A CHRISTIAN IS GOD’S PLAN FOR UNITY
The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
During the days of the Roman Empire, a new King set upon the throne in the highest heavens. A new law was being given and an army was being enlisted to fight the deadliest foe that ever struck terror to the hearts of men (Eph. 6:12). At least five thousand recruits had sworn allegiance to the newly crowned King who had delivered them from the bondage of sin. Rejoicing in the hope of heaven, they found themselves perfectly unified in the common faith so that they were all "of one heart and one soul" (Acts 4:32). Just as their King had planned, these first century Christians were joined in their hearts and they were united in spirit.
This unity was achieved by believing in the same Lord, and the nature of this unity was that their hearts and souls were merged in the great Body of Christ. The immediate result of this unity was that the different members merged even their material possessions into one treasury: “No one in the group said that the things he had were his own. Instead, they shared everything” (Acts 4:32). This was a voluntary act on their part and was not commanded by their King; but their spiritual unity was planned and commanded by the Lord.
One great result of this unity was that "believers were the more added unto the Lord, multitudes both of men and women" (Acts 5:14). In the following years, as this faith was carried on wings of love to the far distant provinces of the Roman world, thousands became obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ. The greatest moral phenomenon the world has ever known took place in the first century of the Christian era. Thousands of the Lord's Freedmen were perfectly united in one great overpowering desire to sweep the whole world of mankind into the Fold of Christ. All historians of that era have testified to the irresistible power of the Gospel, backed by a unified church. The glory that was theirs will never grow dim, for they "loved not their lives unto the death" (Rev. 12:11), but counted themselves happy when they could suffer shame for his name (Acts 5:41).
When our Savior stood in the shadow of the awful cross and was ready to surrender Himself into the hands of His enemies, He took His case to God in prayer (John 17). He knew that with the sufferings of the cross completed, His redeeming work in behalf of man would end. He had taught, trained, and tested the men called to the apostleship. The divine word had been committed to them, and fervent and earnest was the prayer that flowed from His heart that these men might prove worthy of the great task soon to be committed to their charge.
But His concern reached even beyond these men and so He prayed, "I pray not only for my apostles, but also for the people who believe in me through their teaching. May all of them be united, just as you Father are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be one in us, so that the people of the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21). Christ with His divine wisdom did not pray for an unattainable ideal. He prayed for what could be accomplished by fallible men whose hearts were placed entirely in Christ's keeping. So He embodied in his law, through His Spirit filled apostles, the command to "speak the same things ‑ to be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1:10).
God gives no command that is impossible of obedience, even as Christ would not pray for an unattainable ideal, so we must conclude that organic unity among all Christians can be and should be an accomplishment of every generation. Paul writing to the Philippians gave this admonition: "Nevertheless, whereunto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same things" (Phil. 3:16).
The first consideration is the essential fact that "God hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth" (Acts 17:26). The white, black, brown, and yellow races differ widely in physical appearance, habits of life, and modes of livelihood, but underneath the various colored skins men are essentially the same. The blood of our father Adam flows also in the veins of the African, European, Mexican, and Asian.
Racial prejudice has done more to perpetuate wars than any other cause in the world. A worldwide recognition of the universal brotherhood of man is the one hope of peace in a war-torn and a war‑weary world. And the Gospel of Christ is the only means by which that fact can be made to penetrate the hearts of all men. The Gospel is not sectional, for Christ's command to the apostles was to "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15; Matt. 28:18-20). When men of various races and nationalities accept the one Gospel, a most glorious result is produced. "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28).
Paul tells the Ephesians that "in Christ Jesus ye who were sometimes afar off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments, contained in ordinances; for to make in himself one new man, so making peace; that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross . . . for through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Eph. 2:13-18).
Now, all Christians are “fellow-citizens of the saints, and of the household of God” (Eph. 2:19). All men of all races and nations should bow down to the one Father and one Savior, and through obedience of faith, all can be made one in Him. There is One Spirit, One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism by which all enter into the One Body (cf. Eph. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 12:13). And remember, in that One Body there is neither Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, male nor female, but all are One in Christ. Christ unites men, but Satan through false doctrines disunites them.
Christ prayed, "That they all may be one, even as thou Father art in me and I in thee." This statement expresses the full nature of the unity required by the Lord. It is well that we should have a clear understanding of the meaning of the word unity. It means oneness - all of one kind. Many mistake union for unity, but there can be union without real unity. A basket of apples, peaches, pears, and plums is a union of four different kinds of fruits. However, putting all four kinds into one basket does not unify them – does not make them all of one kind! We are commanded to "speak the same things…to be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." Obedience to that command will make us all exactly the same kind of people. We will have the same faith, practice, and nature religiously.
Denominations proclaim union when various churches unionize in a revival, but they are still different kinds of religionists. No law of Christ will make one man a Baptist, another a Methodist, and another a Presbyterian. Christ's law transcends all denominational lines, for it makes all simply Christians (Acts 11:26). Paul said the Galatians were neither Jew nor Greek. They had not lost their racial identity, for that is a physical matter; but they were no longer Jews or Greeks in heart.
There can be no divisions whatever among true Christians as long as their only guide is the law of Christ. It is the introduction of something other than the law of Christ that creates schism in Christ's Body. Let us never forget that! The seed of the kingdom produces only one kind of fruit ‑ Christians (Luke 8:11; 1 Peter 1:23)! The slightest deviation from Christ's law changes the nature of the fruit. It becomes a hybrid, and a hybrid can never approach the perfection of a freeborn man in Christ.
Paul's command to the Corinthians was to "speak the same thing." Before there can be a unity of speech, there must be an understanding of what we will speak. Peter commands, "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God" (1 Peter 4:11). "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20). Only Christ's law can make one “wise unto salvation" (2 Tim. 3:15). It perfects the man of God "unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
We can know nothing whatever as to what is right or wrong only insofar as we learn God's word. "For by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Rom. 3:20). Right here we must come to one of the most important considerations of this subject. The tragedy of this age is that people will not study the Bible for themselves, and this is as true of many in the churches of Christ as it is of those in the denominations. They will follow a favorite preacher and accept without question his dictum on any subject.
The Paulites and Appollosites constitute a mighty army today. Undue honor given to men has caused thousands to lose sight of Christ. God said of Christ, "Hear ye him," for it is by him and through him that God still speaks today (Matt. 17:5; Heb. 1:1-2). How important that we "try the spirits whether they be of God" (1 John 4:1). Individually we are responsible to God, and individually we must answer to Him. How important then that each individual study God's book to learn His ways! It is true today that many "err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God" (Matt. 22:29). Only an enlightened people can be a truly united people. Ignorant "camp followers" are not trained soldiers. There can be no real unity of action in ignorance.
Just here it is important that we consider another phase of this question. Many become so enthusiastic in behalf of unity that they will seek to compromise the truth in order to promote unity among the professed Christians. Compromising the truth of God might unify a certain group, but that would not produce the kind of unity God requires. A unity that disregards Christ's law dishonors Him. The basis of scriptural unity is IN Him. "That they may be one IN US." The unity that makes us ONE in Christ is affected only through His law. This forbids unity with all those who are dissatisfied with the simplicity of the Gospel. God will not accept a unity that nullifies His word.
The Bible says, "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable" (James 3:17). We can with the utmost safety and assurance offer the hand of fellowship to all who will walk in the "old paths," but peace is not so dear nor unity so precious that it must be bought with a mangled Bible! Long ago God said it was foolish to cry "Peace, peace when there was no peace" (Jer. 6:14). There can be no unity with God or with the true people of God until the just demands of God's law are met. There never would have been the slightest apostasy if all professed Christians had remained unified on the word of God. We cannot bless other people if we lower the bars of scriptural teaching in order to win their friendship. "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Gal. 1:10).
When Christ prayed for the unity of His people, there was a purpose to be accomplished, a blessing to be obtained: "That the world might believe that thou hast sent me." In unity there is strength. "A house divided against itself cannot stand" (Mark 3:25). A single stick can be easily broken, but several sticks bound together in one bundle will resist the strength of the strongest man. An army "knit together as one man," united in purpose and activated by the loftiest motives, may become an irresistible force. The church faces the strongest foe in the universe. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12). Truly strong and formidable foes, and the crime of the age is the divided condition of God's people.
The yawning mouth of hell receives thousands, who would be saved if only God's people presented a united front to the enemy. The church of today is not doing one half of one percent of what it could do if we were "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." The billions of dollars being spent today for the weapons of war are astronomical and staggering. This is especially true when we consider that the vast amount spent for war in our own generation would be sufficient to bring prosperity and plenty to every individual in all the world. But the wreckage and waste of carnal war is as nothing compared to the evils of religious division. A united church teaching the truth in love could and would prevent all future wars; it could abolish the horrible liquor traffic, empty thousands of prisons, and save millions of precious souls from hell.
