Christian unity is an oft sought but rarely found product in our diverse world. Jesus himself desired the unity of his disciples and specifically prayed for it in the High Priestly prayer of John chapter 17. It is essential for all believers to consider Jesus’ thinking and prayers.
Jesus Prayed for Christian Unity
Jesus prayed for christian unity. Praying for his disciples Jesus asked, “keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one..’ (John 17:11). In verse 21, “that they may all be one…” In verse 22, “that they may be one even as we are one.” In verse 23, and note the addition of the adjective, “that they may become perfectly one…” Four times in this chapter Jesus specifically prays for unity among his believers.
It’s important to note Jesus’ standard of unity that he seeks. He desires perfect unity. This suggests a complete unity in all matters. The context drives home this point when we see that the oneness or unity between Jesus and his Father is the standard of unity (see verses 21 and 22). We have come to accept the goal of “unity in diversity” but there is no diversity here. There is not the tiniest space between the Father and the Son and this is the kind of unity Jesus desires for his followers.
Paul was a great follower of Jesus. When he wrote to the fractured church in Corinth he echoed the same thoughts as the Lord.
“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
The Corinthians had begun to coalesce around personalities in the church. The result was a disunity that Jesus abhors. Within his body, the church, believers are to stand together in sweet unity with one another and speak the same things. Our goals and our efforts are the same, our doctrine is the same for we are one. The prayer for unity in John is demonstrated in practice among the Corinthians.
The same plea is given by Paul to the Ephesians. These beloved brethren were taught of the depth of God’s grace in salvation. In Ephesians 3:20 Paul calls for glory to Jesus in the church. In the next verse, Ephesians 4:1, he calls upon the believers to “walk worthy” of the their calling and in verse 3 to maintain the “unity of the spirit.”
What follows next, in Ephesians 4:4-6, is the basis for that unity.
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
I would suggest that Christendom is about half way there. We believe in one God and we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, as the son of God. But beyond that the unity crumbles. We cannot honestly say that we believe in and hold forth, one faith. Nor can Christendom claim a single baptism. There are at least a half dozen baptisms taught within Christendom today.
Given that unity is so precious to Jesus we conclude that the global community of Christ-believers is failing. We are not united. We stand under different names, teaching different doctrines and predicating our faith upon different teachings.
Such division displeases Jesus.
Hope for Christian Unity
Let’s go back to John 17 and find the way to unity.
The starting point for Christian Unity is the glory of God. Jesus came to bring glory to the Father (John 17:1-5). Our goal must also be to glorify God. Let us destroy the altars to our own successes and victories and give all the glory to God. Only by shattering our own arrogance can we adequately humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4:10).
Second, Christian Unity comes from and through the Word of God. Consider verse 8:
“For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.”
Zero in on the phrase, “I have given them the words that you gave me.” Most immediately, Jesus is speaking of the truth of his Sonship. But note that they came to that knowledge through the words given Jesus from God. Jesus prays that that his disciples by made holy, sanctified, by God. But how? “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). And again, in verse 19, he asks the Father to sanctify his people “in truth.”
This idea of sanctification in truth is empowered all the more when we consider inspiration. Paul says Scripture is inspired (2 Timothy 3:16). The word used here is a compound Greek verb which literally means that Scripture is “breathed out by God.” The ESV so translates it that way. The beauty of this thought is that God has exuded his word into the minds of holy men who have recorded the word and given it to us. Through every phase of inspiration the word remains God’s, the writers were tools of God to bring truth to men (2 Peter 1:21).
So if we have the Scriptures, and we do, and if the Scriptures are true, and they are, and if it is through truth that unity comes, and it is, we then have a real hope of unity.
We can begin the long road back to unity today if men will come together in the one place where we can all stand – the Bible. We must begin today to eliminate sectarianism and denominationalism from our lives.
Let us revel in the sanctifying power of the word alone. Let us eschew additions and subtractions. Let us renounce convenient teachings and demand truth from the pulpits of our land. Let us call Bible things by Bible names and allow God to be the absolute Lord of all our lives. It is possible!