The New Testament Church It's Oneness
Jimmy Tuten, Jr.
St. Louis, Missouri
The very nature of the church as the body of Christ requires that it be united to fulfill the will of God. Unity is the fundamental principle in the kingdom of heaven just as it is in nature. This is clearly taught in such passages as, "Ye are God's husbandry, ye a r e God's building" (I Cor. 3:9), a n d "We, being many, are one body in Christ (Rom. 12: 5). The prayer of our Lord, "that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me and I in thee" (Jno. 17:21), is a fitting and sublime climax to a wonderful discourse and certainly to the most wonderful life the world has ever known. How can man be indifferent to the prayer uttered during that momentous hour, the hour when the guilty world was about to lay its hand upon the head of Christ as a substitute victim a sacrifice for the sins of the world? Can one possibly overlook the prevailing desire that includes all believers? Looking down the stream of time, the Saviour prayed that ALL might be one.
It should be the concern of each disciple of the Lord to be united with Christ in the Father. Division is a distinct and flagrant sin. It weakens the efforts of those who labor and pray for the conversion of the world. It is wrong in principle and unworkable in practice. It is the folly of men who have caused schism, strife, and separation among those who labor for a better life in this world. There is no greater hindrance today to the cause of New Testament Christianity than divisions among the professors of Christianity. The world can never be converted without the prayer of the Lord being answered. Many may consider this improbable, but yet is possible' or the Lord's Prayer is meaningless. Where can common ground for unity be found? It can be found first of all in cherishing and cultivating the sentiment for unity, and ultimately in a return to the model and ideal given through the inspired apostles and recorded in the New Testament.
Modern-day religious confusion is causing numerous individuals to be lost. When people become entangled in false teaching, they cannot help but reject the truth of God. That self-importance and pre-eminence among religious partisans create schism is demonstrated in the very existence of divided Christendom. "For where jealously and faction are, there is confusion and every vile deed" (Jas. 3:16). False teaching is another factor, which destroys peace and harmony. "From among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). Strife and party warfare have alienated neighbors and friends; it has caused the influence of some of the ablest men in the church to be insignificant, and has created rivals for the Lord's church. There must be an awakening. Divided forces must be welded together upon the platform of the New Testament. The salvation of the human race is the most important thing in the world (Tit. 2:11-12). But that salvation is synonymous with membership in the Lord's church (Acts 2:47). The pattern for the church in all of its aspectsits membership, work, worship, and organizationis fully revealed in the New Testament (Heb. 8:4-5; II Tim. 1:13). The true position to be occupied by the believer is to insist upon a "thus saith the Lord" in all things. There can be no true unity in God's sight unless every action is authorized either by general or specific authority from God's word. Not only should the Christian stress the importance of doctrine with reference to the Lord's church' he should stress the importance of purity in the lives and conduct of those who make up the church (Eph. 5:27). Both factors help to make a united force that will shatter the forces of evil.
The Foundation for Unity
Federations, unions, and mergers seem to be the order of the day. Though they are multiplying in favor, there is a vast difference in these and the unity for which the Lord prayed. The doctrine, practices, names and organizations, which have caused and fostered division and sectarianism must be done away with and destroyed. Men must become one in the faith once and for all delivered, and in the church for which the Saviour died. There are many standards in the world for unity, and should the Christian unite upon any of these, there would be a total disregard for the Divine basis for unity. In Ephesians 4: 1-6, God's seven-fold basis for unity is presented. As long as this basis is maintained, there will be no division.
Notice how the inspired Word sets the stage for unity. "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called...." (V.1). Christians must walk worthily, i.e., they must conduct themselves in such a manner as is compatible with their calling. This means that they will seek to please God in all that they do. As the apostle Paul told the Thessalonians: "brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as ye received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God . . ." (I Thess. 4:1). Many who profess to be children of God are "men pleasers" and as such cannot walk in unity with those who are God-pleasers. Walking worthily involves walking "in newness of life" (Rom. 6: 4-6). Those who are in Christ are new creatures, "the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new" (II Cor. 5:17). The life of the saint is different from the life lived as a sinner. This is why godliness is so essential to unity. There can be no unity between sinners and Christians, for we are commanded to "be not unequally yoked with unbelievers" (II Cor. 6: 14). We cannot have unity as long as children of God refuse to walk worthily of their calling. Unity necessitates our walking to please the same person, namely, God (I Jno. 1:5-10). This will keep the church spotless and pure (Eph. 5: 26-27).
