Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 15, 1960
NUMBER 32, PAGE 2,14

Foolish Preaching On A Plan Of Unity -- (II.)

James E. Cooper, Clarkson, Ky.

In a previous article we began a discussion of the ecumenical movement, which is a present and real problem to each of us, and will continue to be so during our lifetimes. The attention of many of the world's religious leaders is turned toward the problem. Various answers are proposed, some of which are good, and others are not so good. One of the major decisions to be rendered is whether we shall strive for "union" or whether we shall strive for "unity." These two terms are not synonymous. Union of churches is not "unity." The Bible authorizes "unity," but not "union." One of the best ways to illustrate the difference between "union" and "unity" is to think of what would be the results if you tied the tails of two cats together and threw them over a clothesline. You would have "union," as the two cats were tied together. But you would not have "unity." So is the case with the ecumenical movement. An ecumenicity that is based on outward union, but has no real unity founded on a Christian basis, will not respect the prayer of our Lord.

Jesus prayed, "Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that they may all be one: even 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 didst send me." (John 17:20-21) Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers, including you and me. He prayed for the unity of those who believe on him through the words of the apostles. There are no people who believe on Christ through any other testimony. The words of the apostles, the testimony given by them and recorded in the New Testament, is the only basis of faith in Christ. We have no other means of receiving faith. Paul said that "faith cometh by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ." (Rom. 10:17) Thus, Jesus was praying for you and for me. He was praying that we all might be one. This oneness was to be like the unity existing between the Father and the Son. You will notice that he prayed for the disciples to be united even as Jesus and the Father were united. Can you conceive of any sort of division between God and his Son? Can you imagine such a relationship that would have God and his Son engaged in some sort of union, but not having real unity? The kind of unity existing between God and Christ did not have them preaching different doctrines. God did not preach "faith only," and Christ preach "not by faith only." God did not preach the impossibility of apostasy, and his Son preach that a child of God can fall from grace. God did not preach that baptism is immersion, and Christ preach that it could be sprinkling or pouring. Yet these are characteristics of those pleading for the Ecumenical Movement. Can you conceive of any sort of division between God and his Son? Do you get any idea of an outward cooperation, but an inward antagonism? Certainly not! Neither is any other kind of unity than that characteristic between the Father and the Son pleasing to them. We would do well to remember this kind of unity as we strive to solve the problems of a divided religious world.

Not only do we find Jesus praying for unity, but we also find Paul pleading for the same. Paul was one of the most diligent apostles. He plead that believers in Corinth might not be divided. You will remember that the church at Corinth was divided over their allegiance to favorite preachers. This type of division is not foreign to modern church situations. People follow preachers and become divided. If they would follow Christ, there would be no division. In 1 Cor. 1:10, Paul said, "Now I beseech you, brethren, through 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 perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment." He described their divided state, and in chapter three described them as "carnal" because they were divided. They had jealousy and strife among them and walked after the manner of men. Paul's plea was in the name of Jesus Christ, and is descriptive of complete unity. He plead that they might all "speak the same thing." He urged that "there be no divisions among you." Rather than being divided he pled that they would be "perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." Not only were they to be united in organization, but they were to be united in their thinking. Instead of the expression "perfected together" in the American Standard Version, the Revised Standard Version translates this phrase as "united in the same mind and in the same judgment." Goodspeed's translation is "perfectly united in mind and judgment." No apostle, or any other New Testament writer ever encouraged people to "agree to disagree agreeably." Paul did not write to this church and say that "one denomination is just as good as another," as so many of our present generation foolishly preach. Scriptural unity, then, must respect the prayer of Christ and the plea of Paul.

To achieve real Christian unity we must realize the importance of loyalty to Christ and of loving the brethren. Loyalty to human creeds and parties has been the means of division among religious people from the days of the Corinthian division down to the present time. If the two hundred and fifty and more denominations in our nation were to sit down to consider uniting themselves, one of the biggest problems would be over what to do with the sectarian creeds and historic practices.

Creeds written by men are worthless in themselves, and could be scrapped without too much loss. Almost all of these two hundred fifty and more denominations claim to follow the Bible. If people follow the Bible, human creeds are worthless. If the creed contains less than the Bible, it contains too little. If it contains more than the Bible, it contains too much. If it only contains the Bible, it is unnecessary.

Neither is "cooperation in externals" Scriptural unity, unless such external cooperation is also marked by the unity described in the prayer of Christ and the plea of Paul. There can be no real unity where there is not also a common ground of faith.

Doctrinal unity is the only kind of unity pleasing to God. Doctrinal unity can be achieved. The only reason for failure lies within men, and their willingness to settle for something less. Paul L. Maier wrote in Seminarian for August, 1955, that "Scriptural guidelines to the problem of Christian unity are clear, consistent, adequate, and complicated only by human finitude and the propensity to adapt instead of apply, to unlock the treasury of the Word with the key of bias, rather than the faith which listens." When we adapt the attitude of the "faith which listens" we can go to the Word and see the conditions and restrictions of the unity described there.

Paul presents a plan for unity in Ephesians 4:1-6, "I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye 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." We would not be content with having more than one God preached. We agree that there is only one Holy Spirit. We believe in only one Lord Jesus Christ. But, some people believe in more than one baptism. They believe in more than one body. They preach that there is more than one faith, and some even hold up two hopes for the Christian. Thus, men deny four-sevenths of the plan for unity described in the Word of God.

How do you feel about the preaching of more than one body? Paul says that the body is the church. In Eph. 1:22-23 he says, "and put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all." In Eph. 5:23 he says, "For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, being himself the Saviour of the body" Again, how would you be disposed to the preaching that there is more than one faith? Would you be content to stay with Paul, even though it would mean that the sectarian statement, "one faith is just as good as another" would have to be abandoned? What about the one hope? Is there more than one? Some would have us think that there is a millennial hope on earth, and an Eternal hope in heaven. What about the one baptism? Some think they are baptized in the Holy Spirit, but they also practice baptism in water. They have two baptisms. How readest thou?

There is a seven plank platform in Ephesians, chapter four, and anything toward union, or unity, different from this becomes nothing but a travesty and approaches what William Temple called "ecumania."

How can Scriptural unity be achieved? The only practical means of attaining this goal is to have open discussions of religious differences in the spirit of love. New Testament Christianity spread rapidly during the first century as a result of public discussions which were conducted not only between the Christians and the heathens, but also between Christians themselves. We should be willing to enter into public and private discussions with those with whom we differ, entering such discussions with a desire to learn the truth, rather than for sectarian victory. We stand ever ready to discuss our differences in religion in public or in private. Are you willing to study the Will of the Lord?