Biblical Unity in the Lord and Papal Conformity

The unity for which Christ Jesus prayed in John Chapter 17 is a unity that already exists.  His intercession is not an appeal to produce unity among His own.  It is a prayer to the Father in Heaven to preserve the unity that already exists.  Therefore, He prayed, “Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.”[1]  The Lord is not speaking primarily of a visible, external, organizational unity; rather He is speaking of the exact opposite.  It concerns the very essence of Christian unity.  The Lord compares Christian unity to the ultimate unity, the Trinity.  It has always existed between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit, three Persons yet One God.  There is not a more profound and exact definition of the essence of biblical unity than that which He proclaimed in prayer, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”[2]

The fact that the Lord Jesus Christ prayed to the Father for the maintenance of Christian unity means that such unity is preserved.  There is, therefore, among true Christians a spiritual union like that which is in God Himself.  It is an answered prayer, as the Lord Himself declared, “Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me and I knew that thou hearest me always.”[3]  The Church, called in Scripture the Body of Christ, is a spiritual organism.  God before the world existed chose the believers to be in Christ His Son.  Over the centuries, He has justified them through Christ’s righteousness.  In saving them He places them in Christ and will preserve them in that unity to the end of all things.  This promise is sure.

The Only Unity of Which the New Testament Speaks

The foundation of Christian unity is the position of believers “in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ.”[4]  It is more fully defined in the words of the Apostle, “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world…Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will…wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.”[5]  This is the foundation and the source of all Christian unity.  There is no unity apart from the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ.  There is no Christian oneness apart from His work of redemption.  To speak about Christian unity without this essential foundation of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus is futile.  It is similar to speaking about a family as if the family were the house, and not a husband, wife, and their children.

 Unity as fellowship with God

Seeing unity as it is in Scripture—being in fellowship with God, alienation from God is not possible for true believers.  The Lord had previously stated, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:  and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.  My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”[6]  Thus, true believers are placed into a unity, which is in the Father and in Christ Jesus.  This unity is an accord which they themselves did not establish, but which they are commanded to keep.  In the words of the Apostle Paul, they are “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”[7]  The nature of that unity is the unity of the Spirit.  The basis of the unity is the one Lord; Christ Jesus as the Head of the Church, and the one faith that is the Gospel, and the one baptism.  All of this culminates in the one God who “is above all, and through all, and in you all.”  This concluding factor reinforces the fact that the essence of unity is spiritual oneness with God through the Lord Jesus Christ alone.

Perfect Unity as the Lord Returns

The unity for which the Lord prayed is undeniable as believers are spiritually one in the Father and in the Son; but it is not now fully realized in a faultless, impeccable unity.  This is clearly seen as the Lord continued His prayer, “and the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one:  I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one.”[8]   The prayer is in accord with what the Word of truth declares, “whom he justified, them he also glorified.”[9]  The future glorification of true believers is so absolutely certain that it is spoken of as a thing already accomplished.  Believers are to “be made perfect in one”, which is a consequence of the glory to be given to them.  This spiritual union is already begun, but will come to full fruition only in the life to come.  Thus being “made perfect in one” is to have its full realization when Christ returns.  It is then that Christ will “present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.”[10]  Then and only then will there be perfect oneness in faith, knowledge, love, holiness, justice and truth.  When the glory that Christ received from the Father has been given to believers on the Lord’s return, then there will be perfect unity.

God Himself chooses, seeks out, finds, redeems and loves His people in Christ.  The number one question is, are you one of His people?  The only way to be sure is to believe in what He has promised and fulfilled in Christ Jesus.  God promises are your surety, “for all the promises of God in him are yea, and in him amen, unto the glory of God.”[11]  The veracity of God, the mediation of Christ, and the operation of the Spirit are all connected to the promises that God has made.

