Christ's Prayer for Unity
In Christ’s final hours before his crucifixion, we find him in the garden in earnest prayer to the Father. Much of his prayer expressed his concern for his disciples who would be left behind to carry on the mission that Christ had been sent to accomplish. He referred to this in John 17:4: “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do.”
Then in the latter part of his prayer, he utters these words in John 17:17-23:
"Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”
This prayer for his disciples has some weighty implications for us, even 2,000 years later. He prayed that the disciples might be united as one even as He and the Father were one. We know the Godhead consists of three beings—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—yet they are united. Christ had something in mind when he uttered these words: “so that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
Think of the implications of that. In a sense Christ gave the world the right to judge those who call themselves Christians. So, when the world looks at us, what do they see? Unity? Oneness? Not by any imagination. What they see is division, which is the opposite of what Christ prayed for. Can you imagine the power believers would have if they were united, if all one billion plus who call themselves by Christ’s name were as one—even as the twelve apostles were?
Someone may reply, “But we all believe in Christ, therefore we are united.” Dear reader, that is a s-t-r-e-t-c-h of the imagination if 32,000 denominations are united. Now, think about it. If the “unity” on earth represents the unity in heaven, here is how that works. As one considers heaven, he thinks, “Well, perhaps God the Father is a Mormon, Christ the Son is a Presbyterian, and maybe the Holy Spirit is a Baptist.” If that is unity, that must be a definition of the word that came from Mars. It’s not in Webster’s Dictionary.
Consider that Mormons believe that Adam is now the God over this world, he has a body of flesh, and he came to the earth and had a sexual relationship with Mary, which resulted in the birth of Christ. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe Christ is a created being, not divine, and that his true identity is that he is Michael the archangel. The Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Baptists baptize by immersion, while Presbyterians and Methodists sprinkle water and the Catholics pour water. Then there is the church in Oklahoma that baptizes by sprinkling rose petals.
Division did exist in the first century, and it was dealt with. “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment” (I Corinthians 1:10).
When Paul wrote to the churches of Galatia, he rebuked them for their division.
“I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!” (Galatians 1:6-9).
Think about it. They still believed in Christ, but they had changed or added some things. By the thinking of some, they are OK, since they still believe in Christ. But Paul said they were “accursed.” He wrote that even if an angel came from heaven, flapping his wings, with a new doctrine, we should not listen to him. That warning certainly applies to many so-called modern “prophets” who get “new revelations.”
We are warned about adding to or taking from the revelation that has been given to us.
“I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
Why is this important? Because the revelation from God was complete in that first century. We are told to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). That is once for all time for all people. Christ made a promise to his disciples: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13). Now, if the faith was once delivered and contained all the truth, that means there is no new teaching, no new truth, no new revelation that has come from God.
But when we look at the denominations, what do we see? We see new and different doctrines in the Catholic Catechism, the Baptist Manual, the Methodist Discipline, the Episcopalian Book of Common Prayer, the Presbyterian Confession of Faith, the Pentecostal Discipline, the Latter Day Saints’ Book of Mormon, the Christian Science Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, etc., etc., etc., etc.
Paul wrote a simple “platform” for believers in Ephesians 4:4-6: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all.”
Have you ever heard a preacher teach that we should “worship the god of your choice,” or “follow the lord of your choice?” Obviously not. The Bible teaches there is One God and One Lord. But that same preacher will thank God for many different churches to choose from, and encourage people to “go to the church of your choice.” Dear reader, there is only one true God, and one true Lord, etc. But note that the passage also says there is only “one body…one faith…one baptism.”
What is the “one body?” The body in the text is the spiritual body of Christ, which is the church. “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22-23). How many bodies does Christ have? One. How many churches does Christ have? ONE! In fact, after Peter’s confession that Christ was the Son of the living God, Christ said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). Christ promised to build his “church,” not “churches.” That’s singular.
Why, then do we have so many different churches? Well, who is the author of confusion? Would his name be Satan? Would this be why John gave us a warning in I John 4:1: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Who are these false prophets? Do they go around in a red union suit with horns and a pitchfork? If such a person got up in the pulpit on Sunday, who would listen to him? Satan understands that, which is why he disguises himself and his ministers.
Paul wrote about such in II Corinthians 11:13-15: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.”
Peter also had a warning in II Peter 2:1, referring to what happened to Israel, and warning that the same thing will happen to the church: “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”
So, how can we be sure that we are following truth and not falling for the stories of false teachers? Jesus said, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Truth is to be found in the Word of God, not in the various denominations Catechisms, Manuals, Disciplines, etc. If they all taught the truth, they would all have the same message, for truth does not contradict itself. But these books all contradict not only one another, but they contradict the Bible, as well.
Let me give you an example: “Wherefore, that we are justified by faith only is a most wholesome doctrine and very full of comfort.” That is an exact quote from a popular denomination’s creed book, and the exact same words or the equivalent can be found in many denominational creed books. But compare that with what the Word of God teaches: “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24). Those are contradictory statements. James is not saying that we are saved by works, but the whole context shows that the faith that saves is an obedient faith. If someone doubts this, an encouragement is given to read James 2. And that is just one example of the contradiction between the Bible and doctrines of men.
How do we solve the dilemma? How about going back to the original document that was written by the apostles and prophets who were under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That’s all they had in the beginning, and that original church had the stamp of divine approval, as it was established under the guidance of these inspired men. When we go back to the original documents, we can reproduce the church of the First Century, and we can then be simply Christians, not members of any denomination.
That’s a pretty simple plan, and it works. In fact, all over the world there are men and women who are throwing off the yoke of sectarian divisions and going back to the Bible for instruction, that they may be just what God intended—followers of Christ rather than followers of men and their doctrines. Notice what Christ said about certain ones in his day. “But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew 15:9). Who was he talking about? The religious leaders of his day — the Pharisees and the scribes. Please take note of the fact that they still believed in God, and still worshipped God, but in addition to the Law of Moses, they had developed an additional set of rules and doctrines. That would be an exact parallel to modern denominations that still believe in and worship God, but who have added their own set of rules and doctrines.Perhaps Paul’s advice to the Corinthian church is an appropriate admonition for today: “’Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,’ says the Lord. ‘And do not touch what is unclean; and I will welcome you. And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (II Corinthians 6:17-18).