THE SUBJECT which we address is of vast importance. Christian
unity is a matter of great concern, both in heaven and on earth.
Christians who have sought to please God and win the souls of men have
been concerned with this issue ever since Christ prayed for it long
ago. Jesus prayed to the Father in John 17:20,21, "Neither
pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me
through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in
me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may
believe that thou hast sent me."
There was a period not long ago when the religious world seemed to
be concerned about unity. There were ecumenical councils,
proclamations, mergers of various religious bodies, studies and
meetings taking place all over the world to discuss this great subject.
In some quarters today, in contrast to the stand of religious leaders
of just a few years ago, the division of the religious world is now
rightfully being called sin. Yet, most of us can remember
hearing, before, men's prayers in which they thanked God for the many
different churches in the land. About forty years ago one leading U.S.
magazine published a series of articles in which noted church leaders
unanimously proclaimed that Christian unity was not only
"impossible to achieve," but it "wasn't even
desirable." Then, about ten years later the thinking was
reversed, and a great deal of activity began around the world
attempting to bring all religions under one name and under one
It is the desire of every sincere child of God, and, as we have
seen, it was the prayer of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that all
who believe in Him would be one, and that all believers would become
subject to Christ who has "all authority in heaven and on
earth." Jesus sent out His apostles with the mission of bringing
all who would believe in Him into one great body.
ONE GREAT BODY
Jesus commanded the apostles, in the Great Commission, "Go ye
into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He
that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth
not shall be damned." "All power is given unto me in
heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing
them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:
and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world"
(Mark 16:15,16; Matthew 28:19,20).
It very well could be that motive of those involved in the late
ecumenical movement was a sincere desire to fulfill the prayer of the
Lord. Yet, we cannot observe the course of this movement without
great concern for the opportunity of the Devil to use this effort to
serve his own wicked purposes.
Our hearts desire for Christianity is that all Christians shall be
united in Christ, and under His authority, moving as a vast, yet
close-knit body against the forces of evil which hold sway in this
wicked old world. Yet, may we point out that union and unity are
two different subjects, and even though the ecumenical movement may
have started from a desire for unity, Satan would surely gain great
victory over the minds of men if it simply resulted in some sort of
Now we ask the vital question, "Is true Christian unity
possible today?" If it is, how can it be accomplished?
To answer the question in the negative is to charge Jesus Christ with
asking for an impossibility. For us to answer that Christian
unity is not possible in our time, is to send forth a cry of despair
and defeat which is completely contrary to the wonderful positive faith
of the early Christians.
We believe that true Christian unity is not only possible today, it
is expected by God, and it is present already in this world.
Unity can only come when we all recognize one source of
authority. The source of authority to accomplish the goal of
Christian unity is the word of God. We believe that all men can see the
Bible alike because God demands it. God does not demand for us to do
something which is impossible for us to do. The believers in the
New Testament were told, "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that
there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined
together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians
1:10). Again these believers were commanded, "Be perfect, be
of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and
peace shall be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11).
We know that we can obtain Christian unity because the early church
was united--they were "one". The Christians at Rome were
told, "So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one
members one of another" (Romans 12:5). The churches of
Galatia were taught, "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" (Galatians 3:28). This harmony, this unity is
clearly seen when we read: "The churches of Christ salute
you" (Romans 16:16). There were no social, no economic, nor
racial barriers in the early church. Their uniform belief in the
gospel and obedience to God's commands made them all one, in one body.
Jesus said, "Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is
truth" (John 17:17). The Bible tells us, "Then said
Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word,
then are ye my disciples indeed" (John 8:31). Furthermore,
we find, "And the disciples were called Christians first in
Antioch" (Acts 11:26). As they believed and followed the
word of God they were set apart as God's sanctified people--the
disciples of Christ, and they were called "Christians".
If the early church could be and was one body, believers in Christ
today can be and should... no, no... must be one body. We learn
from these passages that believers of the gospel become sanctified to
God by His truth. We also learn that the Lord accepts only those
believers who continue in His word as His "disciples indeed,"
and, further, that only these disciples are called
FAITH CAN GROW
Hebrews 4:12 tells us, "For the word of God is quick, and
powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the
dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and
is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." If
a Christian loves the Truth he will grow in "grace and knowledge
of the truth", and he will see the wondrous story of God's love
for man in a deeper and fuller light with each passing day. The
Truth will not change, but his understanding will be greater, and his
faith will grow (Luke 17:5). And although we may study all our
lives and never know everything, we can rest assured that those things
in the Scriptures necessary to the saving of our souls we can all see
alike. Jesus said, "Seek and ye shall find; knock and it
shall be opened unto you."
As we have already seen, the apostle Paul begs for the unity of the
disciples in The First Corinthian letter. A good many years had
passed since the prayer of Jesus on the night before his betrayal,
nevertheless, the "unity of believers" remained of utmost
importance. Paul continued his concern for unity in chapter one,
"For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them
which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among
you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul;
and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ
divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of
Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and
Gaius; Lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own
name" (1 Corinthians 1:11-15). Even if there were no other
passages on this subject except the prayer of Jesus and Paul's
admonition to Corinth it would be impossible to misunderstand the fact
that God wants all Christians to be ONE.
