples (vs. 6-19). Finally, he prays for all future disciples (vs 20-26).
In this prayer are some wonderful, practical lessons that the religious world in general and all of us specifically could learn and apply.
(1) Jesus finished the Father’s work (vs 4). Those who teach that God’s plan was thwarted when the Jews rejected Jesus are mistaken. Jesus’ mission was to bring God’s message of saving grace into the world and ultimately die for the sins of humankind. It was God’s plan before the beginning of time. The prophets predicted it (Isa 53). Jesus promised it (Jn 3:14; Lk 24:7). And the inspired writers affirmed it was so (Eph 1:3-10; 1 Cor 15:1-4).
(2) God used an instrument of death and destruction to become a symbol of glory and victory. In the shadow of the cross, Jesus prayed, that He glorified the Father. Even in death? Yes. In one of the great paradoxes of all time, God used the shame and suffering of the cross to highlight his power. To save the world. And to teach us humble obedience and self sacrifice. Thus, Paul would write, I glory in the cross” (Gal 6:14).
(3) The Value of the Word of God. Four times in this prayer Jesus refers to the Word. He said that the disciples were given the Word. They kept the Word. That God’s Word is Truth. And that future believers would come to Him through the Word.
Without the Word we are left in the dark religiously. Left to our own devices, opinions, and human wisdom. However, the Word is our light (Ps 119:105; 1 Pet. 1:19). It illuminates. It guides. It directs. It dispels darkness. It reflects the wisdom of God and the character of Christ for us follow.
(4) God’s Word is Truth. Jesus clearly stated it. “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (Jn 17:17).
Philosophers and theologians tell us that Truth is relative. They opine there is no such thing as absolute Truth. What is truth for me may not be truth for you. Truth changes. Truth is fluid. And it is constantly in flux.
Yet, Jesus’ words reveal the absurdity of that idea. The Almighty has given us His Word. It is the Truth. And it will sanctify and set us apart. Jesus affirms that He was the embodiment of Truth (Jn. 14:6). That the Truth would set us free from the shackles of Satan and the servitude of sin. (Jn 8:32). And it is the Truth that He sent the Holy Spirit to reveal to the apostles, which they recorded in the book we call the Bible (Jn. 16:13; Eph 3:3-5).
God’s Truth is absolute. Accurate. Authoritative. And unchanging.
(5) God desires religious unity among Believers. Jesus prayed for oneness. For unity. For harmony among His followers.
We are not to be divided into 2200 groups following different doctrines, engaging in conflicting practices, and wearing weird names. The Savior’s desire is that we may be one, just as He and the Father were one. (vs. 21-23). When we accept His Word as Truth and follow it, then unity is possible.
May Jesus’ prayer become our profession, purpose, and practice.
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman