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She Urges All Men To Unity Upon The Lord and His New Testament[an error occurred while processing this directive]
by Mack Wayne Craig
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In a world divided into religious bodies of every doctrine and practice, Churches of Christ plead for the unity of all believers in Jesus Christ on the basis of the Word of God. Although most of us are accustomed to religious division, stop and ask yourself: Is this really God's plan for His people? Did Jesus die to bring about such confusion as exists among those who claim to wear his name? Those of us who cannot find this condition in harmony with the Word of God are pleading that all men put aside denominational ties and stand together united in Christ on the truth presented in the Bible.
It is clear from studying Jesus' teaching that this was his purpose for his followers. During the final hours before his death, Jesus' prayer for the disciples and all believers makes his attitude clear: "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" (John 17:20-21). We note in this prayer two important truths: first, Jesus expects his followers to be one in the same sense that he and the Father are one. Can you imagine asking Jesus what to do to be saved and being told something different from what God would say? Yet this is the result of religious division, as different churches teach doctrines which do not agree with those taught by others.
A second truth which must be noted from Jesus' prayer is his statement that believers in years to come would learn and follow him through the word or teaching of the apostles" (John 17:20). Many seem to have decided that they have the right to believe and teach whatever pleases them, with little concern over whether it is the message of God through the apostles. Jesus here makes it clear that his disciples can only be made by accepting the teaching set forth by the apostles, and that these disciples must and will then be one because they believe and teach the same thing.
These truths are emphasized by the apostle Paul in correcting the sin of denominationalism which arose in the Corinthian church. The idea of religious denominationalism is to separate or divide into different groups, each with its own peculiar doctrines and practices, but all claiming to belong to Christ. It is based on the idea that men have the right to interpret truth for themselves, and to decide what doctrines they wish to hold. It grows out of the Roman Catholic position that the church is the final authority, with the right to decide on doctrine, rather than Christ as final authority, to whom the church bows in obedience. Listen to Paul's message: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no division among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). Does this requirement for unity of doctrine made by Paul fit the practice of religious groups today?
Denominationalism developed out of the efforts of sincere people to reform the Roman Catholic Church. Men like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John and Charles Wesley, and many others became convinced of the need for change in the religious practices of the church. Each began to teach and emphasize various areas in which he believed reform was needed. Unfortunately, the result was that those who followed them developed into new religious groups with creeds and doctrines which still did not go back to the teaching of the apostles who were guided by the Holy Spirit. This practice has continued so that hundreds of churches exist today, in spite of Jesus' prayer and Paul's instruction that we all be one.
The tragic result of this has been the conclusion by many that what is called Christianity must be false. If Jesus is the Way, why can his followers not walk together? Did you note in Jesus' prayer that this is the reason for which he requires that we be one? He said". . . that the world may believe that thou hast sent me" (John 17:21). The divisions in Christianity cause young people in divided homes to lose interest in the call of Jesus; how much more are people from non-Christian backgrounds confused by the differences among those who call themselves Christian!
God's plan for our salvation included his provision of truth as the foundation for life. This truth has been given us in the Bible, which God has preserved for us through the centuries. It was his purpose from the beginning that disciples of Jesus should stand together on his Word. Note the following:
1. Jesus claimed all authority in sending the apostles to teach his word: "All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:18-20). The apostles were not at liberty to teach or interpret as they pleased, but were bound by the message of Jesus.
2. The Holy Spirit was given to the apostles to make sure that they would teach only the will of God and Christ. On the night of his betrayal, Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to accomplish this purpose: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26). After his resurrection Jesus commanded the apostles to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit: "But ye shall receive power, after that The Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
3. Since the apostles could not always be present to teach the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit, they wrote the message which would be needed through the centuries. In doing this, God guided them by the Holy Spirit so the message had to be accurate and true. Listen to Paul's statement of this truth: "How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit" (Ephesians 3:3-5). We have the privilege of reading and studying the words of the apostles and others guided by the Holy Spirit. To write creeds or single out special ideas for emphasis is to ignore the revelation of God's truth which is the basis for following Jesus.
4. This message of truth set forth in the Bible will make us all that God wants us to be. Notice Paul's statement to young Timothy: "But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Those who misunderstand the plea of churches of Christ for unity on the Word of God sometimes reply: "You think that you're right, and everybody else is wrong." This is not our position. We are convinced that the Bible is true and right, and that any of us is right only to the extent that we accept and follow what it says. Why not turn away from all human doctrines and unite on the Word of God as the only rule of faith and action?
What two important truths about unity does Jesus' prayer teach?
What is the idea of religious denominationalism?
What does this idea grow out of?
How did denominationalism develop?
What has been the result of denominationalism?
How did Jesus guarantee that the apostles would speak the truth?
How can we know that truth today?
Note: This material is copyrighted (1981) by Star Bible Publications, Inc., P.O. Box 821220, Fort Worth, TX 76182 and is used with the express permission of Mr. Alvin Jennings, owner
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