Gospel Gazette Online

Vol. 12 No. 1 January 2010

Page 10

Religious Unity

Raymond Elliott

“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21). In the Lord’s Prayer, there are several things that are quite evident: 1. Jesus’ concern for His apostles. 2. Not only for His apostles but also for all who would believe on Him. 3. That this belief would come through the apostles’ doctrine. 4. That there would and could be unity among all such believers. 5. This unity would have a tremendous impact on the unbelieving world.

One of the most difficult things for modern man to accept and understand is that God intended for all believers to be united in religious matters. If this is not the case, then our Lord prayed a deceptive prayer, knowing all the time that He was praying for something that was not possible. However, our Lord knew that men could be united if they followed the apostles’ doctrine (Acts 2:42). Unity of teaching cannot help but to produce unity of believers. There cannot be unity in diversity of doctrine and beliefs. Each separate and distinct religious organization exists today because of a distinctive and different doctrine. This is in direct contradiction to the Lord’s sentiments expressed in His prayer to the Father. We can also know the mind of God and the desire of the Holy Spirit in this matter through the inspired Scriptures. God hates “he that sows discord among brethren” (Proverbs 6:16-19). The apostle Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.” Paul instructed early Christians in this manner: “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them” (Romans 16:17). We know that “God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). We must conclude therefore that religious division exists today, not because of God’s intent nor the desire of the Lord, but because of man’s unwillingness to be guided by the sole authority in religious matter and that is the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It seems odd that we accept the fact that the government has written a book for the Postal Service to use in the setting of prices regarding the sending of mail, but we reject the thought that God, in His infinite wisdom, has given us a divine book that can unite believers in His Son Jesus Christ.

Our Heavenly Father has not left us without direction in this matter of religious unity. The Holy Spirit had the apostle Paul to make a plea to the first century Christians to “Give diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). It should be the desire of every believer to contribute to unity and not disunity in religious affairs. This unity is possible if we subscribe to the Spirit’s platform as follows: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). Let us begin on common ground and acceptance.

Number One: There is unity of worship in accepting the divine truth that there is “one God” (Exodus 20:3). Jehovah God is the object of our worship. Jesus told Satan as recorded in Matthew 4:10, “…You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.” Jesus also told the woman at Jacob’s well that “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). It is in God that “live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28). “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation of shadow of turning” (James 1:17). Further, it is by the infinite grace and love of God that we are saved from our sins (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8). The natural response from God’s creatures should be one of praise and adoration. Those who believe the Bible as being inspired accept the great truth that there is but one true God.

Number Two: There is “one Lord,” thus unity of authority. The reference here is to Jesus Christ who possesses “all authority…in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). This authority has been delegated to Him by His Father (1 Corinthians 15:24-28). Today, we are to submit our will to the Lord. We do this by obeying His every command (Matthew 17:5; Luke 6:46). “Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). There is no man on earth who shares this authority with Jesus Christ.

Number Three: There is unity of life in the “one Spirit.” Incidentally, right here in this passage you have the Godhead mentioned: One God, one Lord and one Spirit. The Spirit is the third Person in the Godhead. The Holy Spirit has given the inspired Word to mortal men, who in turn wrote it down for mankind to have (John 14:26; 16:13). Peter declared that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The apostles and other men inspired of the Holy Spirit have declared unto us “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). These men claimed to have spoken that “which the Holy Spirit teaches” (1 Corinthians 2:13-14). The Spirit dwells within the body of Christ, the temple of God (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Those who walk in the Spirit produce the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:16, 22-23).

Number Four: There is the unity of message in the “one faith.” The term “one faith” means “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). The one faith is the system of salvation, the doctrine of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This message has been revealed by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). In this sense, there are not many faiths but rather “one faith.” There are no latter day revelations since “the faith” has been once deposited in the inspired writings of the Holy Scriptures. The apostle Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:2-3, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue.” Therefore, there is no need of the creeds and dogmas of men to direct us in matters pertaining to spiritual matters.

Number Five: There is “one body,” thus, the unity of organization (Ephesians 4:4). Other passages of Scripture relate the same truth. “For as the body is one and has members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12, 20). It is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ in which all people can be united together as taught in Ephesians 2:16, “and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” What is the body Christ? Let us permit the Bible to answer that question. The apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:22-23, “And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” In Colossians 1:18 we read, “And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.” These two verses clearly teach that the body and the church are one and the same. Now, please read again Ephesians 4:4 to learn how many bodies (churches) are mentioned in God’s scheme of redemption.

Number Six: There is unity of practice in the “one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5). Since the Holy Spirit in this verse has taught that there is one baptism, we can know assuredly that there are not many baptisms. This one baptism is one that can be administered by man’s hands. Jesus commissioned His apostles to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). This baptism, as the Greek word ‘baptizo’ signifies, is a burial or an immersion in water. Paul wrote in Romans 6:4, “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (See also Colossians 2:12; Acts 8:36-39.) This one Bible baptism, preceded by faith and repentance, is for the remission of sins. The Lord Himself said, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). Peter, guided by the Holy Spirit, commanded his hearers to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). This baptism places one in Christ Jesus where there is salvation (Galatians 3:26-27; 2 Timothy 2:10). In addition, when one is scripturally baptized, he becomes a member of the one body, the church of our Lord (1 Corinthians 12:13; Acts 2:47).

Finally, there is the unity of desire in God’s platform, and that is “one hope” (Ephesians 4:4). Paul teaches that we are saved by hope (Romans 8:24-25). There are two elements in the meaning of the word hope. They are desire and expectation. Surely, all persons in their right thinking desire to go to heaven when this life is over; however, there are many who do not really expect to be saved eternally simply because they have not obeyed the Gospel commands of Jesus Christ. Someone has said that heaven is a prepared place for a prepared people. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2). Now read Hebrews 5:8-9: “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”

As believers in Jesus Christ, we should endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The plan for unity among disciples of the Lord was not of man’s ingenuity; rather, it is of the Holy Spirit. This is an individual responsibility and should weigh heavily upon our hearts. “Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).

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