From time immemorial attempts to “unify” mankind by various ways and means have been made only to result in failure. Perhaps the earliest of these on any large scale is recorded in Genesis 11. 1-9.
After the flood, through Noah’s sons, the earth was re-populated, Gen. 10. 1-5, being “of one language, and of one speech”, Gen. 11. 1. As men journeyed from the east, “they found a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there”, saying “Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”, Gen. 11. 4. But the city, with its tower reaching unto heaven, was never completed, and the proud planners were thrown into confusion, and by this we know what is meant by Babel (i.e., confusion), Gen. 11. 9. The recollection of the dividing of the sons of Noah after the flood, Gen. 10. 32, may later have given the urge to create an organised society safely gathered within the confines of a city with an escape route by way of a heaven-directed tower – just in case! Salvation by works is a theory as old, and as impossible of realisation, as this ambitious scheme.
History teems with instances of abortive attempts at a united world. The rebellious heart of man is not ready to submit to peaceful co-existence with his fellows. The peevish language of Cain, having slain his brother Abel, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” expresses the spirit that divides men, and is so often demonstrated by “man’s inhumanity to man".
These many attempts at unification have been made chiefly in the civil, military, and political spheres.
In more recent years there has been feverish activity in the religious world to bring about some sort of a united front amongst the many sections into which Christendom is divided. This attempt at a unification of religious factions should not take the Christian by surprise, nor should he be deceived by it. The unity of Christians and the unity of Christendom are not synonymous, and upon making comparisons we shall observe the differences. The Holy Scriptures must be the final authority in our observations.
One of the much-quoted texts of the champions of “Christian unity” is found in John 17, where the Lord Jesus, in His High-priestly prayer to the Father, requests no less than five times that “those whom thou hast given me … may be one”, w. 11, 21, 22, 23. On careful examination of these verses we shall discover that these disciples were characterised by certain features which are not, alas, to be found in many of the “unionists” of the twentieth century.
1. They were separated to Christ, v. 6.
2. They received the Word of God, v. 8.
3. They believed that Christ was sent into the world, v. 25.
4. They were sent by Christ into the world, v. 18.
5. Others would believe on Christ through their word, v. 20.
Their acceptance of the claims of Christ confirms the faith they had in Him, and which was later put to the test. The language of Andrew in John 1. 41 discloses the fact that these disciples were believers in Holy Scripture, by which revelation they had gained information regarding their Messiah. There were times when they had their perplexities, but after the resurrection and ascension of the Lord and the coming of the Holy Spirit they were left in no doubt that Jesus was the Christ, John 2. 22; Luke 24. 44-45.
In many of the speeches and written articles on “unity” emanating from the endless conferences and ecumenical committees, we notice little concern to “rescue the perishing”, but rather, an ambitious desire to gather all and sundry into one world church. Taking a careful look at what is being built by men and the material used, we shall find believers and unbelievers, “living” and “dead”, orthodox and unorthodox, Bible-believers and Bible-critics. The unity thus envisaged is simply one of conformity, whereas the unity of Christians as spoken of in the New Testament is fundamentally a unity of life. The world-church,, as we see it assuming its shape, is simply the merging of many systems and separated brethren of Christendom into an imposing organisation, influential enough to have a larger place and a louder voice in world affairs. The Word of God anticipates such a religious set-up, and in this connection read carefully Revelation 17 and 18.
The Scriptures clearly inform us that our God is the God who separates, e.g., light and darkness, day and night, summer and winter, believers and unbelievers, the living and the dead, etc., 2 Cor. 6. 14-16. On the positive side, the unity of Christians is a vital and precious reality because it is divinely created, and therefore to endeavour to keep it is the charge given to those who are in it, Eph. 4. 3. In the Ephesian Epistle, Paul uses four figures to emphasise Christian unity. They are: a Body, Eph. 1. 22-23; a Building, Eph. 2. 20-22; a Bride, Eph. 5. 31-32; a Brotherhood, Eph. 6. 1-10.
Whilst all Christians do not meet for worship or witness in the same manner, and all do not stand up clearly in the defence of the Gospel in an unbelieving world, they are still “one in Christ”, and “members one of another’ through the indwelling Spirit. He is the life-giving unifying power by whom the “many” are merged into “one”, and “if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his”, Rom. 8. 9.