Robert C. Oliver Contributing columnist
October 18, 2013
On the night that the Lord was betrayed, while in the upper room, Jesus prayed to His Father. He first prayed for Himself (Acts 17:1-8), then for His apostles (Acts 17:9-19) and then He turns His prayers to all them that believe on Him through the word of the apostles (Acts 17:20-23). For all those who believed in Him through the preaching of the apostles, He prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me” (Acts 17:21). This was a prayer for unity and fellowship of all true believers! It is obviously an issue of importance to the Lord since He specifically prayed for such. Is it not strange that today we can often hear people who claim to be preachers of God’s word, give thanks to God for all the different denominations that are available. According to this mind set, man has the freedom and opportunity to pick and choose from the various churches, finding the one that suits them best. Such is a far cry from the unity that the Lord prayed for.
The first major problem with this existing situation is that it is the exact opposite from that which the Lord prayed for. It is division, not unity. Some have tried to justify this division by stating that we have an agreement to disagree. It’s the “you have your way and I have my way and we’re all right in the sight of God” idea. When one examines the kind of unity that Jesus prayed for, he will find that no such explanation is suitable. Jesus prayed that all believers be one “as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee”. The Father and the Son did not just agree to disagree. All that Jesus taught and did was in perfect harmony with the will of the Father, else Jesus would have been guilty of sin (I John 3:4), but the scriptures tell us that, “we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). The apostle Paul spoke of the kind of unity that we are to have, when he told the brethren at Corinth, “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Cor. 1:10). Let’s face it; if all were speaking the same thing, there were no divisions and all were perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment, there would be no denominations.
The second major problem with the existing situation concerns the origin of the church. When Jesus had come to the coast of Caesarea Philippi and Peter had declared the faith of the apostles that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16), the Lord blessed Peter and then He made a promise. He promised, “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). One does not get far in learning the English language before they learn to distinguish between “singular” and “plural”. When Jesus promised to build His church, it was just that; church, not churches. There are other terms used in the New Testament in reference to this same institution. One that is quite common is the word “body”. Speaking of Jesus, the apostle Paul writes, “And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23). In the same epistle Paul addresses unity saying, “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph. 4:3-6). According to the apostle Paul, there is the same number of bodies, as there are Lords, Spirits and Fathers; just one of each.
True unity and fellowship of all believers will require the casting aside of all division. It will require the casting aside of all man-made religious organizations. Jesus said, “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up” (Matt. 15:13). Just calling oneself a Christian or calling a church the Lord’s church does not make it so. Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matt. 7:21-23). Religious zeal is great, but religious zeal without the truth will not bring one to salvation. Paul wrote, “For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:2-3).
It is a fact that God wants unity and fellowship of all believers. True believers will adhere to the word of God and then they will all be the same.
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