The promises of God guarantee pardon of sin for those who believe on Christ Jesus alone.  He will be their sanctification and their support in temptation and trial.  All of these promises are made through the Redeemer and are one hundred percent certain.  The promise made and on which you today must stand is, “for whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”[12]  This promise is without exception.  As you hear the Gospel of salvation, and obey the command for repentance, you will not approach the throne of grace in vain.  As you call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners, you shall be saved.  Your guilt will be pardoned, your heart purified, and you shall be saved with all the power of an eternal life.  When you believe on Christ Jesus, you will have a growing sense of your dependence upon His grace so that you will learn to look to God and trust in His power and goodness alone.  Then in spirit you will hear and personally accept the wonder of these words, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love.”[13]  You will begin to understand that God loves Christ unchangeably, and so in Christ He loves true believers consistently.  “God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?”[14]  Then you will begin to understand the intimacies of unity in Him.  As the Lord Himself said, “if a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.”[15]  And in the words of the Apostle John, “we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ.  This is the true God, and eternal life.”[16]

True believers have union with the true God in His Son, and He sustains this intimate relation, which is eternal life.  This is strong language denoting the spiritual unity, which exists among believers.  They await the New Jerusalem, the Church of God in a perfect state, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, decorated with all perfection of wisdom and holiness, prepared for the full revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory.  This will be that external unity promised in the Word, “behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.”[17]   Then their souls will more fully understand Him, as they will be filled with all the love and delight of Him as their Lord.  God Himself will be their God; His immediate presence will be with them; His glory will be upon them in perfect joy and unity.  Thus, Christ Jesus’ prayer for unity while fulfilled now spiritually, will be perfectly realized in all the excellence of the Kingdom to come.

True Ecumenism

There is genuine unity of all true believers throughout the world.  There is but one faith.  All believers are converted by the same Holy Spirit, and by the same work of grace have been placed in Christ Jesus.  Though all do not have the same measure of wisdom and spiritual knowledge, yet they all are believers who trust in God alone and His Written Word alone.  They are saved by the all-Holy God, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and all praise is to God alone.  These five biblical principles show forth the foundation of true unity in the Lord.  These principles have helped the persecuted Church through the centuries to hold fast to the simplicity of the Gospel.  True ecumenism is fellowship or working together in adherence to the five basic biblical principles that maintain the foundation of true unity in the Lord.  To the degree to which these key basic biblical standards are embraced, true unity will be evident.

False Ecumenism

False ecumenism, on the other hand, is typically institutionalized and joins together professing Christian groups in a purported “common cause”.  In such endeavors, few are concerned that one or more of the parties involved are unconverted.  While purporting to confess the Lord Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures, these groups often in fact compromise the five biblical principles that display the basis of true unity in the Lord.  The extent to which these principles are not upheld usually shows the inclination of a church or group to submit to Rome.  The World Council of Churches is such an institution.  Within it, there is no agreement on any of the five biblical principles.  The Church of Rome, likewise in apostasy, repudiates all of the five biblical standards.  Counterfeiting the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, Rome is intent on finding successful ways to bind all “believers” to a visible and formal unity achieved through the dominion of ecclesiastical machinery.  This institutionalized “unity” generates only infidelity to the Lord and the Gospel.

The Pope Defines Conformity

In late Pope John Paul’s official letter, “That They May Be One”, he defined the subjection that is demanded in order to be in communion with Rome,

“The Catholic Church, both in her praxis and in her solemn documents, holds that the communion of the particular Churches with the Church of Rome, and of their Bishops with the Bishops of Rome is, in God’s plan, an essential requisite of full and visible communion.”[18]

To arrive at that point of full subjection, a set of five principles must be adopted—principles that actually deny all five parameters of that define a true believer.  According to the Pope,

“It is already possible to identify the areas in need of fuller study before a true consensus of faith can be achieved:

(1) the relationship between Sacred Scripture, as the highest authority in matters of faith, and Sacred Tradition, as indispensable to the interpretation of the Word of God;

(2) the Eucharist, as the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, an offering of praise to the Father, the sacrificial memorial and Real Presence of Christ and the sanctifying outpouring of the Holy Spirit;

(3) Ordination, as a Sacrament, to the threefold Ministry of the episcopate, presbyterate and diaconate;

