“I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one as You, Father, are in Me, and I in you; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:20, 21)
The shadow of the cross falls across the kneeling form of the Saviour. The great divine Shepherd is soon to be separated from His tiny flock, and He prays for them with intense feeling. The consummate miracle worker of the universe is Himself asking His Father to work a miracle that far surpasses the raising of the dead. He prays for the unity of the church. “That they may be one,” He implores, “just as We are one” (John 17:22).
That prayer has often made me pause and shake my head in wonder. Is Jesus really asking that His followers be united as closely as the members of the Godhead—that mysterious tri-unity that baffles the keenest minds? Is that kind of unity even remotely possible for sinful human beings? What would a church so united look like? What would have to happen in this congregation for that prayer to be answered?
The challenge to imitate the oneness of the Godhead forces us to closely examine our definition of unity. This is not a grin-and-bear-it exercise. It goes beyond just forgetting our differences and trying to find common ground. The secular person can do that. People in politics and business do that routinely. Husbands and wives may stay together for the sake of the kids. Common causes unite. A oneness like that of the Trinity, however, is light years beyond such fragile human accords. It falls far outside anything that can be achieved by skillful diplomacy or brilliant management. It is a spiritual unity, a oneness achieved by loving as God loves. Still, Jesus prays for that miracle. Is He asking for something impossible for us to achieve? No. The Father is waiting and anxious to answer His Son’s prayer.
So What Does a United Church Look Like?
As if to answer our question, the apostle Paul gives us the formula for unity in Ephesians 4:3-6. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were 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.” These seven “ones” give us a good definition of what a united church looks like.
First, there is one body. No body part has ever had an independent existence. There is an inherent and essential unity in the body. Separation from the body means death.
The same is true of the church. Unity begins with belonging. Not just names-on-the-books belonging, but believing and acting as if belonging is crucial—which it is! Those in a united church do not doubt that they belong to the one body, the remnant of Bible prophecy. They know that they live and function and survive only in connection with the body.
One Spirit. Ephesians 4:3 says, “endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of unity. He is a Person; He cannot be divided. He cannot be made to grant to one what He denies to another. He teaches the same truths to all and convicts all by the same moral standard. He is the mysterious, powerful agency that melts away differences and makes people love each other and work together. He helps us to “Stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:27). The Spirit works first of all to dispel the divisions that exist in our own lives, those inner disharmonies that make our own souls a constant battlefield. A person not at peace with God and himself will not, cannot, be at peace with others.
One hope. The one hope, the only hope for our world is the return of Jesus. In Titus 2:13 it is called the “blessed hope. It is a most powerful bond in the Adventist circle. When you walk into an Adventist church the very atmosphere should be charged with hope. Perhaps no one thinks of the Second Coming in the same way Seventh-day Adventists do. It thrills us. It unites us. It makes heaven seem very near.
Let’s not let the flame of hope flicker out. If we let it, it will serve as a constant and powerful reminder that if we are going to live together without spoiling the harmony of heaven, we must learn to get along here.
One Lord. In discussions about the kind of person Jesus is, I have heard the comment, “Well, that’s not the Jesus I know,” making it sound as if one has a choice among several. But there is only one Lord. There has never been anyone like Him. He stands alone in the absolute glory of His uniqueness. He is the “brightness of His Father’s glory and the express image of His person”(Heb. 1:3). He is the God of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the twenty-first century.
“Lord” denotes someone who is in charge, someone who has authority. That is Jesus, the Head of the church (Eph. 5:23). He, like the Spirit, is a divine Person and cannot be divided. He is the Head of the one body. He cannot be made to serve as the Head of hundreds of opposing denominations and factions. He cannot be made the Head of even one Adventist congregation whose members are quarreling. Those who surrender to His authority are united. And that means they will experience a uniform separation from the world.
“The secret of unity is found in the equality of believers in Christ. The reason for all division, discord, and difference is found in separation from Christ” (Selected Messages, bk. 1, p. 259). “He in whose heart Christ abides recognizes the Christ abiding in the heart of his brother. Christ never wars against Christ. Christ never exerts an influence against Christ” (My Life Today, p. 276).
One faith. The idea that there are many ways to heaven is here shot down. Paul warns the Galatians: “If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached, let him be accursed” (Gal.1:8). Pretty strong! There is a faith that is fixed. There is a truth that is settled. Our lack of study, our prejudiced study, or even our most sincere study, if it reaches conclusions that cannot be endorsed by the one body and the one Spirit and the one Lord, it does not qualify as the one faith! The members of a united church may have minor theological differences, but they are solidly united on the platform of truth.
One baptism. We are baptized in the name of the one Father, and the one Son, and the one Holy Spirit into the one faith and the one body. Unity regarding a correct doctrine of baptism is to be commended, but something more is needed. Members in a united church will hold each other accountable to their baptismal vows. A united church will be well-disciplined.
One God and Father. What a beautiful climax to this picture of unity! We belong to the family of God. We have the same Father. We are no longer strangers, aliens, or outcasts. We have a sheltering home in the family of God, His church. Having one Father is a powerfully uniting factor. We are all children of God, brothers and sisters in His family.
The cost of disunity We need to candidly assess the cost of disunity. We must see how it weakens us spiritually, how it derails our mission, how it absorbs time and energy that should be invested in warning and winning the lost, how it leaves behind a multitude of the hurting and disenchanted.
The power of unity Here is a statement that may help to motivate us. “In unity there is a life, a power, that can be obtained in no other way. There will be a vast power in the church when the energies of the members are united under the control of the Spirit. Then will God be able to work mightily through His people for the conversion of sinners” (Testimonies to the Church, vol. 7, p. 236, italics supplied). If the prospect of being energized by that “vast power” does not excite us and unite us, what will? May God help us to move day by day toward that level of unity.