Chapter 30: SHE URGES ALL MEN TO UNITY UPON
THE LORD AND HIS NEW TESTAMENT
by Mack Wayne Craig
In a world divided into
religious bodies of every doctrine and practice, Churches of Christ plead for
the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ on the basis of the Word of God.
Although most of us are accustomed to religious division, stop and ask yourself:
Is this really God's plan for His people? Did Jesus die to bring about such
confusion as exists among those who claim to wear his name? Those of us who
cannot find this condition in harmony with the Word of God are pleading that all
men put aside denominational ties and stand together united in Christ on the
truth presented in the Bible.
It is clear from studying
Jesus' teaching that this was his purpose for his followers. During the final
hours before his death, Jesus' prayer for the disciples and all believers makes
his attitude clear: "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" (John 17:20-21). We note in this
prayer two important truths: first, Jesus expects his followers to be one in the
same sense that he and the Father are one. Can you imagine asking Jesus what to
do to be saved and being told something different from what God would say? Yet
this is the result of religious division, as different churches teach doctrines
which do not agree with those taught by others.
A second truth which must be
noted from Jesus' prayer is his statement that believers in years to come would
learn and follow him through the word or teaching of the apostles" (John 17:20).
Many seem to have decided that they have the right to believe and teach whatever
pleases them, with little concern over whether it is the message of God through
the apostles. Jesus here makes it clear that his disciples can only be made by
accepting the teaching set forth by the apostles, and that these disciples must
and will then be one because they believe and teach the same thing.
These truths are emphasized by
the apostle Paul in correcting the sin of denominationalism which arose in the
Corinthian church. The idea of religious denominationalism is to separate or
divide into different groups, each with its own peculiar doctrines and
practices, but all claiming to belong to Christ. It is based on the idea that
men have the right to interpret truth for themselves, and to decide what
doctrines they wish to hold. It grows out of the Roman Catholic position that
the church is the final authority, with the right to decide on doctrine, rather
than Christ as final authority, to whom the church bows in obedience. Listen to
Paul's message: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus
Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among
you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same
judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). Does this requirement for unity of doctrine made
by Paul fit the practice of religious groups today?
Denominationalism developed out
of the efforts of sincere people to reform the Roman Catholic Church. Men like
Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John and Charles Wesley, and many others
became convinced of the need for change in the religious practices of the
church. Each began to teach and emphasize various areas in which he believed
reform was needed. Unfortunately, the result was that those who followed them
developed into new religious groups with creeds and doctrines which still did
not go back to the teaching of the apostles who were guided by the Holy Spirit.
This practice has continued so that hundreds of churches exist today, in spite
of Jesus' prayer and Paul's instruction that we all be one.
The tragic result of this has
been the conclusion by many that what is called Christianity must be false. If
Jesus is the Way, why can his followers not walk together? Did you note in
Jesus' prayer that this is the reason for which he requires that we be one? He
said". . . that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21). The
divisions in Christianity cause young people in divided homes to lose interest
in the call of Jesus; how much more are people from non-Christian backgrounds
confused by the differences among those who call themselves Christian!
God's plan for our salvation
included his provision of truth as the foundation for life. This truth has been
given us in the Bible, which God has preserved for us through the centuries. It
was his purpose from the beginning that disciples of Jesus should stand together
on his Word. Note the following:
1. Jesus claimed all authority
in sending the apostles to teach his word: "All power is given unto me in heaven
and on earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name
of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all
things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). The apostles were
not at liberty to teach or interpret as they pleased, but were bound by the
message of Jesus.
2. The Holy Spirit was given to
the apostles to make sure that they would teach only the will of God and Christ.
On the night of his betrayal, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to
accomplish this purpose: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the
Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things
to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26). After his
resurrection Jesus commanded the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of
the Holy Spirit: "But ye shall receive power, after that The Holy Ghost is come
upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea,
and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
3. Since the apostles could not
always be present to teach the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit, they wrote the
message which would be needed through the centuries. In doing this, God guided
them by the Holy Spirit so the message had to be accurate and true. Listen to
Paul's statement of this truth: "How that by revelation he made known unto me
the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may
understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not
made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles
and prophets by the Spirit" (Ephesians 3:3-5). We have the privilege of reading
and studying the words of the apostles and others guided by the Holy Spirit. To
write creeds or single out special ideas for emphasis is to ignore the
revelation of God's truth which is the basis for following Jesus.
4. This message of truth set
forth in the Bible will make us all that God wants us to be. Notice Paul's
statement to young Timothy: "But continue thou in the things which thou hast
learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And
that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make
thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture
is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for
correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be
perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Those who misunderstand the
plea of churches of Christ for unity on the Word of God sometimes reply: "You
think that you're right, and everybody else is wrong." This is not our position.
We are convinced that the Bible is true and right, and that any of us is right
only to the extent that we accept and follow what it says. Why not turn away
from all human doctrines and unite on the Word of God as the only rule of faith
What two important truths about
unity does Jesus' prayer teach?
What is the idea of religious
What does this idea grow out
How did denominationalism
What has been the result of
How did Jesus guarantee that
the apostles would speak the truth?
How can we know that truth