No man has the eloquence or the mental power to accurately picture to us the blessings of unity. Today, the church is but a little insignificant force that scarcely touches the outer fringes of the mighty army marching in serried ranks to eternal perdition! If we could attain to real scriptural unity, broken homes would be mended, estranged hearts reunited, and brother would greet brother with the heartiest handclasp of fraternal love and affection. If all believers would unite around the word of God, factionalism would cease and denominationalism would become only a fading vision of the past. And best of all, with religious unity God would be honored, Christ would be glorified, and the angels would sing hosannas of praise in the highest heaven. David understood this when he said, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity" (Ps. 133:1). We beg each of you to consider and work toward all the wonderful blessings to be obtained through unity.
The first and greatest hindrance to unity is lack of desire. Few people can be aroused to any interest in promoting the cause of unity. The vast majority, even in our own ranks, seem content with the present situation. Long ago it was stated, "Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18), and the present day religionists simply have no real vision of the wondrous blessings of unity. They are seemingly content that the religious world should remain in its present condition of sects, parties, factions, cliques, and clans. Some even thank God for the various divisions because each person can join the church of their choice.
Even among the divergent clans in the churches of Christ, the main “leaders” remain smug in their abominable clannishness! They sit in their little ivory towers, content in their isolation, while the earth trembles under the impact of the millions marching to hell! Paul's statement: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved" (Rom. 10:1) should also be the expression of every heart that yearns for the salvation of mankind. Paul saw a race in danger, and that race was his own people, and great was his desire to save them. Until there is in our hearts a burning, passionate desire for the unification of God's people, there is no hope for any change in the discordant factionalism of the present day.
Second, the lack of effort to effect unity is another powerful hindrance that multiplies the devil's power over helpless humanity. Paul gave this command: "Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). That requires action. Unity will never be achieved by sitting supinely in our easy chairs and expressing the pious hope that God's people might be united. No greater task ever faced the church of the living God than this very task. We are commanded to "follow after the things that make for peace and things whereby we may edify one another" (Rom. 14:19), and that is just as much an inspired command as to assemble for worship on the Lord's day. The tares of disunion must be weeded out and the seed of peace carefully planted and watered by consecrated hands. So great is this task that we must "quit (ourselves) like men and be strong" (1 Cor. 16:13).
The three hundred brave soldiers under Gideon, through God's guidance, routed the unnumbered hosts of the Midianites; while the fearful, quaking cowards went slinking home (Judges 7)! Too many today are afraid of soiling their hands in dealing with the numerous and varied issues that divide the people of God. Plainly it is dirty work, for we have to deal with sin in all its disgusting forms, and few have any spiritual stomach for such work. But God is calling you to do that work today! Most people would far rather lie in their hammocks and doze than to get down in the muck and mire of sin to save people from hell.
The third and last hindrance we wish to mention is a lack of love for both God and man. God's love for man was active, strong, and effective. He loved doomed humanity, and so He gave (John 3:16). In His giving He reached the highest heights of love that God Himself could ever reach ‑ He gave His Son, the Son of His love. This giving was to accomplish a divine purpose - the salvation of man. We cannot partake of the real nature of God, without at the same time partaking of His deep love for the lost. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10); and the salvation of the lost depends on the unification of God's people.
Love for lost humanity is the one and only motive power that will unite the scattered and divided forces of the Lord and organize them into a mighty army of irresistible power. Truly Paul declared that the greatest thing in the world is love (1 Cor. 13:13). Unless we personally as Christians and collectively as a church cultivate the saving grace of love, the battlefields of the world will remain strewn with the blasted hopes of a sin‑forgiving Christ.
A little boy saw a mud puddle into which some oil had fallen, presenting a kaleidoscope of various colors without form or pattern, and he called to his mother: "Oh Mamma look! Here is a rainbow that got busted!" God, through His holy and divine Son, painted on the great vault of heaven the beautiful rainbow of hope to a world flooded with the black waters of sin. Shall the church, through its continued divisions, make it a "busted rainbow?"
Oh shout the glad word,
Oh hasten the day
When all of God's people are one!