THAT THEY MAY BE ONE
T. PIERCE BROWN
Most of my life, I have heard preachers of the gospel use John17:21to emphasize the sin of denominationalism. All of my preaching life I have done likewise, and shall continue to do so. However, I think a large part of my preaching has emphasized secondary matters in that respect rather than primary ones.
For example, I have emphasized that all those who follow Christ should be one in doctrine, as Paul expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:10, “Now I beseech you, brethren–that ye all speak the same things–.” This is very important, although he is here speaking to brethren, not to denominations. The principle is still valid for everyone, and illustrates the fact that the oneness of Christ and the Father involved the unity of words. If our unity is to be “even as” theirs, it must involve doctrinal unity. But one may have doctrinal unity with another and still not have the oneness for which Christ prayed.
I have preached that they had unity of works and that we, if we are to have oneness “even as” theirs, must practice individually and collectively those things authorized by and compatible with the teachings of Christ. I shall continue to preach that. But we may practice many of those things that Christ did, commended and commanded and still not have the unity for which he prayed.
I have taught that Christ and his Father had a unity of purpose and will. We find in John 3:17, “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” The fact that Jesus prayed in the Garden, “–nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt” is but the climax of a whole life expressing that attitude. In fact, we can say with absolute confidence that if he had not lived that way, he would not have died that way. So, if we are to be one as Christ and the Father are one, our will and purpose must be the same as theirs. As we have frequently said to an audience, the majority of which seemed to have little concern for personally helping to carry the gospel to the lost, “He came to seek and save the lost. For what did you come?” One great reason for the failure of unity in the church of our Lord today is the failure in our will and purpose to put first things first. But we may have the same purpose, and still not have the oneness for which Christ prayed.
In preaching about this sort of thing, I usually go into Ephesians 4:4-6, emphasizing that if there is but one body, all denominational and sectarian division is wrong. I shall continue to stress the unity described here, including one Lord, one faith and one baptism.
Most of the time, we probably accentuate the fact that the one baptism is the kind of action God ordained, that is, immersion. The truth of the matter is that the “one baptism” has to do with far more than form. The disciples in Acts 19 had the right form, but not the one baptism. It has to do with attitude, purpose, function, and general knowledge. A person can not be taught wrong and baptized right. In our judgment there are thousands, some connected more or less loosely with the church of our Lord, who have been immersed, but have not received the one baptism that united them with Christ. And this has nothing to do with the erroneous idea that it is necessary to “re-baptize” a person each time he reaches a higher plane of spiritual insight, commitment and desire. It does mean that one may have “a form of Godliness and deny the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5).
So, most of the teaching we have done and heard about the oneness of John 17 and Ephesians 4 is good, but there is one aspect of oneness that is more basic than all those we have mentioned, for it involves and includes them all. Without it, oneness in name, doctrine and organization will be useless, and with it all essentials will be secured!
That point needs emphasis! Are there not individuals by the thousands and congregations by the score who have unity with regard to the names by which they wish to be designated, but are divided in many respects? Are there not thousands who are in perfect unity over the type of organization the church should have, but apparently can scarcely stand to be in the presence of each other?
What then, is the basic thing that characterized the oneness of Christ and the Father? My judgment is that it is in the fact that they had the same nature or essence. That concept leads one to this simple but profound truth: The wearing of the same name, practicing the same rituals, and even believing in the same doctrine matters little if we have not become “partakers of the divine nature.”
Is it possible that a large part of our problem in the Lord’s family is because we have converted persons with respect to some (one) name, doctrine, organization, baptism, etc., but have failed in regard to making sure they have become partakers of the divine nature?
In my judgment, part of the problem begins with the emphasis in our preaching, even on such marvelous passages as Acts 2:36-38. We have used them so long and effectively to point out the results of one’s obedience to the gospel, that we may have de-emphasized Peter’s first point. He did not start with what they were to do, be, or get, as important as that is! He started with what Jesus was! If Jesus is not both Lord and Christ, it does not matter whether you believe in one baptism for the remission of sins. If Jesus is not both Lord and Christ, it does not matter whether you believe that the Lord will “add to the (one) church daily such are being saved.” If Jesus is not Lord and Christ, then you can not become partakers of his Divine nature, and it does not matter if you “continue steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine (in all outward matters), in the fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers.”
We can not keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace unless we have it in the first place. So, the oneness that we should have “even as” Christ and the Father had it is related more basically to the concept of having a new nature, being a new creature, than it does to any linguistic, operational, organizational or structural unity. To paraphrase Christ, “These ought ye to have done and not to have left the other undone.”