One World Church
Catholic and Protestant, Modernist and Fundamentalist, Charismatic and Conservative, the Christian church is splintered into numberless subdivisions today. Christianity is a far cry from the simple united religion of Jesus and his small band of followers.
The inspiring life of the Man from Galilee, his fantastic miracles and his radical new religious concepts all combined to ignite a flame of religious fervor in the hearts of his hearers. That flame was so intense that after his death on the cross of Calvary, it erupted into a new movementthe Christian churchbased upon his teachings.
Despite rigorous persecution from both Romans and fellow Jews alike, the fledgling movement continued to grow steadily and rapidly into world-wide proportions. Except for a few scattered dissidents it was a united body.
Some 300 years later, under the converted Roman emperor Constantine the Great, Christianity became the state religion. With its new political arm, the church assumed immense organizational power.
For the next 1200 years there was virtually one church with few schisms of any consequence. Divisions were simply not allowed. There was one world church. Church unity was a reality, but it was an enforced unity, the unity of a totalitarian state.
Freedom of thought was repressed. Liberty of expression if it was divergent from established orthodoxy was curtailed. The church was in a veritable pressure cooker.
By 1517 expanding religious thought had built up a full head of steam. It burst the bounds of what Martin Luther called "the mighty monolithic church." Religious reformers appeared everywhereLuther in Germany, John Calvin in France, Huldrich Zwingli in Switzerland, John Knox in Scotland . . . and many others.
The unified Christian church began to disintegrate into various protestingor "Protestant" denominations. Then these denominations, in turn, began to divide over various disagreement concerning Biblical interpretation. Then these again sub-divided, like some cancerous cell gone wild, until we come to the over 800 denominations of the Christian church that are in the world today.
The ever-escalating rate of division began to concern, and then to alarm, many. By the 1840s a new trend beganto reunite splintered Christendom. After a particularly painful rupture in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, steps were initiated to prevent further divisions. The first of these steps, in 1846, was the formation of the Evangelical Alliance.
The Evangelical Alliance
This alliance represented some 50 major denominations and was designed not so much to form a giant unified church as to encourage dialog and co-operation between the various sects. Several other developments, also during the latter part of the 19th century, created both a desire for a more binding form of united church, while simultaneously providing further divisive pressures.
MODERNISM: The rise of the twin philosophical concepts of rationalism and humanism found their religious counterpart in modernism. This concept removed the claim of inspiration from the Bible. Substituting the theory of evolution for the doctrine of creation, denying the pre-existence and virgin birth of Jesus, they replaced simple faith in the Scriptures with textual criticism.
By removing the authority of the Bible as the inspired Word of God a veritable Pandoras box of new religious concepts was opened up. In order to accommodate this flood of new ideas, liberalism was needed. Former doctrinal differences were made to seem petty, and thus no barrier for church union.
THE SOCIAL GOSPEL: The Industrial Revolution with its resultant urbanization of society brought immense social problems to the forefront. Such diverse injustices as child labor, rampant poverty, the exploitation of the working classes became more and more apparent. The stresses of industrialized living brought with it not only psychological problems, but a rapid increase in divorce, immorality, and social diseases brought with them the side-effects of unwanted or orphaned children.
Christian leaders began to sense a certain responsibility to join the battle to correct these inequities. This task of social uplift became the dominant theme in the minds of many prominent Christian leaders. The Bible-oriented themes of Scripture study and evangelism appeared relatively inconsequential and increasingly irrelevant. The emergence of this "Social Gospel" proved to be a tremendous spur to the cause of ecumenism.
WORLD MISSIONS: World missionary results slackened noticeably in the mid-19th century as a rising perception of social justice among the non-Christian peoples of the world exposed the inconsistency of the ideals of Christianity with the reality of the lives of many claiming to be Christians. They were also disillusioned by the hopelessly divided state of Christendom. This "shame of division" was yet another prod to accelerate unity activities on the part of the Christian community.
In the Western world interest in religion had rebounded from an all-time low at the onset of the 19th century to a fever pitch some fifty years later under the "Great Awakening" and the revivals of Dwight L. Moody, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and others. Renewed missionary efforts sprung up around the globe under the slogan "Win the world for Christ."
INEFFICIENCY: The lack of efficiency inherent in such a Babel of cults was curtailing the activity of organized religion. Not only did world-wide evangelism and increased social services require great resources, but an ever deteriorating relationship with the governments of the earth dictated a regrouping of the Christian Church.
Further Steps Toward Unity
For all of these reasons, and more, a better vehicle was sought to united the separated branches of Christendom.
