By Roy E. Cogdill
Our Lord prayed for unity (John 17:20-23). Unity, therefore, is His will and should be the desire and prayer of every Christian. We need to examine this prayer, however, to be sure we are interested in the kind of unity and upon the basis that will please Christ. Anything other than that will be a waste of effort. For men to cry aloud for the religious world to unite and disregard the principles that Christ has laid down as His will is to be guilty of hypocrisy. Are we interested in unity? Will we accept the basis laid down by the Lord in order to attain it or aren’t we that much interested?
Scope of Unity
Firstly, notice the scope of the prayer for unity Jesus prayed. “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” When the gospel preached by the apostles of our Lord makes believers-genuine believers-Christ’s prayer is that they might be “one.” Unity among all true believers should be the objective of all who are interested in doing the will of the Lord and who are willing to pray “Thy will be done.” This does not mean those only who already had believed or just those who would believe in the First Century but it means just what it says: “them that shall believe on me through their word.” Just as long as faith is being planted in the hearts of men through the gospel preached by the apostles, the Lord’s prayer is that they who have such faith may be united. This means in this generation and all generations to come.
Extent of Unity
Secondly, the kind or extent of unity which is the Lord’s will, is made evident in this prayer. “As thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.” Jesus wants believers in Him to be united even as He and the Father are united. Unity in any other case or to any other extent will not meet the requirement. This is why “union without unity” will not fill the bill. Federation is the order of the day in this generation. More and more, politically, power is being centralized in the federal government. In economic institutions also, centralization is the order of the day. Even so in religion, the interest people have in unity and their efforts to attain some sort of compromise so that money, control or authority, and cooperative arrangements can be combined on a compromise basis and federation-union-can be accomplished. But in all modern movements it is union without unity and certainly does not begin to approach the kind of unity for which Christ prayed. Men who differ in conviction, spirit, purpose, and as to method, cannot be united in organic federation and have the unity described by Christ, “that they may be one, even as we are one.”
Purpose of Unity
Thirdly, the purpose to be accomplished by this unity is also specified in the prayer. “That the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Division creates unbelief. The very hotbed from which infidelity and atheism arises and in which it flourishes is the division, denominationalism, and sectarianism that exists in the world today among the professed believers in Christ. No wonder that those who have not studied for themselves and committed themselves to the Word of God as their only rule of faith and practice should be confused by the contradictory claims of over three hundred religious denominations, each of which claim to be the “church of Christ” and to be built by a divine pattern. There is absolutely no room in the prayer of Christ for such division. God condemns it and Christ prayed that it might not exist. We cannot be deceived into thinking that religious denominationalism is all right, if we have any respect for the Word of God.
God’s plan is plain and specific. You will find it in Ephesians, chapter four, verses one through six. As we pointed out in the article last week, the first fundamental in unity upon God’s plan is One God and Father of all. The second indispensable principle for unity acceptable to God is One Lord.
We have no difficulty determining the identity of this “One Lord” whom all believers must recognize in order to partake of the unity of the Spirit and be acceptable in the sight of the Lord. Christ is Lord! He is the only Lord that believers can recognize. Unity cannot be pleasing to God if this principle is compromised. But there must be universal recognition among “all who believe through their word” that there is one Lord, only one, and that all must bow before the same Lord if the unity of the Spirit is accomplished. There can be no compromise here.
Christ accepted this title during His personal ministry (Matt. 7:21, 22; 9:38, 22:21-45; Mark 5:19; Luke 19:31; John 13:13). Peter declared on the day of Pentecost “God hath made Him Lord” (Acts 2:36), and at the house of Cornelius, “He is Lord of all” (Acts 10:36). Jude speaks of men denying “the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4). Paul speaks of him repeatedly as the Lord Jesus (Acts 30:35; 1 Cor. 11:23; 1 Thess. 2:15, 5:9, 10; 1 Thess. 2:19). Thomas confessed Him as “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).
This expression “Lord” signifies having power or authority. In accordance with it being used in connection with Jesus Christ in New Testament Scriptures Jesus said, “All power-is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). Paul declared that Christ is “the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23). Peter preached that the Jesus whom they had crucified had been made both “Lord and Christ” and commanded that they believe it assuredly or beyond a doubt. James tells us that there is but “one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12).
Any program of unity then that would recognize more than one Lord, or source of authority, or law, would be contrary to the divine will and, therefore, would be worse than no unity at all. Shall we accept some compromise between Catholicism and (so-called) Protestantism that recognizes both Christ and “Lord God, the Pope”? Catholics have held their long ecumenical conferences and have made the impression in the world that they are liberalizing their religion and are moving toward a recognition of other religions and perhaps even a federation with certain other religious bodies in the future. Does anyone think that they will discard “Lord God, the Pope” and unite with those who believe there is “One Lord Jesus Christ” and all authority and law giving power belongs to Him? This would destroy Catholicism in its entirety for every doctrine and practice peculiar to the Catholic religion has come from the councils of men and not from Christ and the Apostles. This can easily be proved by their own historians. They are not about to give up “The Pope” and their claim that he is the “Vicar of Christ” and “Lord God, the Pope.” They expect someone else to do the compromising, as they always have.
But the same thing is true of Protestant denominations. They each have their centralized authorities and their human creeds that they do not expect to surrender. Will the Methodist Episcopacy accept the authority of the Presbyterian Synods and surrender their own form of governing authority? Who can expect it? And even if they did, what would be accomplished? There can be no compromise on any human form of authority, government, or organization. All human sources of authority and forms of governnient must be discarded, if we are to be Christian. The acceptance of any human compromise means the rejection of Christ as the only Lord. The recognition of any human authority means the rejection of the completeness of His power and authority in the Church.
It appears that brethren who know anything about New Testament teaching could see this and know that when they affect their federations and amalgamations in the guise of “cooperation” when Christ has authorized nothing of the sort they have rejected the Bible principle that “He is Lord of all” and “head over all things to the church.” Some loose, liberal thinking brethren even talk today about “we do not need authority for everything we do” and go merrily on their way in affecting such organizations as “The Herald of Truth,” “World Wide Radio,” “Campaigns for Christ,” benevolent societies, educational societies, and everything imaginable. Who is Lord of all these human enterprises and organizations? Christ is not!
Truth Magazine XX: 28, pp. 438-439
July 15, 1976