What Kind of Unity?

"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 17:21

    Twice in His great high priestly prayer, our Lord prayed that His people might be one (verses 21 and 22, 23). This prayer for unity has been seized as Scriptural support for the ecumenical movement - a great organizational union of all professing Christian churches. Unfortunately this ecumenical unity is achieved through abandoning or reinterpreting fundamental Christian doctrines. As Malcolm Muggeridge wrote, "By one of our time's larger ironies, ecumenicalism is triumphant just when there is nothing to be ecumenical about; the various religious bodies are likely to fin d it easy to join together only because, believing little, they correspondingly differ about little."

    Is this the kind of unity that the Lord Jesus was praying for in John 17? We think not. He said that the unity He had in mind would result in the world's believing that God had sent Him. It is extremely doubtful that any external federation would have this effect.

    The Lord defined the unity He had in mind when He said, "... as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us." He also said, "... even as we are one, I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one." What unity does the Father and Son share which we can also have a part in? Not the fact of their common deity; we can never share in that. I would suggest that the Lord Jesus was referring to a unity based on common moral likeness. He was praying that believers might be one in exhibiting the character of God and of Christ to the world. This would mean lives of righteousness, holiness, grace, love, purity, longsuffering, self-control, meekness, joy and generosity. Ronald Sider suggests in Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger that the unity for which Christ prayed was manifested when the early Christians shared freely with one another whenever there was need. They had a true spirit of koinonia or community. "Jesus' prayer that the loving unity of His followers would be so striking that it would convince the world that He had come from the rather has been answered - at least once! It happened in the Jerusalem church. The unusual quality of their life together gave power to the apostolic preaching" (see Acts 2:45-47; 4:32-35).

    Such unity today would have a profound impression on the world. As Christians presented a united testimony in radiating the life of the Lord Jesus, unbelievers would be convicted of their own sinfulness and would thirst for the living water. Today's tragedy is that many Christians are scarcely distinguishable from their worldly neighbors. Under such circumstances, there is little inducement for unbelievers to be converted.