Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
April 27, 1961
NUMBER 50, PAGE 2,14b

Unity Versus Union

James Lynch, Yuba City, California

Seldom do we take notice of current events among denominational bodies. In times past we were of the persuasion that events among these religious groups had no effect or influence on the affairs of the Lord's church. But we can no longer afford this happy persuasion. There are too many deadly parallels in some of the events in the church with those in denominational groups. We are becoming too much like the nations about us. More and more members of the Lord's church have borrowed the terminology and practices of these groups.

We have read with interest the accounts of efforts toward unity (or union) of four major denominations, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian and United Churches of Christ. While we agree with their expressed sentiment that the present divided condition of the religious world is incompatible with the will of God, we doubt that the merger of four institutions which God did not authorize will produce anything that will be pleasant to the eyes of God; neither would such an arrangement meet the scriptural requirement of unity as expressed in Jesus prayer in John 17th chapter. Jesus prayed for unity in one Faith of all who believe, not the uniting or union in one super organization of different Faiths. "Neither pray we for these (Apostles) alone, but for all those who will believe on me through their words, that they all may be one." (John 17:20) Also the Apostle Paul exhorts t h e Corinthian s, "to be of the same mind and judgment that there be no division among you" (1 Cor. 1:10), and again the same writer encourages the Ephesians to "strive to maintain the unity of the Spirit" — in one faith. (Eph. 4:3-5) One thing Jesus did not pray for was unity of believers with the world, nor unity of all religions. Such would not be unity but union only. But He prayed for the unity in Himself of all who believe through the apostles' words.

Granting the possibility of a merger of these four groups, creating one super organization, the only change effected would be the size of the organization. Through compromise it would take on some of the peculiarities of all its minor parts, its basic nature remaining the same. It would remain just another division in the religious realm. Not being a product of apostolic teaching, it has no scriptural foundation on which to rest nor to build.

Oddly enough the things one would think to be the greatest problems to overcome are not the areas where trouble is expected. The problems where the difficulty is expected is where they all have some things that are almost identical. As stated by Mr. Robert Sanford, minister of the First Methodist church, Marysville, Calif. (Appeal-Democrat, Dec. 10, 1960) "Difference in theology (beliefs) would not be too serious, except in the case of the Episcopal church." While there are differences in theology taught in all the several creeds of these groups, Mr. Sanford sees no difficulty in solving this problem. Just how their different convictions are to (be) reconciled he does not say. This poses some question about their respective convictions, in fact is their theology related to their convictions at all.

If their convictions (beliefs) are not necessarily found in their respective theologies where may they be found? I suppose the best way to solve the problem is just not have any real convictions, which I'm persuaded is the truth of the matter. Another means of solving their problems of faith would be to "speak where the Bible speaks and be silent where it is silent." This would not only eliminate division it would also eliminate the cause of division, the denominations and all denominational machinery. Then they would all be united in Christ, not in a huge human organization known as the National Council of Churches of Christ.

In matters other than those of faith, Mr. Sanborn expects more difficulty; we quote, "the three levels of difference; organization, representation, and the long standing competition of denominational institutions such as hospitals, colleges and missions." (orphan homes, old folks homes, etc. JML) How amazing to think that several million people can conceivably resolve all their problems of faith and yet anticipate problems of great difficulties over "denominational institutions" that have grown up around and attached themselves to the parent bodies. One conclusion to which we are forced is that people are more dedicated to their own schemes and inventions than they are to those things which are of God.

The problems of these four groups toward unity are the same ones encountered by the church in maintaining unity in many places today. While brethren know what scriptural unity is, they have in many places failed to maintain it. In almost every case of division the trouble encountered was not over the great general body of truth in which all can and in times past have agreed, such as, plan of salvation, worship, authority of the Scriptures. Like the denominations mentioned, cur problems are "other institutions," other than the church that is. We know what the church proper is, we also know how to carry on the work of the church, but the troublesome question is how can a non-scriptural institution, (colleges, hospitals, homes, etc.) be justified in the affairs of the church? How can a purely human arrangement be regulated by divine precepts? I'm persuaded that if we understand the problem and face it squarely we will quickly find the proper answer. The question is not can a college, hospital or benevolent institution be justified in the affairs of man in general. In their relationship to man's physical needs they either stand or fall on the basis of service rendered, they should be accepted or rejected according to his wisdom in the matter. Faith neither demands their acceptance or their rejection. The question involves only the relationship of these, "other institutions" in the affairs of the Lord's church. Mr. Sanborn freely admits they are "denominational institutions." Only the most liberal of my brethren would admit such to be the case with the identical institutions supported by many churches of Christ, today. But such they are, for no matter how strenuously we struggle against the thought, the fact remains that the church in many places is supporting and promoting institutions exactly like those in the denominational world, complete with the same problems of government, control, and support. The only difference being, our brethren know they must be justified in their relationship to church and this they can not be.

In those communities where relationships are at least strained between congregations, what is the contributing cause? In almost every case it is the question of these, "denominational institutions" in the affairs of the church. As long as these institutions are supported from the church treasuries they will remain a problem on which churches must make decisions that will affect the unity of the body of Christ. To this extent at least they are a factor in the affairs of the church.

Since these institutions are receiving support from the church and are involved in the work of many congregations, their relationship must be justified from scripture. This burden of proof must rest with those who endorse their present relationship to the church. It is not out of order to ask for this proof, "prove all things hold fast to that which is good." (1 Thess. 5) Will these competitive, "denominational institutions" continue to influence the affairs of the church until we despair of unity and settle for union or even fail in that also?