In the second verse of this "foundation for unity," the inspired writer shows what he means by the exhortation to "walk worthily." He says, "With all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love." This is essential to the oneness of the Church and within itself eliminates many things, which perpetuate division and dissension. Meekness and humbleness are necessary characteristics of the laborer in the Master's vineyard (Matt. 5:5). General self-glorification, being excitable and violent, are all characteristics of the proud, not the meek and lowly. Being easily provoked and irritated not only make us inconsiderate of the feelings of others, it causes us to fail to be longsuffering and patient in our attitude. Forbearance is indispensable to the unity of the faith. Though we are to "forbear one another in love," this does not mean that the Lord's church is to tolerate disobedience to God's will, compromise her convictions, or give in to those who are opinionated. There must be unity in our lives before there can be unity with reference to the gospel of Christ. When we are living as God directs, we will love each other and will desire to be at oneness with each other. The Church can then present an united front to the world. Christians need to get right before God and their fellow man, and by their conduct show the force of their plea for unity. We dare not try to force upon people what they cannot see in our lives.
After setting the stage for unity, the Holy Spirit lays down the plan. To follow this inspired plan is never to travel in the way of denominationalism. To heed the message of the apostle Paul is never to be found on the side of division and disunion.
The Spirits Plan for Unity
"THERE IS ONE BODY" UNITY OF ORGANIZATION: Unity demands that we think in terms of "one body." The Church is spoken of in terms of "one flock" (Jno. 10:16), and is called the "body of Christ" (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18, 24). It is identified as the "body" nine times. Why does the church exist in the form of one body? It exists as a body because it has only one head (Col. 1:18). As such it is supreme. If there was another head, there would be more than one body. This would make Christ a freak, and His church a monstrosity. Again, the church exists as one body because it has only one birth the new birth (Jno. 3: 3-5). We all become citizens of the kingdom, the church by this one birth (Eph. 2:19-22). This makes one a fellow-citizen with the saints in the household of God, for by partaking of the same birth that others in that body partake of (i.e., by one spirit all being baptized into one bodyI Cor. 12:13), we become one in one body. By virtue of the oneness of the church, denominationalism stands condemned of God. One cannot accept the status quo of sectarianism and hold to the unity of the Spirit. To have unity we must conform to one body.
"THERE IS ONE SPIRIT" UNITY OF LIFE AND REVELATION: The Holy Spirit permeates and gives life to the church (I Cor. 12:13; 3:16-17; Jas. 2:26). "Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?" The Spirit dwells in the church because He dwells in the lives of those who are members of the one body (Rom. 8:9; Jno. 14:17). The Spirit is received when a person obeys the gospel and is added to the church (Acts 2: 37; 5: 32; 2: 47). Besides producing in the lives of the members of the body the "fruit of the Spirit" (Gal. 5:22-23), animating and aiding them in their prayers (Rom. 8:26; Eph. 6:18), and leading them to live Christian lives (Gal. 5:16, 18, 25), the Spirit guided the Apostles unto all truth (Jno. 16:8-11). In this way the Spirit guides us through their words: "now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God: that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (I Cor. 2:11-13). In this sense the work of the Spirit centered upon the REVELATION of the will of God, and the confirmation of it (Heb. 2:4). There are no contradictory sentiments revealed by the Spirit. He did not inspire contradictory messengers. His revelation is complete and harmonious. If one believes in unity, then one must accept the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). Let us therefore speak where it speaks and keep silent where it is silent. Failure to respect the silence of the scriptures has led to apostasy.
"THERE IS ONE HOPE"UNITY OF DESIRE: The belief in a better life after death is essential to unity. This involves our hope. This desire for eternal life is in contrast to the temporal desires. While hopes are many with reference to temporal things, there is a singleness attached to the Christian's hope. When this hope is alive, the night is less dark; the solitude less deep; fears are less acute, and there is a singleness and gladness of heart. The word "hope" itself does not have any particular linguistic interest, but when we study the use of the word in the New Testament, we discover the content and basis for the hope of the child of God. Hope, along with faith and love, is one of the three great pillars in the saint's life (I Cor.13:13). Hope is impossible for the non-saint in that those who are without Christ have no hope (Eph. 2:12). The hope is taught in the Bible from beginning to end. It consists basically of the hope of eternal life (Tit. 1:2; 3:7). But it includes the hope of the return of Christ (Tit. 2:13), of the resurrection of dead (I Pet. 1:3-4), and of being in the presence of Christ throughout all of eternity (I Thess. 4:17). The means of attaining this blessed hope and realizing its ultimate fulfillment is clearly revealed in the New Testament. Jesus is the "Way the truth, and the life" (Jno. 14:6). When we follow the divinely appointed steps of salvation and live faithfully until death, there is unity among the saints of God, in this life and throughout eternity.
