By H.E. Phillips
No more wonderful prayer was ever uttered than that of Christ just a little while before he was to purchase the church with his blood on the cross. As he gathered around him the chosen disciples, he prayed earnestly on their behalf for unity among them. That prayer does not go altogether unanswered, as some suppose, for there is unity among those who abide in the teaching of Christ. I do not mean that all those who call upon the name of the Lord are of one accord, nor do I mean that all in the church of the Lord are in perfect unity. The main difference is what Jesus prayed for and conditions today is in division over not abiding in his Word. Where any two men abide in the teaching of Christ it is impossible for them to be at variance with one another, because what his Word says to one it says to the other. When one obeys a given commandment of Christ, and another obeys that same command, there is no way for them to be at variance.
Here is a part of the prayer of Jesus. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; 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” (Jn. 17:20,21).
Several things are to be noticed in this petition. First, that not only the disciples present, but also all who believe on Christ through the word given to these disciples were to be one. The oneness grows out of the word of Christ. Unity can never be had on the speculations of men. What Christ has not taught cannot bring unity, neither can one follow his conception of a theory and be a unity with disciples of Christ. Christ did not pray that his disciples should be one while each believes what he wants to and lives according to his own theory.
Just because a man obeys the gospel of Christ and is added to his church, is no basis that all Christians should tolerate any notion he may invent regarding religion, or that all should be at unity with him in his innovations. Christ did not pray that “all Christians” should be at unity regardless of what each may believe and practice, but he qualified that unity by these words: “As thou Father, art in me, and I in thee. ” Now, unity among disciples must be the same kind of unity that exists between the Father and Christ. If not that kind of unity, Christ did not pray for them to be “unionized.” The Father and Christ exactly agreed in all things. Amos says: “Can two walk together except they be agreed?” (Amos 3:3) The answer is evident. Unity, as Christ prayed for it, demands agreement and that upon his Word.
The common error of preachers pleading for unity is that they want unity on other grounds than the Word of God. And they say all are guilty of causing division contrary to the prayer of Christ who do not agree. Christ did not pray for unity among disciples on any basis except his Word.
Just two chapters back John records these words of Christ: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit. Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me” (John 15:1-4). Now, is not this the real basis of unity, rather than the union of all who call themselves “Christians”? Christ said: “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” That is what makes men clean. Then he continues: “Abide in me, and I in you.” Unity among disciples can only come by all abiding in Christ. That is what Christ prayed for.
1 Corinthians 1:10 makes clear this same principle of unity. Paul admonishes the Christians here to “speak the same thing. ” Certainly to speak the same thing they must be agreed; and to be agreed and speak the same thing they must speak the word of God, not their own ideas (1 Pet. 4:11). The division in Corinth was caused by men following other men rather than the word of Christ. Division does not come by following the Word of God, but by following men who oppose the teachings of Christ.
Now as to the plea to “fellowship” those who do not abide in the doctrine of Christ. The “isms,” “antis,” “aids,” etc., can not bring unity, nor did Christ pray that these be unified with disciples who follow his Word. The word of Christ does not produce such schisms of any sort and when two people “abide in the true vine, ” there can be no schisms. These divisions come by someone being untrue to the word of Christ, and remember, Christ prayed for unity upon his word, not various ideas.
Christ did not teach any such doctrine as “Premillennialism,” and when a child of God apostatizes into that “ism,” it is not possible for unity, even though the two shake hands and profess unity. Unity is the speaking the same thing, and that the word of God. Christ did not pray for unity among Premillennialists and faithful children of God. He did not pray for unity among children of God when some of them “go after other gods” such as mechanical instrumental music in the worship to God. He prayed for unity among disciples of Christ who believe on him through his word. They must abide in his word for unity to prevail. His word does not teach “missionary societies” and “instrumental aids” in worship, therefore, he did not pray for unity among people on these points.
Inspiration gave us the way to treat those who “walk not uprightly according to the truth.” Paul, an apostle of Christ, taught unity just as Christ did, yet he had this to say in the Roman letter: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned: and avoid them” (Rom. 16:17). Does this sound like Paul was calling for unity at the expense of truth? Notice: “Mark them which cause divisions.” Division comes when people do not follow the word of Christ; the word is the basis of unity. Also he said: “and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. ” There is no fellowship for those who teach offensive doctrines which Christ did not teach. Let us not fool ourselves, unity cannot come when two are not agreed. The word of God is the basis of unity, not our opinions.
One more passage. “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him Godspeed; for he that biddeth him Godspeed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 10,11). Does this sound like unity in spite of truth? There can be no unity on conjecture and theory. One who does not teach the doctrine of Christ, minus the contaminating influence of human wisdom, cannot be fellowshipped according to the Scripture, neither can there be unity on this foundation. Christ’s prayer did not include unity by this standard, but only upon his word. Christ does not want unity among men at the expense of truth. The prayer of Christ is answered when men come to the unity he prayed for upon his word and his word alone. Even if one succeeded in bringing a few together, some believing premillennialism, some instrumental music in the worship, some societies and aids, some “anti,” and have them shake hands in fellowship, there is no unity. Unity demands the speaking the same thing, being agreed, upon the word of God. (Note: the term “anti” was generally applied in the 1940s to those who opposed the located preacher and Bible classes.)
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 21, pp. 643-644
November 2, 1989