By Ron Halbrook
On the eve of His crucifixion, our Lord prayed with power and pathos:
Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
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. 17:17-21).
Jesus was set apart from all mankind to do the Father’s will in a unique sense. Also, the disciples of Jesus were set apart unto the service of God through the truth of the word of God. Jesus prayed “for them also which shall believe on me through their word’ I that they all might be united as are the Father and the Son, “that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” The word of truth saves, sanctifies, and unites people in Christ! Departure from that word is sin — it brings division, condemnation, and the need for restoration.
The twin themes of “restoration and “unity” with their counterparts sin and division are emphasized all through Bible history. Restoration means return to an original state or standard. Unity is oneness of relationship. Man’s departure from an established standard or state separates him from the one who set the standard and from all who maintain that standard. Such departures destroy unity and create division. But when anyone forsakes all other standards and starts to return to the original, that is restoration. The result is unity with the one who set the standard and with all who maintain it.
The restoration plea is based on the fact that whenever God reveals a standard of truth to guide men, men turn aside from it and must be called back to it. Sin separates man from God and from all who serve God in truth. Each individual passes from a state of innocence to guilt when he first sins (Gen. 3; Rom. 7:9; 1 Jn. 3:4). God’s call for man to be restored to Himself and to divine truth is seen in the blood of Christ which was shed to redeem man from sin (Isa. 53; Tit. 2:11-14; 3:15). But even after initially returning to God, a person may stray away from God and be called back again. This process may be seen in the lives of David and of Simon the sorcerer (Psa. 32:1-5; Acts 8:13-24).
Unity with God and His people through the restoration of respect for divine truth has been the plea of the faithful in every age. Once in history, the purposes and desires of every living person were only evil every day. Noah and his family, eight souls, were the only exceptions. As “a preacher of righteousness,” Noah pled for a restoration of respect for truth and right (2 Pet. 2:5). Later, the Gentiles as a whole cast God off and turned from truth to wickedness of all sorts (Rom. 1:18-32). The Gentiles needed to return to the truth and the living God recognized by their forefathers after the Flood.
The Jews became God’s chosen people beginning with Abraham in 1800 B.C. (Gen. 12:1-3). But by the late 600s B.C., they were about to go into captivity for their sins and the prophet Jeremiah pled for a restoration of “the old paths. . . . But they said, We will not walk therein” (Jer. 6:16). The prophets Ezra and Nehemiah led the Jews back from Babylon and restored the true worship at Jerusalem. After a time, the Jews became complacent. Malachi warned them to “remember ye the law of Moses” and to watch for the coming of one like Elijah who would restore or reconcile the people to God (Mal. 4:46; Matt. 17:11; Lk. 1:17). John the forerunner of Christ made that restoration plea as prophesied (Matt. 3:1-12).
Christ came to restore to the world a proper respect for God and for His Word, and a proper relationship to God. For this great work He prayed in John 17. Beginning in Acts 2, the blessings of His message have been sent into all the world. But after the apostles of Christ died, many who professed to follow Him departed from His word into many kinds of sin and division (2 Thess. 2). That condition persists today with several forms of Catholicism, Protestant denominations, and other assorted factions, fragments, cults, sects, splits, and splinters, all claiming to follow Christ. This is not what He prayed for -He prayed against it! He said it would hinder the spread of the gospel – and it does. Religious division helps the Devil to spread doubt, confusion, and despair regarding the truth of the gospel of Christ.
The answer to the despair of sinners and the sin of division is unity through restoration. Is it really possible today? Yes, if we will learn and apply three simple lessons. Unity through restoration: (1) requires respect for divine revelation; (2) leaves room for liberty within the realm of truth; and, (3) is based on true love.
Respect For Revelation
Jesus said that men are saved, sanctified, and united through the power of divine truth, not by the opinions, traditions, and philosophies of men. We must have a strong determination to obey God’s Word – to recognize it as God’s – not to add anything to it or subtract anything from it (Deut. 4:1-2; 29:29; Rev. 22:18-19).
The apostles of Christ preached and wrote by divine inspiration. Throughout the book of Acts, we find them preaching that Jesus died, was buried, arose from the tomb, and ascended to rule as King at the Father’s right hand on David’s throne (Acts 2:29-36). All who believed this message were united by it. The modern play “Jesus Christ, Superstar” left Jesus in the grave. If some in Acts 2 had embraced such a theory while claiming to follow Christ, there would have been division. Modernists have called the resurrection a myth, fable, or figure of speech. That separates them from Peter who preached that Jesus came out of the grave in the same sense that David stayed in it! Many millennial theories deny that Christ is ruling now as King on David’s throne more division. The solution? Restore respect for what the Bible says!
The people who believed Peter’s preaching cried out, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). Suppose some had responded, “We will repent for remission of sins, but baptism is not essential to salvation – we can do that part later.” They would have been divided from those who “gladly received his word” and were baptized “the same day” (v. 41). This baptism was an immersion in water (8:38). It was preached to the Gentiles in Acts 10:4748. Supposed they had answered, “That was for the Jews, not for us. ” This would have divided Jew and Gentile. Instead, the Gentiles also gladly “received the word” (11: 1).