(4) the Magisterium of the Church, entrusted to the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him, understood as a responsibility and an authority exercised in the name of Christ for teaching and safe guarding the faith;

(5) the Virgin Mary, as Mother of God and Icon of the Church, the spiritual Mother who intercedes for Christ’s disciples and for all humanity.”[19]

The Pope’s objective in declaring his five principles is to lay out the basis of a ubiquitous visible conformity to the Church of Rome.  This visible conformity will be forged in accordance with the norms of her institution alone.  Thus the Pope decrees,

“…it is now necessary to advance towards the visible unity which is required and sufficient and which is manifested in a real and concrete way, so that the Churches may truly become a sign of that full communion in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church which will be expressed in the common celebration of the Eucharist.”[20]

Without a doubt the Roman Catholic Church is attempting to forge a man-made unity, visible by means of an institution to which all must conform.[21]  Such a conception stands in direct contradiction to the reality of believers who are placed invisibly in Christ by God, and are to maintain the bond of unity given to them by the Holy Spirit.

 External Unity Attained by Power and Penalty

What is this conformity now so passionately advocated by the Pope?  How would it be applied in practice?  From all previous experience, and the official teaching of the same Pope in his canon law, those fully participating will be obliged to submit both their mind and their will to “the Holy Father” (i.e., the Pope), to his decrees, and to the dogma of his Church.  Thus present day Roman law decrees,

“Although not an assent of faith, a religious submission of the intellect and will must be given to a doctrine which the Supreme Pontiff or the college of bishops declares concerning faith or morals when they exercise the authentic magisterium, even if they do not intend to proclaim it by a definitive act.”[22]

In this official law Rome states, in clearer terms than any cult, the necessity for her followers to suppress their God-given faculties of mind and will.  This is demanded under duress, for the new canon law, the “Papal Code” codified by the Pope John Paul II, includes a section entitled “Punishment of Offenses against Ecclesiastical Authorities and the Freedom of the Church”.  Under the heading, “The Punishment of Offenses in General”, the Inquisition appears again, for Canon 1311 states, “The Church has the innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faithful with penal sanctions.”[23]  A brief acquaintance with history readily reveals that coercion is indeed a term that the Roman Church understands very well.  Naturally, when ushering all comers into her big tent, she makes light of its implications.  But if ever the Papacy is again directing the levers of political power, Canon 1311 could acquire that same notoriety as other measures that have so darkened the pages of history with the blood of the martyrs.

Summary and Application

The Lord’s prayer for unity is answered in the life of every believer who is justified by God’s saving grace alone, which is through faith alone, and is in Christ alone.  Christ Jesus prayed, “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.”[24]  The Lord knew very well those for whom He prayed.  The objects of His prayer were clear to Him.  These believers embrace eternal life as they are regenerated by the Holy Spirit.  The foundation of Biblical unity is of God, not man.  Those for whom the Lord prayed are “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”[25]   The inheritance which you receive by believing the Gospel is wonderfully described in the Word of God, “wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”[26]  As a true believer, you come into the kingdom of God in Christ, a spiritual kingdom in this world, and heavenly kingdom to come.  Both aspects of the kingdom are enhanced with boundless blessings.  The Holy Spirit emphasizes the specific characteristic of the kingdom; it “cannot be moved”.  As you embrace true faith, you come into “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”[27]  The immutable Word of truth in Scripture gives you the right and title to eternal life.  Then there is the correlation between your inheritance and your duty.  The greater the privilege, the greater the obligation to express our gratitude in a suitable and becoming manner.  Thus the Word of God instructs us, “whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”  The true believer has two powerful motives, “receiving a kingdom” and “our God is a consuming fire.”

