There's a lot of talk these days about the need for greater unity between Christians and among churches.
And for good reason! There are like a bazillion denominations now, each claiming to be "of Jesus."
People recognize that improved unity is needed.
Jesus taught His disciples the importance of unity and prayed for it among the early believers:
34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
(John 13:34-35 NKJV)
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
(John 17:20-23 NIV)
But in all the religious chaos that exists today, who, exactly, is Jesus' church?
Jesus said His church would be built upon the confession that He is the Christ of GOD (see Matt. 16:16-18).
In Acts 2, we see that it is Jesus who adds people to His church (see Acts 2:37-47):
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
(Acts 2:36-47 NIV)
According to this text, Jesus adds individuals to His church when they are saved.
This text (and many others in the New Testament) clearly shows that a believer is saved when they are baptized for the forgiveness of their sins. The water isn't miraculous. But what is miraculous is how GOD washes away the sins of the believer at the moment they obey Jesus' instructions by faith (see Rom. 6).
Therefore, when we reflect on unity, according to the New Testament:
- If you weren't baptized in order to have your sins washed away, then you haven't fully obeyed the Lord Jesus (see Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16).
- If you haven't yet obeyed, you haven't been saved.
- If you haven't been saved, then you haven't been added to Jesus' body, which is His church.
- If you haven't been added to Jesus' body, then you can't be unified with those who have.
- One who has been added to the church by Jesus is a brother or sister in Christ and we are expected to be unified with them.
In the first century church, there were no denominations.
The Scriptures are clear that there is one body, not a collection of fragments (see Eph. 4:4-6). Yet that one body is spiritual—invisible, not visible. You cannot see who is a part of the body of Jesus, you can only see the fruit (i.e., the evidence) of their being a part of the one body by their subsequent actions.
Thus, the bottom line is that a congregation of believers (i.e., an ekklesia; a church) that teaches a different gospel—that is, a different means of being saved (Gal. 1:6-7)—is not fully obeying Jesus and therefore can never be unified with those who are obedient.
As a believer, Scripture shows that we each have two responsibilities here:
- Ensure we are "in Christ." If you've not been baptized to have your sins forgiven, do that immediately (see Gal. 3:27; Rom. 6).
- Locate (or, if necessary, begin) a congregation of Christians who preach New Testament Christianity, the one gospel of Gal. 1.