THAT THEY MAY BE ONE
Any church that claims to be truly Christians
ought to exhibit the essential characteristic of being united
in doctrine and practice.
Feljun B. Fuentes
UNITY IS ONE of the distinctive marks of the true Christian Church. Any church that claims to be truly Christian ought to exhibit this essential characteristic. Such that the failure of any claimant to possess and practice unity in the proper sense expressed in the Bible only proves that the church in question is not the true Church of Christ. Only the true Church of Christ will possess genuine unity and this distinguishes it from the other so-called Christian churches.
That genuine unity can only exist in the true Church is supported by the fact that Jesus did not speak of a plurality of churches. He said that not everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven; only those who do the will of His Father will (cf. Mt. 7:21-23). Hence, He does not acknowledge just any religion that recognizes Him. The only religion He recognizes is that which does the will of God and obeys all of His commandments.
The foregoing discussion will prove from the Scriptures that God intended His Church to remain truly united which makes unity a striking and exclusive mark of the Christian Church.
BIBLICAL BASIS FOR UNITY
Unity in the Church of Christ is founded purely on the teachings of the Bible. It is a doctrine that has been upheld by the people of God from ancient times to the present. Both Old and New Testament Scriptures contain passages essentially supporting the practice and preservation of unity within the nation of God. For instance, in Psalm 133:1, it is succinctly written:
“How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!” (New International Version)
This biblical passage teaches that to dwell together in unity is both good and pleasant in the sight of God and even in the proper ordering of the lives of His people. This biblical doctrine, however, is further confirmed by other verses of the New Testament.
During the apostolic period or in the early Church, the Apostles wrote their epistle that contained appeals to the early Christians for unity. When individual judgments and selfish motives threatened the unity of this society and created disunion and confusion among the brethren, the Apostles lost no time to exhort the brethren to maintain the unity of the organization. With the same degree of conviction, they vehemently condemned disunity. In one of his letters to the Christians, Apostle Paul made the following statements:
“I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (I Cor. 1:10, Revised Standard Version)
HOW UNITY IS EXPRESSED IN THE CHURCH
Unity as has been practiced in true Christianity is absolute. It is unequivocally expressed through a complete agreement in what the disciples should say by being perfectly united in the same mind and the same judgment. Thus, the true Christian Church in her dedication to the exercise of unity is one in doctrine, in polity, in faith, and in worship. Factions and dissensions were strongly discouraged and condemned. Thus, the perfect execution of this unity is exclusively found in the true Church.
Let us not, however, misconstrue this unity as a reaction to counter the persecutions that the Christians suffer or a desire to gain collective strength in order to accommodate mundane concerns or promote social and political ends. The fact is, by being united, the chosen people of God glorify Him. Apostle Paul was rather emphatic on this in the following biblical passage:
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,
“so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Rom. 15:5-6, NIV)
Bringing glory to God is premised on the unity of the Christians in following Jesus Christ with one heart and mouth. The practice of worshipping God should be done through the collective efforts of the members of the Church. How can a group of people be united in worshipping God or in bringing glory to Him when they are disunited in their beliefs, in their faith, in the administration of the Church or in their mind and judgment? God will never find pleasure in being worshipped by servants who are divisive and conflicting.
Aware that God Almighty is glorified by Christians who possess that spirit of humility and selflessness because these would enable them to translate the unity of the Church into concrete reality, Apostle Paul wrote the following:
“Then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” (Philip. 2:2-3, 12, Ibid.)
JESUS PRAYED FOR UNITY
Unity in its concrete biblical essence can never be exercised by just any organization, not even by just any zealous religion. Since it is a mark of the true Christian religion it has to be distinctively and exclusively found in the true Church. The claim of any religion, therefore, becomes empty and meaningless should its constituents fail to be united.
Before the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ into heaven, He uttered a prayer to His Father. This prayer gives us an idea as to how distinctive a characteristic of the true Church unity must be. A portion of that prayer goes like this:
“And now I am coming to you; I am no longer in the word, but they are in the world. Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one just as you and I are one.
“And now I am coming to you; I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world. Holy Father! Keep them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me,[a] so that they may be one just as you and I are one. I in them and you in me, so that they may be completely one, in order that the world may know that you sent me and that you love them as you love me.” (Jn. 17:11, 23, Today’s English Version)
As the Church of Christ that emerged in these last days has been prophesied to expand to various countries worldwide, there exists the danger that private judgments of the individual members would create disunion and disharmony within the Church. Disunity and dissensions might be fueled by the variety of the brethren’s opinions and by their various nationalistic inclinations. In anticipations of this, Jesus Christ sought for the grace of the Almighty God against disunity and disharmony when He petitioned that the Church be perfectly united.
Note that the unity intended by Jesus for His Church on earth is founded on the mutual love and concern of God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. As the Father and the Son are completely united so should the Church be in its entirely.
Clearly at this point, the prayer of the Lord Christ Jesus has become the safeguard for the unity of the Church.
MEANING AND SCOPE OF UNITY
When the Church of Christ insists on the unity required by the Scriptures, it does not refer to the kind of unity flaunted by worldly organizations and other groups of people. Unity in the Church of Christ is that which has, as its ultimate objective, to praise and bring glory to God (cf. Col. 3:17; I Pt. 4:11). As this is so, unity within the true Church has its own inherent pattern. The unity of its organization also follows certain scriptural principles.
