Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 10, 1955

When Jesus Prayed

Roy E. Cogdill

What is commonly called the "intercessory" prayer of Christ is recorded in the 17th chapter of John. This is the Lord's prayer in behalf of the believers. He prayed not only for the immediate group of disciples surrounding him, but for all men of all ages who might ever believe on him. He said:

"Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth. As thou didst send me into the world, even so sent I them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. Neither for these only do I pray, but for them also that believe on me through their word; that that may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us: that the world may believe that thou didst send me." (John 17:17-21.)

Notice that prayer. The scope of it is universal. It includes every person who ever believed in Christ or who ever shall believe in him. He is not praying merely for a local group; he is not praying for just one sect, or faction, or even one denomination. Christ is praying for all who believe, for every man into whose heart the preaching of his word brings faith. And what is the burden of his prayer? For what does he most earnestly beseech the Father? The thing he desires above all others is that his followers may be one. He prays for unity. He is not praying merely for union, but for the same kind of unity he had with the Father. Once when I was a boy I tied the tails of two cats together. There was a union of cats; but one would hardly call it unity. Christ prayed for unity, not merely union.

And why did he desire unity? What was the reason or purpose behind such a desire? Listen to his words:

"That the world may believe that thou didst send me."

Jesus indicts division, denominationalism, sectarianism among believers, as being the cause and root of unbelief and infidelity. The very hot-bed from which infidelity arises is religious division. And one can readily see why. Have you ever stopped to ask the question, Why is it that less than one out of every six Americans (a professed and so-called "Christian" nation) attends any kind of religious service on the average Sunday? If all the people in all the churches of the land, Catholic, Protestant, or whatever they might be, should be counted on any given Sunday (Easter excepted) there would probably be less than one-sixth of the people of our nation in the total count. Why is there so little interest in the churches? Why are so many unconcerned about gospel preaching, the Bible, the service of the Lord? Are people just naturally bad? Are they reprobate unto every good work?

Let me tell you the reason for this disinterest. It is because people have become confused and thoroughly disgusted by the conflicting claims of the various religious bodies of the land. They are lost in the maze of human differences, human doctrines, and human creeds. They can not find their way to God because there are so many doctrines preached, and so many different churches which set forth themselves as the true church of the Lord. Certainly it is confusing. If you start to make a trip to a distant city and begin your journey by asking everybody you see how to get there, you will soon become hopelessly lost and confused. The only safe way is to be guided by a reliable and authentic road map. Most people know that so far as travel is concerned; but not many have learned it yet in the realm of religion. They stop and ask this preacher, that preacher, this priest, that friend; they study this creed and that creed; go to this church and that church. And finally wind up by taking the attitude that all the churches are right, or all of them are wrong; and there is no use in a man even trying to find the true way.

Not long ago I heard a returned missionary from a heathen land tell over the radio of the confusion created in that country by the conflicting creeds and doctrines that were being taught. One man preaches a Catholic Christ, another comes preaching a Presbyterian Christ; another a Methodist Christ, a Baptist Christ, an Adventist Christ, a Nazarene Christ. The confusion resulting from this has become so great that it finally became necessary to sort of have a gentleman's agreement among the various denominations to divide the country up geographically, and assign certain areas to each denomination, with no trespassing on each other's property! This was the only way they could keep from bringing hopeless confusion and chaos to the native population. This man said what America needs is "one united Church of Christ."

Jesus prayed for unity; he prayed for the same kind of unity that prevails between him and God. That is the kind of oneness that should exist among spiritually minded people. Many years after that prayer of Christ's, Paul gave the platform on which such unity should be built. It is found in Ephesians:

"There is one body, and one Spirit, even as also ye are 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." (Eph. 4:4-6.)

When Paul wrote "one God" that means all are to respect the same authority; "one faith" means all are to preach the same message and believe the same thing; "one baptism" means there must be unity in our obedience, all are to obey the same commandment; "one body" means all are to enjoy the same fellowship; "one Spirit" means all are to be united under one rule, according to the same teaching; then "one hope" means there is to be unity of desire or expectation.

This platform is a platform of unity. There is unity of worship, unity of authority, unity in message, unity in practice, unity in organization, unity in life, and unity in desire. Paul starts out with unity of organization, "one body" and goes through all the other characteristic marks of unity. This is the unity for which Christ prayed; this is the unity his people must have. Where is the man who dares to accept and defend anything short of this? Religious division is sin; denominationalism is the very antithesis of. Christ's desire. Division is condemned; unity is commanded. Let us, therefore, bring all our life, our teaching, our worship into harmony with the divine plan. Let us be Christians, Christians only, simply that and nothing more or less.