Defining Christian unity

John 17:11 “And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

When you look at the church today, do you see unity or division?  At first glance the word division comes to my mind. Look at the number of denominations. There are thousands of them.  Just think of the contrasts among those who call themselves “Christians.”  What commonality is there between Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, and the Amish, for example? How can they be called “one” in any sense of what Christ prayed for in the verse above?  Perhaps this particular prayer was never answered, or if it was, if you aren’t in the right group, whatever the right group is, then maybe your group may not be a part of that answer. 

How do we know what “oneness” is in the terms of Jesus’ prayer?  Well, when you think about it, at the time Jesus prayed this prayer He was with 11 of the 12 disciples. Judas had proved that at least he wasn’t one with them, for he had gone off to betray the Lord and his followers.  Of those who remained, certainly there was unity, for they lived with, were taught by, and were directed by one and only one leader, the Lord Jesus Christ. But now He was leaving them. Yet he wanted them to remain in oneness, united in vital union with Him. He describes this union as a oneness that was just like the oneness between Him and His Father.  How would this ever happen, however, if He wasn’t there to guide them?

The answer lies in the fact that He would continue to be with them after His ascension in the person of the Holy Spirit.  Now, instead of His immediate presence and guidance limited to a small group of followers who were always with Him physically, His presence and guidance would be with all believers everywhere by His indwelling Spirit.  And He also left them with His Word. He provided, in black and white, His very mind.  Thus, on the basis of the written Word of God together with the resident Teacher in the form of the Holy Spirit, there would be a unity with Him through all generations everywhere in the world.

The oneness that Jesus prayed for, and the oneness that indeed exists in the church today, will be rooted in these two things – the presence of the Holy Spirit and absolute devotion to the Word of God.  The root of all disunity will be found in absence of the Spirit of God and distortions of the Word of God.  The presence of the Spirit of God in a life or in any so-called “church” will be evident by obedience to the Word of God. 

The Bible explains that there will still be differences in viewpoints.  People with the same devotion to the Word of God and love for the God of the Bible will differ with respect to disputable matters – like eating, drinking, and the clothes they wear. The true believer will eat, drink, and dress in a way that, so far as he or she understands, will glorify God.  Others who hold different opinions on these things will do all they can to love those who sincerely believe differently, rather than cause division because of them. Romans 14 goes to great lengths to explain such things. 

However, when there is clear evidence of sin in a life, or where there is a willingness to dismiss some or all of God’s Word for the Truth that it is, that is where “oneness” must end, for that is not a unity that is rooted in the true oneness that exists within the Trinity of God.  There can be no unity between the Truth of God given to us in the Word of God and any other gospel, for any other gospel is a lie.  And there can be no unity between the Holy Spirit and “the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2), for “What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols?” (2 Corinthians 6:15-16).  The true gospel and the Spirit of Truth; both are essential for true unity in the church.  It is only on this basis that we can be one as Jesus is One with the Father.  May God help us to aspire to just such unity in the church, for there can be no unity without it

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