Jesus had a vision of unity among believers that the apostles came to share. The Lord prayed for unity; “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21). Notice that Jesus, as He prayed for the apostles, prayed for us as well. “Those who will believe in Me through their word” are us. And that prayer was all about us all being “one.” Yet for sometime now diversity in religion, the exact opposite of the Lord’s prayer, is encouraged and embraced.
A few years after Jesus’ prayer for unity, the apostle Paul came on the scene. Paul was not present to hear that prayer. But he, like us, was included in the number who would come to believe through the word of the other apostles. And he, like they, embraced unity. His first Corinthian letter was to people who were struggling with unity, so he made a strong appeal for them to turn to the Lord’s principle: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10). In this appeal he presented the one idea that can propel believers forward in their pursuit of unity: “that you all speak the same thing.” The “same thing” he referred to was “their word” that Jesus included in His prayer. The only basis that believers can find is God’s word and a willingness to accept it as true.
That there are so many churches, creeds, and doctrines reveals to our shame that we are not speaking the same thing. Very elementary logic forces the conclusion that if we were all speaking the same thing there would only be one. There may well be a multitude of meeting pieces, but the same thing would be taught in all. Yet throughout our city today one is warning about the reality of hell (Matthew 5:29-30) while another is declaring that there is no eternal punishment. One is saying that it is vital to remain faithful unto death (Revelation 2:10) while another is preaching that once you are saved you never have to do or be concerned about anything. There are likely few matters raised in scripture that are immune from having people speak different things on.
During our time together I will most certainly speak on baptism as part of the plan of salvation (1 Peter 3:21) while other preachers will at the same time claim that baptism plays no part whatsoever in salvation. For there to be the unity Christ prayed for, and in order for us to speak the same thing as Paul admonished. either I or they need to preach something different. Is there any way to resolve such conflicts? Should I give thought to saying what they say for the sake of unity?
When Jesus prayed for the apostles He laid out the standard “through their word.” Brethren, I, nor any other preacher (and for that matter, any other Christian), has any right to declare anything other than what the Bible says. Once the Bible makes a declaration the matter becomes forever settled. When Apollos learned that he was teaching something that contradicted the teaching of the apostles, he changed his preaching (Acts 18:23-28). He did not attempt to change God’s message. Rather, he allowed God’s message to change him. Unity can only occur when men are willing to accept what the Bible says, laying aside their own preconceptions and sometimes even their own desires.
New Providence church of Christ