AN END TO WAR
If men will ever be at peace with men, it will be because their
hearts are united in the faith which leads them to peace and their
loyalty to God's word which teaches them to "do unto others even
as they would that others should do unto them." It was the
prophet Isaiah who wrote in the long ago, "And it shall come to
pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord's house shall be
established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the
hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and
say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the
house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we
will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the
word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations,
and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into
plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift
up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more"
Certainly, one reason that Christianity has not succeeded in
bringing "peace on earth, and good will among men" is because
of the divisions among those who claim to be believers. Of
course, TRUE Christianity unites mankind in mutual love and respect one
for another, but "counterfeit Christianity" has subjected the
world to some of the most bloody wars of history. The
"Christian" conflicts going on in the world today are not,
and do not involve genuine Christian principles. No doubt, people
claiming to be Christians who engage in fighting and slaughter has been
the cause of a great deal of infidelity around the world.
STRENGTH IN UNITY
"There is strength in unity and weakness in
division." Jesus taught this principle in Matthew 12:25 and
Luke 12:52, however, it is a basic principle known to mankind through
the centuries. Nowhere is this principle better illustrated than
in the history of the United States of America. Almost two
hundred years ago, the founding fathers selected as the motto for the
country, E Pluribus Unum. Translated into English it means, "Out
of many into one," or "One out of many". This
motto is inscribed on U.S. coins reminding each succeeding generation
of its truth. Patrick Henry preached, "United we stand;
divided we fall!" The urgency of the need for unity brought
thirteen colonies, each with a different national, social, racial, and
economic background, to form the United States of America.
Through this amazing achievement, weakness became strength and a
foundation was laid for the building of the strongest nation the world
has ever known.
We do not recall this example of the principle of strength through
unity because we are here interested in political history. We do
this to illustrate the necessity, as well as the desirability, of
uniting the more than three hundred different bodies claiming to all
believe in Jesus Christ--uniting all into one solid force of love and
good upon the earth. If evil is to be defeated, it must be by
presenting to the world something better than division and confusion. A
united people will only come from their having a united faith in Jesus
Christ our Lord and a complete obedience to His will. His teaching on
social conduct has never been improved upon. Although preached
two thousand years ago, Jesus concepts of liberty, individual dignity,
and interaction of men are still the ideals. But, far and above all, in
living by His example, by following His commands, mankind becomes free
from the penalty of sin and death.
We are living in a wicked world which could end at any time.
Nation fights against nation over economic advantages.
Un-Christian motives drive men to unbelievable levels of selfishness as
they trample under foot the lives of others. If only the good
people of the world had been united through the centuries we would not
now be in the condition which we all face with all this fear and
uncertainty. But the people who have been undertook to follow
Christ have been divided. They have been flying different flags,
and working at crossed purposes, religious groups compete against each
other, (just anything for a crowd), and because so many
"christs" are presented, the world turns in disbelief and
Friends, it's evident to all who are honestly concerned about the
salvation of souls that that which is called "Christianity"
is failing in its great mission of converting the world for
Christ. Despite increased missionary activity, the percentage of
the earth's population calling itself "Christian" is less and
less. As the theologians of the world ponder this problem, let's
ask ourselves, "What does the New Testament say about the
solution?" The one great principle comes back again and
again--"And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart
and one soul" (Acts 4:32).
There have been many efforts down through the centuries to achieve
true Christian unity. Certain names from the history's
Reformation Period sound like thunder when uttered. Martin Luther
was among the first of these--And listen to what he said about
division: "I pray you leave my name alone, and call not yourselves
Lutherans, but Christians! Our doctrine is not ours. Not
one of us has been crucified for the other. Paul would not let any call
themselves after Paul, nor of Peter, but of Christ. How then,
does it befit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to
the children of God! Cease, my dear friends, to cling to these
party names and distinctions; away with them all; and let us call
ourselves only Christians after him from whom our doctrine comes."
Methodism's founder, John Wesley, was of the same conviction.
He wrote: "Would to God that all party names and unscriptural
phrases and forms which have divided the Christian's world were
forgot... I wish the name `Methodist' might never be mentioned
more, but lost in eternal oblivion."
Baptist scholar and widely known preacher, Charles Spurgeon, said:
"I look forward with pleasure to the day when there will not be a
Baptist living. I hope they will soon be gone. I hope the
Baptist name will soon perish; but let Christ's name endure
forever." Henry Ward Beecher, the noted Congregationalist
preacher said: "Let me speak to you in the language of heaven and
call you simply Christians!" Albert Barnes is the author of
a complete set of Bible commentaries which is widely used among
preachers. He, a Presbyterian, wrote: "Should not and will
not all these divisions be merged into the high and holy name
In the midst of the conflicts and divisions of the religious world
there was, in the late 1700's and on into the 1800's, a movement
holding out great hope for real Christian Unity. It was known as
the Restoration movement. One of its beginnings was in a person
by the name of James O'Kelley, who lived and preached in North Carolina
and Virginia. He was a member of the Methodist Episcopal
Church. In 1793, concerned with the divided state of
"Christendom," he went to the Baltimore conference of his
church and called on men to go back to the Bible as their only
creed. His proposal was rejected at that time, but a little later
some 7,000 members of that church united with him in a movement to
stand on the Bible as their only creed and doctrine. At first
they were known as "Republican Methodists", and then just
"Methodists"; finally they themselves "Christians,"
and wore that name alone.