The same truth has a grave warning for one who is still bound to his church, the one who believes in Christ Jesus on the authority of his church rather than directly on the Lord by the authority of His written Word.  God is the same just and righteous God under the Gospel as He was under the law in the Old Testament.  He deals with us in love and grace yet He in Himself remains “a consuming fire”.  He is the God of strict justice, who will avenge Himself on all who have not received the love of the truth, but rather look to a church or some person other than the Lord Jesus Christ alone for life.  The Lord Jesus Christ has lived the perfect life and has made the faultless propitiatory sacrifice for sin; to refuse to believe in Him alone is a critical offence.  When the Lord dealt with the sincere and devout Pharisees, He gave them a very strong word. “I said therefore unto you, that you shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.”[28]  You may say that you are a good Catholic and that you want to please God in this present life and hope to live with Him forever.  That is a noble goal, and you may be as sincere and devout as the Pharisees, but like them, if you neglect personally to believe on Him alone, you likewise will die in your sins.  Distinct faith and trust on the Lord Jesus Christ is essential and frequently highlighted in Scripture. “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”[29]  “He that believeth on him is not condemned…”[30]  “He that believeth on the son hath everlasting life.”[31]  “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself:  he that believeth not God hath made him a liar; because he believeth not the record that God gave of his Son.”[32]

The whole underpinning question is placed before you:  “but whom say ye that I am?”[33]  Because man is a fallen being, the Gospel presents a personal direct faith in Christ Jesus the Lord alone.  To substitute faith in a church as the way to believe on Him is a dangerously subtle deceit.  It has all the appearance of piety and devotion, but in the final analysis, the choice is an institution in the place of the Lord Jesus Christ.  True faith must be personal.  A faith through the mediation of a church has all the trappings of religion and produces church people in large numbers, as were the Pharisees, but devoid of the life of God.  If you do not have true faith, you also shall die in your sins; “for our God is a consuming fire.”

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[1] John 17:11

[2] John 17:21

[3] John 11:42

[4] I Thessalonians 1:1

[5] Ephesians 1:4-6

[6] John 10:27-29

[7] Ephesians 4:3-6

[8] John 17:22-23

[9] Romans 8:30

[10] Ephesians 5:27

[11] II Corinthians 1:20

[12] Romans 10:13

[13] Jeremiah 31:3

[14] Numbers 23:19

[15] John 14:23

[16] I John 5:20

[17] Revelation 21:3

[18] Ut Unum Sint, “That They May Be One:  On Commitment to Ecumenism”, John Paul II (Washington, DC:  United States Catholic Conference) Publ. No. 5-050, 5/25/95, Para. 97

[19] Ibid., Para. 79

[20] Ibid., Para. 78

[21] The Oxford Movement of the 19th century, which has issued in ARCIC [Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission] of today, was according to John Henry Newman begun in July of 1833.  It was a thrust of the Papacy to take over the Church of England from the inside by encouraging Anglicans who were basically Roman Catholic in sympathy, to stay within the English Church to transform it to Roman Catholic standards rather than to defect to Rome.  What terms the Papacy would require of the Church of England was spelled out in 1833 to Newman.  “A few months before that date, Newman, in company with his friend, Richard Hurrell Froude, while travelling on the Continent, had visited Monsignor (subsequently Cardinal) Wiseman at Rome.  ‘We got introduced to him, ‘wrote Froude, ‘to find out whether they would take us in [i.e., to the Church of Rome] on any terms to which we could twist our consciences, and we found to our dismay that not one step could be gained without swallowing the Council of Trent as a whole.’ (Froude’s Remains, Vol. I., p. 306)  While on this journey Newman fell seriously ill with a fever…While in a weak condition…he tells us: ‘I sat down on my bed, and began to sob violently.  My servant, who had acted as my nurse, asked what ailed me.  I could only answer him:—‘I have a work to do in England.’ (Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua, p. 35, 1889 ed.)  What that work was we now know full well.  It was that of Romanizing the Church of England.”  Walter Walsh, The Secret History of the Oxford Movement, Fourth Ed. (London:  Swan Sonneshine
& Co., Ltd., 1898) p. 263.

[22] Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Ed., New English Tr. (Canon Law Society of America, 1983, 1999) Canon 752

[23] Ibid.

[24] John 17:21

[25] John 1:13

[26] Hebrews 12:28-29

[27] II Peter 1:11

[28] John 8:24

[29] John 3:16

[30] John 3:18

[31] John 3:36

[32] I John 5:10

[33] Luke 9:20