The singularity of the Church founded by Jesus Christ implies that all churches that differ from it is not the Church of Christ but a different organization. It is even wrong to assume that all the so-called Christian religions or those that profess belief in the Lord Jesus Christ would make up the whole Church of Christ. Putting them together under one umbrella organization while upholding conflicting doctrines is not the biblical notion of unity. The Bible says:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:4-6, RSV)
Clearly then, there is only one Church of Christ, recognizing one Lord who is Jesus Christ, sharing with one another on hope, upholding one faith, the members of which have been baptized once into the body or Church, and recognizing only one God, the Father in heaven. This is the oneness of the Church of Christ so that unity is distinctively its own.
Indeed, it is in the nature of the Church organization that it is united, that unless it is so, it becomes improper to recognize it as the true Church. The Church, properly so-called, is the body of Christ:
“He is the head of the body, the church.” (Col. 1:18, Ibid.)
In his epistle to the Romans, the Apostle Paul vividly described the nature of the Church as an organization, being composed of individual members working in perfect unity. He said:
“For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function,
“so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Rom. 12:4-5, Ibid.)
What are counted as many are the members of the Church and not the religious bodies. These members serve various functions within one organized unit.
The arrangement of each part of this body or Church has been fashioned by God in such a way that the unity of the organization may be maintained and kept:
“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
“ so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other." (I Cor. 12:18, 25, NIV)
Since it is God who put together the members of the body, it now becomes clear why, in reference to the early Christians, the Apostle Paul said:
“Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” (I Cor. 12:27, RSV)
God has a purpose in putting together the parts of the body or the members of the Church of Christ. He abhors discord or divisions among His chosen people. By arranging the parts of the body according to His will, there will be no schism or discord in the body. Instead, the members would have the same care for one another.
When we speak of Christ being the head of the Church, we also imply that the members of the Church who are collectively referred to as His body, are under the spiritual obligation to perform their religious duties under His command. Members, whose obedience is patterned after that of Jesus toward His Father (cf. Philip. 2:5, 8), neither reason out for themselves nor follow their own opinions against the commandments of God written in the Scriptures. Indeed, members of the Church practice no righteousness of their own. Apostle Paul explained this further in the following passage:
“And be completely united with him. I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law. I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith.” (Philip 3:9, GNT)
Total unity is to be preserved by the parts of the body of Christ or by the members of the Church. In a physical human body, it is the head that should take complete control of the body by directing the movements and ensuring the coordination of the parts within the whole system. Inside the church, Christ takes complete control over the lives of His servants.
The nature of the unity in the Church is all the more understood by taking into account the manner by which Christ created “one new man from the two, thus making peace” (cf. Eph. 2:15). Referred to here as the two that Christ created as one new man are Christ Himself and the Church—the head and the body (cf. Col. 1:18). So that, to understand the organized functioning of the various parts of a physical human body means to understand also the organized unity that prevails in the Church of Christ.
PARADOXICAL REACTION TO PERFECT UNITY
Among the various occasions when public attention focuses on the Iglesia ni Cristo is when the citizens are called upon to exercise their right of suffrage. What attracts the attention of people is the fact that members of this Church cast their votes in perfect unity during elections or plebiscites.
However, in proportion to their ability to understand the underlying principles behind this practice, people either admire or criticize this unity. Some of them accuse the Church of interfering or involving in politics. Others impute ignoble motives to the Church’s behavior.
What is paradoxical here is that those who point accusing fingers at this Church for its solid unity in all aspects of its religious life are themselves avid and active proponents of unity. They rally the whole nation or groups of people behind them to be united for a cause. They ask politicians and partisan advocates to brush aside their differences and work for the common good.
Surprisingly though, when they are confronted with the real honest-to-goodness unity exhibited by this Church, they mysteriously forget their hossanahs for unity. Furthermore, they cast thunderbolts at the entity practicing what they themselves advocate.
It must be noted that the Iglesia ni Cristo practices unity not during elections alone. Unity as a mark of the true Church is a principle that it consistently upholds in every aspect of the Christian life.
So, the Church of Christ itself is an organized whole. And the Bible tells us that it is the work of God Himself that the members or parts of this body are set together.
The Bible likewise defines the extent of unity that should be practiced in the Church. The Church must be so united in such a way as to fulfill the biblical teaching that its members must be “liked-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind” (Philip. 2:2, Ibid.). Apostle Paul indeed very emphatic when he added that, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit” (Philip. 2:3, Ibid.) This eliminates all throughout even the smallest possible practice of divisiveness in the body of Christ. Therefore, the Church is, and must continue to be, united in all endeavors that have to do with the members’ religious life. This being done, the members of the Church have complied with the commandments of God.
Finally, Apostle Paul explains that God is glorified when members of the Church of Christ are united in everything they think, say, and do (cf. Rom. 15:6).
On the other hand, any form of disunity and schism in the Church of Christ is disdained by the Apostles as proven in the letters of Paul and James:
“For you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving like ordinary men?
“For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apol′los,” are you not merely men?” (I Cor. 3:3-4, RSV)
“But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
“This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.
“For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.” (Js. 3:14-16)
Therefore, the slightest hint of disunity in the true Church is contradictory to the sanctity of its mission and existence. The Bible requires that unity of the Church of Christ be upheld by its members at all times. In this way, the God of love and peace will remain with the Church:
“In the meantime, brothers, we wish you happiness; try to grow perfect; help one another. Be united; live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” (II Cor. 13:11, Jerusalem Bible) *
Copied from PASUGO GOD’S MESSAGE/JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1992/VOLUME 44/NUMBER 1/PAGES 4-8