Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 16, 1959
NUMBER 10, PAGE 1,10b

The Unity For Which Christ Prayed

L. R. Hester, Savoy, Texas

Jesus 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." (Jn. 17:21.)

As these lines are written division within the church is becoming more apparent and widespread daily. The line of fellowship has been, and is being, drawn in many places. Gospel preachers who were once united in the common cause are now engaged in pointed controversy. Men who a decade ago were in demand as gospel preachers throughout the brotherhood are not presently allowed in many pulpits. Sister congregations who have enjoyed the closest fellowship no longer announce each other's meetings. The civil courts have been employed in disputes over church properties. From the pulpit, over the radio, through the papers, on the streets and from house to house, brethren are engaging in sharp controversy. Many things point toward the final formation of a new and additional sect, as well as the eternal loss of innumerable human souls.

Certainly, someone is in need of repentance. Christ is not divided (1 Cor. 1:13), and division within His church cannot be accomplished without departures from the truth. Disunity among brethren is condemned of the Lord (1 Cor. 1:10), and he does not look with favor upon those who cause it. (Prov. 6:16-19.) The condition is pathetic and the guilty (it matters not who) must repent or perish. (Lk. 13:5; 2 Pet 3:9.)

But who are the guilty? We all recognize the division and admit that someone is at fault; yet, those on both sides of every issue claim to be messengers of peace. Surely we all would do well to take stock of our own position. We are all capable of being deceived, and the mere fact that one is on the right side of an issue is not proof that he has contributed nothing toward discord among us. The writer believes that much harm has been done by men on both sides of the present controversy by a wrong attitude and conduct, and this statement is designed to teach him as well as others. But he believes a closer study of the Lord's prayer for unity could help greatly both in placing the blame and in correcting the wrong.

Was this prayer a petition for the kind of unity advocated by the denominationalist — an agreement of tolerance toward every wind of doctrine? Was it a mere request for agreement between religious subjects? Was united effort on the part of the immersed the end to be accomplished? Would the desired end be attained by a cessation of all controversy, or an acceptance of all current practices?

The answer to each of the above questions is, No! The Master said: "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I come not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own house." (Mt. 10:34-35.)

It is true that where the unity for which Christ prayed is attained there is religious agreement and united effort; but this, and this alone, is not what he prayed for. He did not ask for tolerance toward religious error that one religious subject might agree with another. There was unity in the building of the tower of Babel. "Behold the people is one, and they have one language", said the Lord. (Gen. 11:6.) They not only spoke one language, but they, being of one mind and purpose, were united in a common cause. But God was not pleased with this unity, and he ended their evil work by confounding their language. If agreement between men and united effort in a cause is the thing to be desired, why did God disrupt this unity? He did this because they were united in a vain work of error and not in a work of truth. In many communities Roman Catholics enjoy religious agreement and united effort, as do the Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, and many others; but Jesus did not pray for Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, or Methodist unity. To disrupt Roman Catholic unity by exposing the Pope's dogma to the doctrine of Christ is not a matter of opposition to the Lord's prayer for unity, and this is true notwithstanding the cry of Catholics to the contrary. And when the Pope's doctrines infiltrate the church of the Lord, respect for his prayer demands that they be promptly exposed and expelled.

Today brethren are accused of opposing Christ's prayer for unity for no greater sin than openly calling in question the practice of local churches contributing funds to a human institution designed to do a work of the church, centralizing church funds and oversight under the elders of a single church in a work to which all churches are equally responsible, church sponsored and controlled programs of physical recreation and entertainment, etc., etc. And in spite of the fact that scriptural justification for these practices CANNOT be found, some would bar from their pulpits (and cities) every brother who dares to ask that they either be proved or abandoned. Thus John 17:21 and other passages are misapplied and the scriptures are arrayed against themselves. To condemn a man simply because his teaching results in disagreement between men (even men in the church) is to condemn the very work that Jesus said he came to do — "set a man at variance against his father ..." (Mt. 10:35.)

Jesus did not say he came to deliver a message of confusion and disunity; but his statement, "I came not to send peace, but a sword" emphasizes the fact that his doctrine is designed to call men out of and make them different from the world, and that it would set the church and the world at variance against each other The scriptures read: "If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you." (Jn. 15:19.) "Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." (1 Jn. 2:15.) "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God." (Jas. 4:4.)

Christ's doctrine is at variance against all worldliness both in and out of the church, and every religious practice not included in that doctrine is a matter of worldliness. (2 Jn. 9.) Unscriptural practices within the church oppose the unity for which Christ prayed, and to openly expose their unscripturalness in Christian love is to plead for unity in Christ, even when the result is disagreement between the immersed. Jesus did not pray that the faithful be one with the unfaithful. On the contrary, his petition is that his people NOT be one with the world. (Jn. 17:15.)

His prayer for unity is a prayer that the children of God be entirely free of worldliness by means of the truth. The reader is urged to carefully read John 17:14-21 noting especially the following facts:

1. Christ's disciples are not of the world even as he is not of the world. (Verse 16.)

2. Christ prayed that they might be kept from the evil of the world. (Verse 15.)

3. He prayed that his disciples all be one "in us" — in the Father and in the Son. (Verse 21.)

4. Perfect oneness in the Father and in the Son would lead those of the world to believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. (Verse 21.)

5. The sanctification — freedom from the evil of the world — is to be accomplished by means of the truth, which is the word of God. (Verse 17.)

Now, is it not perfectly clear that to be kept from the evil (Verse 15), sanctified by the truth (Verse 17), and made "one in us" (Verse 21), are one and the same? If, then, two or more members of the Lord's church are led perfectly by the doctrine of Christ, do they not have the unity for which the Savior prayed? And is it not true that any practice on the part of the church that is not included in that doctrine stands in opposition to that doctrine, and hence in opposition to Christian unity? If not, why not? And who is responsible for dividing the children of God? Is it the man who insists upon unscriptural practices, or is it the man who insists that said practices either be proved by the scriptures or be abandoned?

Let the following facts be well observed: (1) the unity for which Jesus prayed is IN and not OUT of the Father and the Son, and (2) it is accomplished only by means of divine truth. It may be said that this teaches us that only those who have in obedience to the gospel been baptized into Christ can enjoy this unity. To this, the writer agrees but yet insists that it teaches us much more than that. It is time that to be in Christ we must by gospel obedience become members of his church, but for the immersed to enjoy this unity in him demands that we continue in him — in his doctrine — being "established in the faith, as ye have been taught". (Col. 2:6-7.) To abide in Christ is to abide in his teaching and to transgress — go onward — and abide not in his teaching is to leave both the Father and the Son. (2 Jn. 9.) And to be sanctified by the truth is to be made free from the evil that is of the world and to be consecrated in Christ as a result of loyalty to his doctrine. The immersed may agree that an unscriptural practice is profitable to Christ's cause, and they may unite their strength in carrying it out, but their unity is neither a matter of oneness in Christ nor sanctification through the truth.

How much, my dear brother, do you want unity in the Lord's church? Do you want it enough to strip your religious practice to the teaching of Christ — that which is taught in the scriptures by either express command, approved example, or necessary inference? And if you KNOW your brethren are dividing the children of God by calling in question a SCRIPTURAL practice, will you please point out to the guilty the passage or passages that prove the practice in question to be scriptural?