Thoughts on Unity

John 17:20,21.---' Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.'

The Call of God.---The call to unity comes from God. Through unity alone can the Kingdom of God be set up among men. Through unity alone can the world believe and know that the Father has sent Jesus Christ to reveal Himself to the whole human race. It stands as the unalterable condition on which He can fulfill His mission to mankind. Like all God's calls it is an invitation to cooperation with Him. He lays no compulsion on us. He awaits our cooperative response which will lay hold of His will and make it our own. If unity has slipped away from our grasp it is the common fault of the Christian world. If it is to be regained it must be by the concerted action of all Christians. Every section has shared in shattering unity. Every section must share in the effort to restore it. We are asked to hush our prejudices, to sit lightly to our opinions, to look on the things of others as though they were our very own---all this without slighting the convictions of our hearts or our loyalty to God.

What Christ said to the disciples with human voice He repeats now through His indwelling Spirit. The general need of unity is set down by Him in a proverbial saying: 'Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, every city or house divided against itself shall not stand.' This is as true today as when it was first uttered. It has been accepted by the world of men as applying to every department of life in its separate groupings, political, intellectual, scientific, social. In increasingly wide circles men are striving for unity.

Turning to the Gospels what do we find? Our Lord speaks as He thinks, and He thinks in terms of reality. All life is a symbol; He declares that of which it is symbolic. So He says not 'I am the vine, ye are like the branches,' but, 'Abide in me and I in you . . .I am the vine, ye are the branches.' And again, it is not 'I am like the good shepherd.' He is the reality of which the men who watched their flocks were the shadow. It is 'I am the good shepherd.' 'Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, one shepherd.' All this was counted as axiomatic even before the Gospels were written. When the gospel was oral, calls divisions 'carnal'---'for whereas there is among you envy and strife and divisions, are ye not carnal and walk as men? For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not carnal? . . . For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.' Division, in the eyes of this intense man, is fatal to the life of the Church. On another occasion it is the human body that is the symbol of which Christ and His Church represent the reality. 'For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we are 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 . . . Now ye are the body of Christ and members in particular.' Again the Church is spoken of as a household 'built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner-stone,' or as a temple, or as the holy city, the heavenly Jerusalem. In every instance the symbol has unity that it can admit of no racial, sex, or social distinctions, but all are 'one man in Christ Jesus.' But there are still greater heights towards which we must rise. Earthly imagery is inadequate and heaven is called to bear its witness. 'Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; that they all may be one; as thou father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.' If our Lord counts unity a necessity, how absolute must that necessity be!

By His life on earth He revealed exactly what the unity was between Himself and His Father. It is not so mystical as to be unintelligible to the simple-hearted. The kind of oneness exhibited by Christ with His Father on earth is clear beyond dispute--- a paternal and filial relationship, and a liberty reached through absolute dependence consummated by sacrifice. When all Christians recognize God as Father and look on the things of others as of brothers, the family of God will be complete, a glorious Church without spot or wrinkle. There are patches of unity already, it is true, in an underlying loyalty to Christ. But not enough to make Christianity effective as a peacemaker, a liberator, a universal power, or to satisfy the mind of God.

Christ's prayer for His disciples was not for their individual success or individual achievement, but for unity of and love of the group. Love and unity were indeed the two cornerstones of the Christian Church. The Church grew out of fellowship. It was carried on by love.

In the Non-Christian World.---It is highly significant that the growth of the movement towards closer cooperation and unity synchronizes with the recent startling development of divisive movements and influences among men. It comes also at a time when the world mission is confronted with the greatest combination of difficulties which it has ever been called upon to meet. If ever Christian forces needed to present a united front to all that opposes, it is now. And yet the alarming fact is that it is possible that the Christian forces may lose through failure to combine, or, having united, through failure to pay the sacrificial prices necessary. Everywhere we read records of the intense desire for unity felt in the mission-field, where our divisions are a serious stumbling-block.

Another mistake concerns the perpetuation of denominationalism. At present, in a hundred ways, Christians differ from each other, but in proportion as we rally around the living Christ shall we banish our prejudices, enlighten our understanding, and correct our mistakes. We think of our differences mainly as denominational, and we ascribe them chiefly, and quite rightly, to hereditary or traditional sunderings into distinct camps, some of which had an almost accidental origin. But some were the result of deep-down differences of temperament, which create independent lines of cleavage, if cleavage it really be, inside as well as outside our own communion. We are apt to forget by what different roadways the truths of God, even the deepest, the most sacred, the most unchallenged truths, come home to men of different make and temperament.

After all it is not central principles that give us great difficulty. Rather is it that which lies at the circumference---the government of the Church or Order. Perhaps the greatest obstacle to the cause of union is the belief---entertained more or less explicitly by most bodies of Christians---that there is some form of Church order which alone is primitive, and which alone, therefore, possesses the sanction of apostolic precedent. Our review of the historic evidence has shown this belief to be an illusion. Just look at Acts:17-26; to see that. In the primitive Church no one system of Church order prevailed. Everywhere there was readiness to experiment and, where circumstances seemed to demand it, to change. yet it is permissible to hint that the first Christians achieved what they were inspired was favorable to experiment. In this---and perhaps in other respects---it may be that the line of advance today is not to imitate the forms, but to recapture the spirit of the Primitive Church.

Looking at a Lost Apologetic.---'That the world may believe.' Incomparably the most serious aspect of continued divisions and aloofness among Christians, and of failure to give unmistakable impression of unity not only in name and spirit, but also in Christlike attitude and service, is that we rob the Christian religion of its mightiest apologetic. On the authority of Christ this is the one He had in mind when He prayed, 'That they all may be one . . . that the world may believe.' In this prayer He revealed that such unity or oneness is possible and obligatory. Every extension of the visible fellowship of Christians will increase the power of the Church to witness to its Lord. If an unbelieving world in these days sees a growing unity in the international field and in other relations, and at the same time observes Christians of different communions, nationalities, and races unable to demonstrate that they love and trust one another enough to unite, what other conclusion can it form than that the Church has vacated her spiritual leadership?

In Christ, timothy. maranatha

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