On the very night He was betrayed, on the night He sweat drops of blood in prayer, our Lord Jesus Christ, prayed for all His followers and all who would become His followers. Central to His prayer was the unity of His followers “May they be one.”
Again and again in His High Priestly prayer of John chapter 17, Jesus prays to the Father that the Church may be ONE.
Unity does not just happen – wholehearted prayer is vital.
“Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that 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)
“And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.” (John 17:23 KJV)
Churches across the world have chosen to ignore our Lord’s prayer and proudly advertise their disunity from church notices boards up and down the country.
Denominations divide up the family of God, that Jesus died to unite. Such division of the body of Christ quenches the Holy Spirit and grieves the heart of a loving Heavenly Father.
There is no scriptural justification for denominations – there is no record of any church in the New Testament making itself a denomination.
The only basis in the Bible for church membership is repentance and baptism. (Acts 2:38) It has nothing at all to do with agreeing to a man made constitution.
Denominations are an addition to the word of God. (Revelation 22:18) They are neither desired nor required by God. They are man-made – a work of the flesh.
In Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV) the Holy Spirit lists the works of the flesh: “The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
The Holy Spirit lists sects – divisions, and factions – alongside adultery, idolatry, witchcraft and murder.
At the very first church business meeting in Acts 15, the Holy Spirit refuses to burden believers with a list of conditions, other than four essentials – none of which are mentioned in most Church membership rules and regulations or constitutions. (Acts 15:28-29)
The apostles and elders in Jerusalem said we would “do well” if we observe these four things. They saw extra conditions as a yoke which even they could not carry. (Acts 15:10)
All Christians are already members one of another, all Christians are already in covenant of membership with each other – sealed with the blood of Jesus. To add another condition to church membership is to say that the sacrifice of Christ, the precious blood of Jesus is not enough. It is to insult the spirit of Grace.
We should never act as though any brother is not a partner with us in the work of the Lord. Jesus shed His blood for that brother, and we dare not treat Jesus blood with contempt – it would bring us under severe judgment. (Hebrews 10:29)
To call oneself a church member is to imply that I have a part in the work in this place while other members of the congregation do not. It is the eye saying to the hand “I have no need of you” or the head saying to the feet “I have no need of you.” (1 Cor:21)
It cripples the body of Christ, and is condemned by the word of God. Dividing Christians into “US” and “THEM” is sin – it leads to sickness and death. (1 Cor 11:17; 18:29-30)
Sectarian divisions bring dishonour to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and are condemned by the apostle Paul. (1 Cor 1:10-13)
“Now I say this, that each of you says: ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas.'” (1 Cor 1:12)
Or “I am of Christ.”
It is wrong to give allegiance to Apollos, Paul or Cephas – or to Luther, Calvin or Wesley or any other church leaders. It is wrong to live by the thirty nine articles of the Church of England, or the policies of the Baptist Union or the Assemblies of God rule book – or any other partnership covenant.
These creeds are not the Word of God – they are man’s interpretation of the Word. And Christ is divided! (1 Cor 1:13)
Was Paul crucified for you?
Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?
No matter what good intentions a group of leaders have, they will at times fail to honour God. As it is written; “There is none righteous, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10)
Man-made membership of any church does not increase commitment. Some members do not attend services or prayer meetings as regularly as non-members.
“For the good that members will to do, they will fail to do.” (Romans 7:19)
The “members” will feel condemned for their failure (Romans 7:24) and the spiritual life of the church will suffer as a result.
We know that Jesus is building His church and he knows that building on division is a waste of time because a house divided against itself cannot stand. (Matthew 12:25)
All denominations were formed as a result of divisions over doctrine, when the Bible is very clear that division between Christians are only ever permitted on moral grounds. (1 Cor 5:11)
“We should not reject those who don’t agree with us but in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth.” (2 Tim 2:25)
Denominations were not founded on humility but on pride and that is like building on sand says Jesus.
Whereas scripture is quite clear. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
“Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Co 3:11)
Paul the great apostle and teacher appealed to the church in Corinth: “I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)
The most important work that the Lord is doing in the world today is building His church – and we know that He who does all things well wants a glorious church, without spot blemish and wrinkle. We know that He is fully able to do this, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against such a church. As a master builder the Lord can only build on a foundation of unity or else when the storms come the church would be washed away. A house divided against itself cannot stand.
Jesus is our righteousness. (Jeremiah 23:6; 2 Pet 1:1)
The only man we should give allegiance to is the Lord Jesus Christ.
The only statements we should live by are the whole word of God.
The only strategy we should have is that of the Holy Spirit.
The only structure we should have is that which is built by Jesus. (Matthew l6:18)
The Lord Jesus Christ said: I will build my church. (Matthew 16:18)
Here is a simple list of some things church leaders could do to put remove the man-made barriers to unity in their own church:
1. Repent of all forms of none Biblically based division.
2. Remove all barriers to the real unity Christ prayed for, and pray along the lines of John 17.
3. Remove the none Biblical divisive names that speak disunity from their church notice boards, literature, etc., etc.
4. Stop having formal membership and accept anyone who confesses Christ as LORD as a brother in Christ.
5. Get serious about the Biblical grounds for disfellowshipping someone 1 Cor 5. (We did this at our meetings even though we had no formal membership.)
6. Preach and teach Bible based unity – and expose the barriers that Christians sinfully justify.
7. Join with everyone who wants to be an answer to Jesus’ prayer of John 17 and pray.
8. Expect the Holy Spirit to move in your Church.
Study by Don Fallon