That They All may be One
R. V. Court, Bristol, England
Those who are zealous in the so-called ecumenical movement, and who have established a World Council of Churches, make much of the prayer of the Lord Jesus to His Father, 'that they all may be one', and through misunderstanding of the Lord's words (and, we may add, the subtle influence of Satan) they strive to bring together in what they call unity, peoples of all kinds of belief, many not even Christians. To do this they are willing to sacrifice vital truths of the scriptures, so that an artificial world church might be attained, which, they claim, would be the thing the Lord was praying for. To many, who see divided churches and a divided world, this may seem to be eminently desirable, but is this what our Lord was praying for?
It is our purpose in this article to consider closely what our blessed Lord had in mind as He spake these words to His Father. It would seem that the whole of this wonderful prayer in John 17 concentrates on the time immediately ahead and is linked with the attitude to Him of those who were already His by grace. Verse 8 'I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them'. Verse 14 'I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them'. Verse 18 'As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world'. All these words were appropriate to that moment.. He then looks ahead to the multitude who down through the years would believe in Him through their testimony, and desires, verse 21, a living link between each believing soul in each succeeding generation. The whole passage pre-supposes a real and vital link with every other believer, irrespective of race, background or time. This living link, which is being emphasized by the Lord Jesus is the same in character as that between Him and His Father. Something that His Father will bring about, and which has no link with ecclesiastical planning.
In continuing our examination it is proposed to ask and attempt to answer two main questions. 1) What kind of unity was the Lord praying for? and 2) What point in time did He have in mind as He prayed?
Our first question is, 'What kind of unity was the Lord praying for?' Let us read the words of verse 21 very carefully-'That they all may be one'. We can understand these words, but as we read the following words our minds try in vain to plumb their depths-'as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us'. Dr. Campbell Morgan, commenting on these words, said 'As we are one. First of all, that is vital and essential oneness. Now He prayed that these, kept in His Name, may be one in that way: having a vital relationship. Not the oneness of sentiment or intellectual opinion, but the oneness that is living. One in life, therefore one in light, and therefore one in love. He and the Father were one in essential life. He and the Father were one intellectually in all light and understanding. He and the Father were one in love. Keep them in the Name I have revealed and manifested to them. Keep them there, that they may be one as we: one in life, one in light, one in love.'
Commenting on verse 11 of this chapter, where the prayer for oneness is also found, Alexander Maclaren says-'Observe the issue of this keeping: namely the unity of believers. The depths of that saying are beyond us, but we can at least see thus far-that the true bond of unity is the Name in which all who are one are kept: that the pattern of the true unity of believers is the ineffable union of Father and Son, which is oneness of will and nature, along with distinctness of persons: and that therefore this purpose goes far deeper than outward unity of organization.' These words call to mind the amazing statement of Peter in 2 Peter 1. 4, 'partakers of the divine nature'.
Surely this is the thought expressed by the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. 13, 'For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit'. The apostle here speaks of a oneness shared by all the Corinthian believers, in spite of their lack of spirituality, and the link was there because at conversion the Holy Spirit came to dwell within each one and they became part of Christ's spiritual body, the church. In that church each member fulfils its own appointed function, enjoying the same life that is enjoyed by all the other members, drawing life and direction from the Head.
Again, we may think of John 15, with its lovely picture of the Lord as the vine and His people as the branches, through whom He bears fruit. This is not a picture of something to be accomplished in a coming day through ecclesiastical co-ordination. The vine, claimed by the Lord to be Himself, includes the branches. Indeed we may truly say that without branches there can be no vine. Without question this operates in every generation and does not await some day in the future.
Our second question is 'What point in time did the Lord have in mind as he prayed?' Verses 20-21 link those who have already believed on Him with those who, in days to follow, will also believe on Him through their witness. Clearly this is a continuing process, as year after year men and women are brought to know the Lord Jesus as Saviour. Verse 11 of this same chapter contains a specific request that those already given to Him in salvation by the Father might be one. Now in verses 20-21 He has in mind the divine desire that those following on may share, at once, the unity already shared by those who had first believed on Him, a unity which is based on their unity with Him, the Lord.
The ecumenical movement puts the answer to this prayer at some time in the future, when they shall have accomplished a mechanical union between different churches and beliefs. It is almost certain that the union they are working for will come to pass when the antichrist receives the worship of all. But it is clear that God answered this prayer immediately. On the day of Pentecost there was quite a large number of men and women who could call Jesus 'Lord', but at that stage, before the actual coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell them, they were a company of individuals, believing the same things it is true, but with no living link to make them one. But Acts 2. 4 declares that in that hour of wondrous revelation of the purposes of God 'they were all filled with the Holy Spirit'. Their individual love to their Lord varied, but they all shared this uniting experience. In Acts 2. 41 we are told that as the result of the Spirit-led ministry of that day 'there were added about three thousand souls'. The verse in the authorized version says 'added unto them', but the words 'unto them' are in italics and we are left wondering who or what they were added to. In Acts 2.47 the expression is used 'the Lord added to the church daily', and in 5. 14 'believers were the more added to the Lord', indicating union with Christ and fellow-believers. Clearly what happened at Pentecost and in those following days was not the mechanical establishment of an organization of folk who happened to have the same views, but the mighty movement of God bringing into vital union those who believed, by the sharing of the same divine life. Was not this the answer to the Lord's prayer 'that they might be one'?
Before we close this article it is well to face the responsibility that rests upon each believer to manifest this divinely made unity before the divided world in which we live. It was the Spirit of God, the uniting Spirit, who led Paul to write in Ephesians 4. 1-4, 'I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep (not make) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit'. As Paul speaks of endeavouring we have warning that efforts will be made by the evil one to divide brother from brother, with the world watching and deriding. Our utmost effort, led by the one Spirit, which means, surely, glad submission to that Spirit, must be directed to the maintenance of this unity-showing constantly that, however we may differ from one another in outlook, in temperament, in status, in nationality, we are one body, with Christ as Head. And it should be remembered, as we read these words, and probably agree with them, that we, personally, are the ones to whom the apostle is writing.
James George Deck wrote truly as he penned the words we frequently sing as we gather on the Lord's Day to remember our Saviour:
We would remember we are one With every saint that loves Thy Name: To Thee united on the throne- Our life, our hope, our Lord, the same.