". . . I am no more in the world, but these are in the world,
and I come to Thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name
those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we
are. . . Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also
which shall believe on me through their word; That they may
all be one: as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that
they may also be one in us: that the world may believe that
thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have
given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in
them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one;
and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast
loved them, as thou hast loved me, "(John 17:11, 20-23).
In this prayer Jesus repeatedly stressed a thought,
an ideal, that should arouse within our hearts a
consciousness of the fact that we have not yet arrived --
that the Kingdom of God has not yet come. It may even raise
the question of whether we are prepared for the Kingdom, or
are indeed willing to meet the conditions that it requires.
Though it might be more enjoyable to discuss some
other subject, on this occasion, I find myself compelled to
deal with the question of CHRISTIAN UNITY. In searching for
something that I might contribute to this meeting, my mind
has invariably returned to this subject. Nor has it been
possible to consider, seriously, any other.
Before hastily concluding that I have fallen prey to
an incessant barrage of ecumenical propaganda, would you
pause for a moment to consider a few important questions?
In view of abounding iniquity, and the coldness among
God's people, are we willing to admit that God has failed?
Do we believe that He has left Himself without a
witness in the earth?
Has He forsaken His purpose to "call out from among the
Gentiles" a special, holy people for His name?
Was He unjust, after the persistent rebellion of
Israel, to sever that covenant nation from a position
of special nearness to Himself?
Is it impossible that a New Covenant people -- through
an exclusivistic and high-minded unbelief like that of
Israel -- should also be cut off from a similar
position of unique relationship to God?
Were Jesus and Paul mere "idealistic dreamers" in their
concern that Christ's people might be ONE -- dwelling
together in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace?
If Jesus Christ is concerned for the unity of His
blood-purchased church; may we expect His acquiescence
while we (deliberately or ignorantly) antagonize
brethren of a common spiritual heritage (brethren whose
baptism we still recognize as authentic), simply
because they will not "push" our programs or cannot
conscientiously accept our private slant on some
Since entering the ministry (and discovering
something of the extent to which my brethren were divided
over personalities, programs, policies and practices) there
has been within my heart a deepening concern to see the end
of strife. . . such senseless folly. It is often difficult,
under emotional tensions, for us to delineate clearly between
Christian principle and one's own personal or political
prejudice; but DELINEATE WE MUST!! The price of partisan
triumph is too great in the light of eternity.
To actively pursue a course of positive conciliation
among estranged brethren is sometimes a thankless task. On
the one hand the conciliator may be considered a compromiser,
a turncoat or an appeaser; while, on the other hand, pious
guardians of traditional platforms will consider him an enemy
-- come in to "spy out" their liberties. Knowing that one's
motives are often impugned in any attempt to alert a drowsy,
careless or indifferent brotherhood, it is with reluctance
that I undertake the task. But within there is a heart that
yearns to see a blurred image changed into a single glorious
reflection of the Son of God; it compels me to face the challenge.
IS IT REASONABLE?
Only spiritual blindness could prevent us from
recognizing that there is under way a concerted effort of
infidelity, paganism and the forces of ecumenicism
(represented by the adominable woman of Revelation 17) to
crush whatever remains of New Testament Christianity. The
plan is well-organized, liberally financed, directed by
political experts -- and there is every indication that it
will be executed speedily and with precision. Only Divine
Providence can prevent its sweep from being thorough.
Is it reasonable, in view of such consideration,
that the fellowship of brethren with a common heritage,
baptism and table should be disrupted by internal conflict?
(By "common table", etc., I do not speak of a denominational
table but of the "Lord's Table" -- available alike to every
Scriptural assembly.) Are not envy, strife and division signs
of carnality? And do they not generally spring from purely
If a brother hesitates to accept my particular
"slant" on a practical or doctrinal matter, is it reasonable,
is it Christian, that I should undertake to engineer his fall
so as to vindicate "my position"? When a brother of divergent
opinion stumbles, falls, or turns back from following Christ,
is it reasonable that I should gloat over his spiritual
decline, saying, "I told you so"? Or, when a brother turns
aside in positive sin against God's Word (not merely against
my "humble opinion", however long-held), IS IT REASONABLE
that I consider him an enemy -- and attempt to wash my hands
of any responsibility toward him? Must I not, to be genuinely
Christian, lovingly "admonish him as a brother"?