In the year 1802 there was a similar movement in New England. There,
a man by the name of Abner Jones and another named Elias Smith, both
Baptists, spoke out against denominationalism, and took a stand for New
Testament Christianity. "Disturbed in regard to sectarian
names and creeds," these circuit-riding preachers decided that the
name Christian was the only name to which all could agree and which
should be worn by the followers of Christ. The churches they
served dropped all other names and new congregations were established
after the pattern of the New Testament church in Linden and Bradford,
Vermont, and in Hanover, Piermont, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
These men were unacquainted with the work of James O'Kelley in Virginia
and North Carolina.
That same year, in Kentucky just ten years after its statehood,
there was a Presbyterian preacher named Barton Stone who stood on the
same ground, unaware that others were moving in the same
direction. Stone was joined by several other preachers of the
Presbyterian church, such men as Robert Marshall, John Dunlavy, Richard
McNamar, John Thompson, David Purviance, and others who were disturbed
by human creeds and disciplines. In the year 1804, they were
determined to take "The Bible as the only sure guide to
heaven." They too, wore only the name "Christian".
In 1809, Thomas and Alexander Campbell came into the picture.
Alexander Campbell is one of the few preachers ever invited to address
a joint session of the United States Congress. Although not at
first, he eventually became very influential in the movement to
"restore New Testament Christianity." Probably, the
most remarkable thing about this era is that, in the beginning, none of
these men knew about the efforts of the others. All these efforts
were grounded upon the desire for Christian unity.
END RELIGIOUS DIVISION
We must admit that there is even greater division among those who
claim to believe in Christ today than in the days of Luther, Wesley,
Stone, O'Kelley and the Campbells. But still, all these men made
contributions toward the goal for believers to be "one in
Perhaps the reason these movements toward Christian unity have not
succeeded as well as was hoped, is that we, today, are not as
interested as were they! May we point out candidly that loyalty
to a man-made name, or loyalty to a man-made doctrine is misplaced
loyalty! For example, when we explain the teaching of the New Testament
some will conclude that the church of Christ is a denomination with a
group of narrow-minded people who think they are the only ones going to
heaven, and everybody else is going to hell. It's not our purpose
to make of the church for which Jesus gave His life, in the minds of
non-members, nothing more than just another denomination, a part of the
division. It's our goal to bring religious division to an end.
Dear reader, if we will ever know Christian unity, it will be
because we are united in Christ first, and then in His blessed
commands. We cannot accept Christ without accepting His word, and
it is the word of God (John 12:48-50), and remember His word will
judge us. Until we truly believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, His
commandments and His church are meaningless to us.
GIVE UP OUR WILLS
Today, we are blessed by having the inspired Scriptures to guide us
in every act of obedience to the gospel of Christ, in every good work,
and worship. Christ has not left us without instructions and a
guide for every situation in life, and he has given us hope for eternal
joy in eternity. But, we need to believe in Christ before we can
accept His word. We need to go back to Christ Himself and listen
to Him. He said, "upon this rock I will build my church; and
the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (Matthew 16:18).
When we all become completely converted and devoted to Jesus, we will
not think "your church or my church", but we will understand
and preach Christ and His church, and we will preach faith which is
obedient. "And being made perfect, he became the author of
eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Hebrews 5:9). When
we all understand these principles we will be Christians only, and we
will be added to His Church, just as they were in Acts 2:47.
We must believe in the Savior, before we can believe in His
"salvation". Only by surrendering our wills to the will
of Christ can we ever come to a proper attitude toward the Bible in
which His Church is described. We need the spirit of Christ as he
prayed in the garden of Gethsemane, "Not my will, but thine, be
done." We must have the Spirit of Christ if we are to be
united in Him.
UNITY BEGINS WITH YOU
Such a movement for Christian unity must begin with you as an
individual. As you are united with Christ, you are united with
the Father, and we all are united together. As we study the Word of
God, we need to think, "speak Lord, thy servant
heareth." Let us believe in Jesus the Savior and let us hear
the words, "If any have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of
There can be only one--"There is one body, and one Spirit, even
as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one
baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all,
and in you all" (Ephesians 4:4-6). Furthermore, Jesus said,
"God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in
spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). He also said, "I am the
way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by
Let's put Christ first in our lives, Christ first in our worship,
Christ first in the church, and we can begin to accomplish the great
goal of Christian unity. Such a devotion and a spirit will help
rid us of those things which divide us. Party names, party pride,
and even our own selfishness will be gone, and we all shall "go
everywhere preaching the Word." Believing on Him, we will
joyously wear His name, humbly follow His teachings, and His prayer for
unity will be fulfilled by us, even today.