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Lord, Teach Us To Be United


It is easy for us to see that the Lord’s desire for us, as expressed in His prayer in John 17, as He was on the road to Gethsemane, is that we be one.

My prayer is not for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23, NIV)

So much hangs on the followers of Jesus being one! Jesus prayed that we be one “that the world may believe that you have sent me….and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

The unity of Jesus-followers is not just a matter of ecclesiology (that is, the structure, form, and practice of the church). It is also a matter of soteriology (that is, salvation) and evangelism (the proclamation of the gospel to the world).

This summer, I am scheduled to speak on this topic as a part of a series around the general theme, “Lord Teach Us….” This post contains some of my preliminary thoughts on that subject.

First (as stated above), that Jesus’ disciples be united is critically important. We can all see that with little difficulty. However, seeing the need for unity and being united are two different things. The extremely divided state of the world, the nation, the church, the home, and even within ourselves point to both the need for unity and the difficulty of finding it. I believe it is God’s purpose in His kingdom “to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10, NIV).

Second (and more difficult), we must find a way actually to be united. It is easy for us to say, “If everyone will just agree to be like me, we can easily be united.”

Alexander Campbell, seeing the bitterness of religious division in his day, thought that if we could just go back to “the ancient order of things” by discovering and practicing the ordinances of the new covenant as they were practiced in the early days of the church, unity of all believers in Jesus would follow. It sounded good – and still sounds good – except for one thing. That has not worked out as well in practice as in theory.

The hang up, of course, is “How do you decide what is an ‘ordinance’ and what is incidental?”

One could argue (and some have) that observing the Lord’s Supper in an ‘upper room’ (indeed, even in the third story) is an ordinance from God – though few would agree.

The Catholics believe that their bishops are the successors to the apostles. Is having “living apostles” necessary for the proper functioning of the church? I do not believe so, but on this I am definitely in the minority of all “Christendom.”

Many believe we must have present day miraculous manifestations of the Holy Spirit to have a fully-equipped church. Others deny that and believe that those Spiritual manifestations have ceased. Which is right? Or is there a middle ground between them that would say that the gifts are possible if God gives them, but that they are not necessary for the ministry of the church.

On and on we could go. Just in the taking of the Lord’s Supper, must the bread be unleavened? Is the fruit of the vine to be fermented? Must we use a single cup to serve the fruit of the vine? Should there be a single loaf of bread? If so, must it be broken after the blessing of the bread? Must the Supper be observed every first day of the week and only on that day? Are women barred from serving the Lord’s Supper?

Each of these questions have some who answer yes and others who say no – and each of those positions have adherents who are adamant in their views.

So, many times trying to restore the ancient order of things becomes another way of insisting that everyone becomes like me in order to have unity. After all, I believe that my positions are correct and if you disagree, you just do not believe the plain (to me) teaching of the Word of God. Hence, you are not continuing in the doctrine of Christ, and I cannot have fellowship with you as long as you insist on having YOUR way about these things.

Is THAT the unity Jesus prayed we would have? 

Or is it possible that we have approached unity in the wrong way – as something that we must achieve instead of something that God gives.

After all, in His prayer for our unity, Jesus said:

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)

What did Jesus mean when He said, “I have given them the glory that you gave me”? Whatever it is, He said that He gave “the glory…that they be brought to complete unity.” This “complete unity” is like the unity of the Father and the Son, as Jesus also prayed “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me, and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

We’ll leave this for now, and come back to it in a later post.

Part 2          Part 3          Part 4

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2 Responses

  1. Excellent post! Looking forward to reading Part 2.

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