When it is possible for children to be reared in
consecrated Christian homes; hear the Gospel of Christ; trust
in Jesus as their Saviour; surrender to the call of the
Gospel ministry; dedicate their lives to the study and
preaching of the life-giving word; and then encounter
abruptly (as I once did) a volcanic eruption of envy,
jealousy, scorn and hatred among brethren for whom they have
had deep respect; and, in discouragement, disgust and
complete despondency, turn aside from a walk of faith to a
position of questioning, doubting agnosticism -- IS IT
REASONABLE that we shut our eyes, stop our ears and harden
our hearts in order to continue the farce of "playing
Christian"? "IS IT NOTHING TO YOU, ALL YE THAT PASS BY?"
Is it reasonable that some of my brethren offer
their fellowship only upon the contingency of my adherance to
an extra-scriptural program? Is it any more reasonable that
other brethren find their chief cohesive element in a MERE
REACTION AGAINST SUCH PROGRAMIZING? Are not the antagonists
actually partners in the promotion of disunity, discord,
discouragement and degeneration within the brotherhood?
Is it too difficult a lesson for us to learn that
where envy and strife are there is confusion and every evil
work? Is it reasonable that some -- while emphasizing the
importance of baptism and church succession (and rightly so)
far more strongly than their fathers thought necessary --
have reacted so violently as to be dangerously close to
repudiating the only link that they have with John's "baptism
In case you may at this point be puzzled as to the
direction in which this challenge may be heading, I sincerely
hope that you will hear me prayerfully and patiently to the
end -- and that you will wait another ten years before
judging its appropriateness to the occasion.
IS IT DESIRABLE?
Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for
brethren to dwell together in unity,"
Most of us can quote many such passages -- for there is a
particular "cell" in our thinking mechanism where we have
carefully filed them away. But how exceedingly narrow may be
our understanding and experience of such unity. The way we
sometimes hedge ourselves "in" and others "out", it is
difficult to determine whether we know the difference between
unity and bigotry.
I am thankful that some of my brethren have been
freed from the exacting demands of demoninational servitude
-- enabling them to devote their time and energies to a study
of the word and prayer. In the free exercise of this liberty
much fresh light has been shed on the field of Biblical
Interpretation -- a field which might, more picturesquely, be
described as a stagnant pond of exclusivistic, complacent
conformity -- long undisturbed by the rousing cry of a
contemporary John the Baptist saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at
I am thankful that the Gospel of the Kingdom is once
more being elevated to the position that it deserves in our
thinking and preaching. However, we dare not assume the role
of proud custodians -- even of the Kingdom Gospel. To imply,
by word or deed, that we are "the kingdom people", the "true
kingdom people", the "most righteous kingdom people", the
"most deserving kingdom people", if not the "only kingdom
people" will not only make us obnoxious and replusive in the
eyes of others; it will exhibit an attitude that will fast
disqualify us for any inheritance in the Kingdom of God. Such
high-mindedness led to the fall of Israel as a covenant
people -- and it will to ours if we follow in her steps. Such
a position will not promote Christian unity; nor will it
encourage brethren of lesser discernment to examine
objectively the doctrines that have so greatly enriched our
Now, lest we forget the question before us, let me
state it again: "Is complete unity desirable"?
Jesus Christ was so concerned about the unity of His
disciples that He made it an object of prayer to the Heavenly
Father. According to the Scriptures (which we claim to accept
as a sufficient rule of faith and practice), those properly
identified with Jesus Christ have "the mind
If we are truly His -- possessing His mind
-- there are several reasons why we cannot condone, much less
actively promote, a spirit of division.