Paul found twelve disciples at Ephesus who had received John’s baptism and did not know Christ had already come. Hearing the good news, “they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 19:1-5). Can we imagine these answers to the apostle’s preaching? “John’s baptism is enough – we don’t need another.” “If we must be baptized again, why not just sprinkle or pour a little water on us – that’s just as good.” “We’ve decided that baptism is a purely symbolic idea, not a literal action. It’s not needed.” If some had followed the apostle’s word and others had followed their own opinions, what would have been the result? In that case, how could they have united?
The importance of divine revelation is emphasized in Ephesians 3:3-5 and the result in 4:4-6: One body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all. Unity! We can illustrate this with 5:19, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” Imagine several opinions being expressed such as, “I don’t think singing is important – it’s a waste of time – we don’t need it.” “We don’t all need to sing. It is more entertaining to have a trained choir and special singing groups.” “I love harps, drums, and trumpets. Let’s use them in worship. ” To act upon such human theories and opinions, likes and dislikes, would divide the church. Divine revelation unites it.
When Paul heard of factions forming around the names of favorite preachers at Corinth, he pled “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.” How? They had to recognize that Christ is not divided, that men did not die for us, and that we were not baptized in the name of some man. They could unite by wearing the name of the One who died for them and by whose authority they had been saved (1 Cor. 1:10-13). Divine revelation unites. The religious world is divided by denominational structures and by human organizations such as colleges, clinics, and camps vying for the allegiance and money of churches. God’s simple plan for the local church is all-sufficient – and is our only hope for unity (Phil. 1:1). When churches get into political work, secular education, and entertainment, the results are fusses, factions, and fragments. The early church was united around the great work of sounding out the word of the Lord (1 Thess. 1:8).
We will never have unity with God and each other with some of us following The Book of Mormon, others the Science and Health of Mary Baker Eddy, some the edicts of the Watch Tower Tract and Bible Society, some the “prophecies” of Ellen G. White, and still others the diverse creeds and councils of men. True unity can be attained by the restoration of respect for divine revelation – God’s Word!
Liberty Within Truth
Unity through restoration leaves room for liberty within the realm of truth. To preach and practice things outside the doctrine of Christ is a pseudo-progress which destroys fellowship with God and faithful saints (2 Jn. 9-11). Liberty is not the license to do as we please, to set aside God’s will for our own. True liberty comes from learning and doing God’s will – “the perfect law of liberty” (Jas. 1:25). Thus we are freed from sin, including the errors of religious division.
Liberty within truth provides for expediency. Within the total realm of lawful things, many details of expediency are left to human judgment as needs and circumstances change (1 Cor. 6:12). For instance, it is lawful to marry and for a preacher to be supported by the church where he labors, but whether we use these liberties depends upon the circumstances of each case (1 Cor. 9:4-5,14). Shall we baptize people in running water or in a pool of water? So long as we do nothing but baptize and use nothing but water, when we do either we abide within the realm of truth.
How many songs shall we sing – who will lead – shall we use an invitation song – shall we sing in a uniform chant or in mixed harmony – with or without books – with or without shaped notes? So long as we do nothing but sing and the songs offer worship and edification, all such questions fall under expediency. Someone says, “Yes, like instrumental music.” No, that adds to singing another action (playing) and adds to vocal music another kind (instrumental) – both unauthorized by the doctrine of Christ. If it were authorized, the questions of expediency would be, “How many instruments and what kind – who will play them what style of music?” It is the same difference between expediency in serving the Lord’s supper (size, shape, and number of containers used) and unauthorized additions to the elements specified by the Lord (unleavened bread and fruit of the vine, not hamburger and milk shake).
There is room for liberty of personal conscience within the realm of truth. One may eat meats and another only herbs by conscience, while respecting one another and worshiping together (Rom. 14:1-3; 15:6-7). One person worships wearing a certain style, mode, or garment of clothing and the other person another – each having made a conscientious decision while striving to please God in all things. This woman reads a verse when asked by the class teacher but that woman declines – no one divides the church over it. We must not violate our conscience in such matters nor bind it on everyone else as though no one can worship God until they see all things as we do. If we fail to recognize this principle, we will split the church, then split the splinters, and thus hinder the prayer of Christ.
Based on Love
The plea for unity through restoration is based upon genuine love. First in John 17 we see the great love of Jesus Himself. His love for God is shown in His coming to earth and sanctifying Himself to do the Father’s will. Because of His love for truth and right, He taught God’s Word to His disciples. He respected the power of truth to create faith in the gospel and wanted it preached throughout the world. His prayer for unity shows His love for the people of God. He guided the apostles to labor for that unity. In all of this, we see the love of Jesus for the lost. His prayer and His plea was “that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” He was about to die for sinners and expected His followers to make every possible effort to save as many as possible. Jesus well knew that religious division confuses the lost and hinders them from obeying the gospel.
Can we learn the sacrificial love of Christ in our own lives? Loving God, truth, our brethren, and the lost ‘will cause us to make sacrifices. We must lay aside our own will, opinions, emotions, wishes, doctrines, philosophies, and traditions which may hinder the fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer. Let us lay aside stubbornness, rise above personality clashes, and overlook petty slights and judgmental differences in order to advance the cause of Christ. Unity through restoration is possible only on the basis of such sacrificial love!
Guardian of Truth XXX: 11, pp. 348-350
June 5, 1986