“I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord.”
We cannot be entirely sure who Euodia and Syntyche were. They clearly were in dispute, but we don’t know why. These two women must have been influential in the nascent Philippian church; the fact that Paul felt it necessary to single them out shows the damage caused by their disagreement. The tone of Paul’s entire letter aims towards reducing disunity, disagreement and the resulting personal animosities which would be fatal to the cause of evangelism. To overcome disagreement, there is an exhortation to emulate Christ’s humility.
There has been much talk in the global West of an ecumenical winter, whilst cooperation and goodwill between individual church leaders and denominations has never been greater– albeit more at the informal level. Are these the tentative signs of an ecumenical spring – or no more than huddling around the embers of a dying fire for mutual warmth? There are little in the way of public disagreements in the manner of Euodia and Syntyche, yet institutional divisions continue to be a barrier to belief for many. Any reason for continuing decline in Church membership and attendance should be a matter of concern for Christians.
Returning to Scotland after working for five years in Geneva with the World Council of Churches has given time for reflection on global ecumenical relations. The contrast between the level of Church growth in Africa and the decline in the global West could not be starker. Yet there is a danger that divisions in the Church in Africa could, in time, contribute to a decline as seen in Europe.
It is easy to confuse unity with uniformity. A monolithic Church, insensitive to diversity, would inevitably exclude and deter many. Instead, there is an urgent need to overcome disagreements through actively building peace, justice and reconciliation.
Gracious and loving God, help us through your Spirit to overcome our worldly disagreements and animosities. Following Christ’s example of humble service, help us to love and to serve as agents of your peace, justice and reconciliation. May your Church be truly united in you, not through human standards of mediocre uniformity. We pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.
The Rev Matthew Ross is a minister of the Church of Scotland, now working in the School of Critical Studies at the University of Glasgow. He served for ten years in parish ministry in Scotland; he has also worked in ecumenical relations for over 15 years with the Conference of European Churches, the World Council of Churches and was General Secretary of Action of Churches Together in Scotland.