1. We are Members of Christ's Body.
This Biblical figure bespeaks a relationship of
nearness, intimacy and blessedness. But it also involves a
mutual responsibility on the part of each body-member. Not
only is this true of each local New Testament assembly; it is
also true on a much larger scale. The plurality of members
composing various New Testament churches are each" members of Christ"
and as such share a
mutual responsibility toward Him and one another. If, in
Christ, we have no relationship or responsibility beyond the
bounds of the local assembly where we hold membership, then
it is foolish for us to be meeting here and talking of
"fellowship". Any breach of unity among the plurality of
those sustaining a position of covenant fellowship with Jesus
Christ can only defame His glorious name and dim the flame
that is meant to lighten the path which leads to the
2. We are Brethren in the Family of God.
If indeed "Jerusalem from above is the mother of us
all", and God is truly our Father, through our identity with
His preeminent Son, then we have a "family responsibility".
Now, lest I be misunderstood and accused of advocating a
cheap ecumenicism, permit me to say that I DO NOT ACCEPT the
PROTESTANT THEORY that the family of God is composed of ALL
THE SAVED. If I believed this to be true, I would be pressing
for unity with "all the saved". I would be consistent about
the matter. But, since I believe that only those properly
identified with the Son are in God's family, I can advocate
"family unity" without embracing those who despise the
doctrine of a local New Testament church -- accountable for
her actions ONLY TO HER LORD AND LAWGIVER by Whose blood she
has been purchased.
3. We are Citizens of the Kingdom of God.
It is not enough to preach that God is now "calling out"
a people for His Kingdom. It
is important that we "make our calling and
Has the Kingdom of God taken control
of our lives? If so, there is no possible way for us to
perpetuate a spirit of division among brethren. Is not the
Kingdom characterized by "love, joy and
in the Holy Ghost"?
If these things characterize
our hearts and lives, division and strife are completely out
of the question. They are impossible!
Paul, the bondservant of Jesus Christ, considered
"envy, strife and division" sure evidences of carnality. . .
nor has the implication of their presence changed with the
twentieth century. The apostle felt that brethren should be
able to settle their differences as brothers -- as Christian
brothers. He was absolutely horrified that one brother should
"go to law"
with another brother --
and that before a judge who was NOT EVEN A BROTHER!
Of the carnal Corinthians, divided over men, Paul
inquired: "Is Christ divided"?
though some in that church looked to him as their favorite
preacher, and determined to stand by him "come-what-may", he
announced in no uncertain terms that he wanted no part of
their divisive practices. He majored, rather, on the "preaching of the cross"
foolishness to the Greeks and a scandal to the Jews -- but to
those whom God had called, whether Jew or Greek, He was "the power of God, and the wisdom of
To the Ephesians Paul issued a call to maintain the
"unity of the Spirit in the bond of
He gave a strong argument and firm basis for
unity in showing them how GOD HAD PROMOTED IT. He mentioned
the one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one
baptism and "one God and Father of all, who
is above all, and through all, and in you all
this they HAD IN COMMON -- and unity of brethren, in any age,
is largely dependent upon the evaluation that they place upon
what they commonly share. How much does Jesus mean to
The spiritual gifts were measured out to promote
this unity "Till we all come in the unity of
the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God unto a
perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness
of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to
and fro... But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into
him in all things, which is the head, even Christ."
"But", someone may object, "All this speaks of what
God wants in the LOCAL CHURCH: and these passages all speak
of a LOCAL CHURCH." I am quite cognizant of the fact that
this is true. Yet, let me boldly suggest that THIS IS NOT ALL
THE TRUTH! The basic principles stated, and the inherent
responsibilities involved in our intimacy of relationship
with Jesus Christ reach far beyond the bounds of our
"particular" local assemblies. Of one thing we may be
certain: According to His own good pleasure, God has made
known the mystery of His will, of His purpose " That in the dispensation of the fulness of times
he might gather together in one all things in Christ.. that
we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in
" (Eph. 1:9-12). If our present experiences are
designed to "train us for the Kingdom", we certainly have
nothing to gain by resisting or being indifferent toward our
brethren for whom Christ died: And so long as carnal division
raises its hoary head among us there will be such distraction
that we cannot exhibit Christ in a proper light before men.
We will not BE "the fulness of him that
filleth all in all".
IS IT POSSIBLE?
