June 1, 1997 Issue

by Don L. King 

The very night in which He was betrayed, and at the close of what some call His "valedictory" sermon, the Lord prayed a remarkable prayer. This is found in John 17. In John 7:21 Jesus prayed for unity. John 7:20-21 read:" 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."

This prayer is popular with many who seek unity.

Denominations love to recite this prayer in a vain effort to prove that all denominations should work together. We have often found it amusing to hear some television preacher remark that Jesus wanted all the churches to work together and quote his words in verse 21 as though Jesus had denominationalism in mind when He said it! First of all, denominations did not exist for many hundreds of years after His prayer. He obviously could not have had them in mind. Second, the denominational preacher makes such a statement and then goes right on with his work of promoting his particular church over any other. One might wonder if he really believes what he is preaching.

If the reader will look carefully at verses 20 and 21, it will be noticed that Jesus predicates the salvation of the world upon the unity His people, thus placing Christian unity upon a platform of very high importance. In fact it would appear that unity is virtually responsible for the success or failure of the gospel itself. However, who are included in His prayer for unity? As we mentioned above, this passage is very popular with those who seek unity. In fact, it seems to be most popular with those who seek unity by compromising Biblical principles. It is often quoted by an erring brother in Christ as he chides us for refusing to accept his doctrines of individual cups, bible classes, instrumental music, etc.

But did the Savior pray for the unity of all believers? No. Nor did He pray for unity among His followers, or denominations or for all professed Christians. Someone says, "Didn’t He pray for those who believe on me?" No he didn’t pray for that either. He prayed for all who believe on Him "through their word." That is, through the word of the apostles. Beyond those of that class he did not pray. What is the point? Simply this: a doctrine, a faith, some wild idea, etc., which is not obtained through the word of the apostles will never bring us into the unity for which Jesus prayed. On the other hand, those who claim their doctrine, base their teaching, etc. on the word of the apostles (the Word of God) will enjoy unity because they will all agree. They will be one.

As the apostle John considered the many miracles of Jesus, he wrote:" And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name." (John 20:30,31) Notice now, the faith by which we may have life through His name is received " through their word" (John 17:20) This is the only way we may come into the unity for which He prayed. Folks, your doctrine has to come from the word of the Lord! That’s what the apostles preached. No wonder Paul wrote: "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17) It won’t do to claim a new revelation. It won’t work to tell us that the Holy Spirit is leading you to believe this or that with your heart. We want the unity Jesus prayed for. We will move mountains to have it. But it will have to come from a faith founded upon a thus sayeth the Lord. If you wish us to accept your cups, classes, instrumental music, centralized funds, orphan’s homes, human creeds and names, etc. we are going to insist on scripture for them. We can’t have the unity Jesus prayed for in any other way. If we are to be expected to fellowship those who worship in ways not found in the scriptures, give us book, chapter and verse for it. Don’t tell us that the idea of one cup, for example, is only "your interpretation." Have we learned so much that we must interpret the word "cup?" That doesn’t require interpretation, my friend. That requires obedience. Just imagine a fellow standing before the Lord in judgment and saying,"Lord, we would have done what you commanded, but we couldn’t understand the word cup!"  Think on these things.

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