"THERE IS ONE LORD"UNITY OF AUTHORITY: Unity demands that we believe in one head of the church, i.e., (Eph. 4: 5). This necessitates the conviction that He was divinely appointed (Eph. 1:22), and that He has all authority in heaven and earth (Matt. 28:18; Col. 2:10; I Cor. 15:24, 28). He is the only one who speaks with authority. Anyone who attempts to occupy the position of headship over the church is an usurper. To have unity all must be subject to the one head of the church, Jesus Christ, the Righteous. They must submit to all that He requires in faith and practice. Christ is an infallible lawgiver. "Hear ye Him."
"THERE IS ONE FAITH"UNITY OF PRACTICE: The "faith" refers to the whole of the scheme of redemption as revealed in the New Testament. It has been delivered once and for all (Jude 3). The gospel system is certified (Gal. 1: 11) and furnishes us completely unto all good works (II Tim. 3:16-17). Since God has spoken for the last time through His Son (Heb. 1: 1-2), there will be no other forms of revelation, nor anything new to be added to the gospel of Christ. The New Testament condemns everything that is false, though it claims to be from God (Gal. 1: 6-10). In addition to this, the idea of man improving upon God's revealed will is excluded. God will not tolerate any form of additions, subtractions or substitutions. His plan is perfect and needs no improvement. Certainly God, in giving a plan whereby man might be saved through His. Son would make it complete and perfect. When men adhere to this pattern, their practice is harmonious with God's will and there is unity among those who walk in the light, as he is in the light (I Jno. 1:6-7). There is unity of preaching when we preach the one faith.
"THERE IS ONE BAPTISM"UNITY OF OBEDIENCE: The early church, as it existed under the guidance of the apostles, knew only one "mode" of baptism. It was a burial in water and was performed by coming "unto" the water, going "down into "the water and coming"up out of" the water (Rom. 6:4; Col. 2:12; Acts 8-36:37). Not only were the early Christians united with reference to the form of baptism, but also they were united with reference to the purpose of baptism. They knew that baptism was "for the remission of sins" (Acts 2:38), that it washed away sins (Acts. 22:16), that by it men entered into the one body (I Cor. 12: 13), that it was for the purpose of putting on Christ Jesus (Gal. 3: 27), and that it saved the sinner (I Pet. 3:21). The one baptism is the only means of reaching the blood of Jesus. There is no efficacy in water, for it is the blood that saves (Heb. 9:12, 14, 22; I Pet. 1:18-19). Since the blood of Jesus was shed in His death (Jno. 19:33-34), and we reach that death in baptism (Rom. 6:1-11), we contact his blood when we are baptized as obedient believers. Any deviation from this established order results in confusion and division. There is one baptism and should be one universal practice.
"THERE IS ONE GOD"UNITY IN WORSHIP: The text says, "one God . . . who is above all, and through all, and in you all" (V. 6). God is "over All" in that He created all things. This is true judicially in that He will judge the world in righteousness. It is also true in that God will maintain His exalted position throughout all of eternity. He is the Supreme Being who presides over all things. Notice that he is also "through all." By this it is simply affirmed that God is the pervading universal nature, and His agency is seen everywhere. As to the expression, "in you all," here is proof that God is in all in that He gave physical life to all mankind. He resides in a special way in the Christian for the Christian is the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:19-20). Paul himself affirms to the Ephesians, "in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit" (2:22). This God and Father of all commands that we worship Him in Spirit and Truth (Jno. 4:2324). This calls for unity in regard to our acts of devotion and praise (Acts. 2:42; 20:8; I Cor. 16:1-3; Col. 3:16).
The prayer of Jesus in the seventeenth chapter of John shows that the Godhead is one in purpose, design and mind. Since unity is the fundamental principle of the Kingdom of heaven, it necessarily follows that the followers of Jesus should be of one heart and one soul. We must be united to fulfill the will of God and demonstrate that we have the mind of Christ (I Cor. 2: 16). This exists where there is peace and harmony (Jas. 3:16). A simple passing glance at the religious sects of today is sufficient to convince a candid mind that we are not one as God and Christ are one. We must continue to preach and practice unity "that the world may believe" (Jno. 17:21). When the followers of the meek Man of Galilee are united in one body, as the Scriptures teach they should be, the world will evidently be brought to a realization of the claims of Jesus, viz.: (1) that he is the Son of God; (2) that God sent Him; (3) and that He is the world's only and true Saviour. Are you willing to accept God's platform for unity? If all will teach and do exactly what Christ and the Apostles taught, the victory is won. Division will die. Harmony and unity will prevail everywhere. May our Lord speed the day when:
"Our Saviour's holy prayer,
His tenderest and His last,
The utterance of His latest care
Ere to the cross He passed;
No longer unfulfilled remains
The world's offense, the people's stain."
TRUTH MAGAZINE XI: 2, pp. 10-14