Let me say with all candor, and with full confidence,
that I do believe unity to be possible for those who desire
to reverence, love and serve God. I do not propose a
complicated formula or program for attaining this desirable
goal. I have no program to submit. I do not believe that
programs can attain it. But there are two simple experiences
that will promote and encourage it.
Unity will be promoted by a common affliction that is
That such trials and tribulations await us at the end
of this age is so abundantly taught in the scriptures that I
need but remind my brethren of God's faithfulness in
fore-warning us that we might prepare our hearts against that
hour. In trouble, brethren will unite against a common enemy
-- and, with one heart, will cry out to God. But THERE IS A
BETTER WAY to effect true unity.
"Though I speak with the tongues of
men and of angels, and have not LOVE, I am become as sounding
brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of
prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge;
and though I have all faith, so that I could remove
mountains, and have not LOVE, I am nothing. And though I
bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my
body to be burned, and have not LOVE, it profiteth me
It is better that we be united through Christian love
(I Cor. 13:1-3).
According to Jesus, brotherly love has ever been the
distinguishing badge of Christian discipleship. By it all men
may know that we are His disciples. Without it they will not
believe us though we shout it until the mountains fall.
The important question is whether this love controls
our hearts. Do we love as Christ loved? Or do we love as the
Pharisees loved? There is no virtue in loving those who love
us and are in agreement with our philosophy of religion and
life. The vital question is whether, for Jesus' sake, we can
love those who show no special love for us and who are, in
fact, sometimes quite unlovable. Do we, in fact, know what it
is to love? Let me submit for your consideration what appears
to be four basic elements without which love does not exist.
Love is ROOTED IN KNOWLEDGE. . . mutual understanding.
Sentimental emotionalism is not a sufficient foundation
for genuine love.
Love first EXHIBITS ITSELF IN RESPECT. Do we show
respect for our brethren? When they disagree with us?
As love develops it manifests an ACTIVE CONCERN (care)
for the WELFARE AND NAME of the one loved. Though he
obeyed God in preaching to Nineveh, it is evident that
Jonah had no love for Nineveh. He called upon her to
repent -- and when she did, and God spared her, it made
Jonah mad. He wanted to see Nineveh destroyed. He did
not CARE for Her.
When love has matured it VOLUNTARILY ASSUMES
RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE NEEDS OF THE ONE LOVED.
Divine love recognized the hopelessness of our
bondage to sin, and voluntarily assumed the responsibility
for our redemption. One of the basic principles governing the
inter-relationship of those "in
is "that as God has so loved
us, we ought also to love one another".
reciprocation of divine love will forever prohibit
factionalism, the party spirit, or any other kind of
antagonism between brethren who mutually share the blessing
of covenant fellowship with Jesus Christ.
Genuine Christian unity CANNOT be achieved through
the efforts of human wisdom. Nor can brethren who share a
common baptism and table attain unto the "oneness" to which
we are called in Christ BY ATTEMPTING TO DO SO. However
tenaciously we may adhere to good rules or regulations,
legalistic devices are powerless in any effort to attain
spiritual ends. Spiritual unity cannot be planned or
programmed; it must be spontaneous. It comes -- not through
the outward efforts of the flesh, but through the inward
workings of the Holy Spirit -- as our eyes, hearts and
affections are turned upon Jesus Christ.
Through looking to Jesus (in admiration, adoration
and worship), we begin to reflect His image (2 Cor. 3:18).
There is, even in the material realm, a tendency for men to
take on the characteristics of those whom they love and
admire. As we "behold" Jesus, our lives are gradually
transformed into His likeness. Stedfastness in "looking" will
produce a life of complete harmony with the Divine will --
and will culminate in conformity to Jesus Christ, "the firstborn among many brethren"
If, though looking to Jesus, we learn to love as He
loves, and are changed "from glory to
(reflecting His image), then we will
automatically be drawn toward one another eventually being
brought into perfect unity "in
. No longer will men be hindered, confused, or
disgusted by a "blurred" image. They will, rather, behold a
clear and glorious "reflection" of the Son of God in all of
His beauty. And, beholding, they will fall at His feet and