In 1893 a World Parliament of Religions was convened. Not only were the various elements of Christianity brought together, but also Buddhists, Shintoists, Hindus, Moslems and other great world religions invited. The aim was not so much unification, but open dialog to gain a better understanding of the spiritual forces in a world growing continually smaller.
By 1908 the International Evangelical Alliance had virtually dissolved. A new alliance, the Federal Council of Churches, was formed with some 30 denominations. Modernist denominations held a distinct majority, causing their more fundamentalist brothers to form a parallel institutionthe National Association of Evangelicals.
By 1950 the Federal Council of Churches regrouped once again under the title National Council of Churches, and, world-wide, The World Council of Churches.
No longer was the aim to merely seek co-operation between disparate denominations, but to actively encourage, where possible, actual organic union by merging various sects. The goals was to eventually form one world church.
Theological discussion threatened to hinder this desired growth. Thus theology was sidelined in favor of perceived more pressing needs such as correcting the social inequities that were so rampant around the globe.
The Social Revolution
Liberalism became Christianitys creed. The vast financial resources of this religio-political conglomerate became available for the financing of the ongoing social revolution.
The social turbulence of the 1960s furnishes a livid example. According to the October 1971 Readers Digest, member churches donated $10,000 to the Angela Davis defense fund, $25,000 for Black Panther defense, $40,000 to assist a quasi-guerilla movement seeking to establish a Chicano nation in the Southwestern United States and $200,000 to the Black Manifesto movement.
The drive for efficiency led to the forming of comity committees of the National Council working in certain localities with local zoning boards to limit the issuance of building permits for new churches to those designated by the council. In another area the Council sought the co-operation of the electronic media to restrict broadcast time to material approved by the Council.
The resultant conflict between activities in the political and religious spheres reached a crisis point on June 30, 1955 when the National Lay Committee of the Council of Churches, under the leadership of J. Howard Pew, resigned en-masse.
In their letter of resignation they succinctly stated their reasons: "Our Committee believes that the National Council of Churches impairs its ability to meet its prime responsibility when, sitting in judgment on current secular affairs, it becomes involved in economic or political controversy having no moral or ethical content, promoting division where unity of purpose should obtain, nor do we believe that the National Council has a mandate to engage in such activities."
While this phase of the ecumenical movement continues to progress, it is interesting to note in passing that the more conservative, Bible-oriented, fundamentalist churches, while protesting these ecumenical developments, formed a federal of their own in 1941the National Association of Evangelicals. Some 40 denominations with one and half million members are represented. This group has formulated a statement of faith based upon the historic creeds of Christendom to define the boundaries of its unity.
Still another, more conservative, ecumenical organizationthe American Council of Churchescontains only denominations which are, in their entire membership, separate from the National Council.
The Bible View
So much for the history of these movements, what does the Bible have to say on this important topic of Christian unity.
The concern which Jesus felt over the proper development of his church is noted in his prayer just before entering the Garden of Gethsemane on the last day of his life:
"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
No greater motivation should be needed by Christians than this strong desire of their leader and Lord. But it was not just unity for which Jesus prayed. It was a particular kind of unity"that they may be one as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be one in me."
This unity was to spring from the indwelling presence of Christ in his church, even as his own unity with the Father sprang from Gods indwelling presence in the Son.
How does Jesus dwell in his followers? He himself explains how in John 15:7: "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you."
The basis for this oneness, the basis for true Christian unity, then, lies in the heart acceptance of the words and teachings of Jesus. A unity of belief, a unity of Christian practice, is the glue that holds the Christian community together.
In Amos 3:3 the prophet puts it simply: "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?"
Two individuals from different geographical locations journey to attend the same conference. They are both motivated by their common desire in the same subject. The nearer they get to that conference the nearer they get to each other. So it is with true Christians. Their goal, their destination, is Jesus and a desire to be like himChrist-likeness. They begin their individual journeys at the same starting point, their common interest in this important goal. The nearer they become to that goal the nearer they become to each other. This is true Christian unityunity of purpose, unity of belief, unity of goal.
The only goal that will bring this type of unity to Christians is a common goal to be more and more like Christ. To do this requires study, the study of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. This study begins with ones acceptance of Christ as their personal Savior and goes on to learning about his life and then copying it. The only authoritative place to study his life is in the book that tells about itthe Bible, the Word of God.
Yet it can be argued that Bible study has done more to separate Christians than anything else. The main reason for the many diverse religious organizations today is disagreement over one point or another of Scripture teaching. Some have suggested, therefore, that it is better to skip over these matters of difference and get together over the work and mission of the church.
Such union, however, is artificial. It is organizational and external only. The unity of which Christ spoke, on the other hand, is spiritual and internal.
Jesus himself told us that his teachings would be misunderstood. He also told us why this would be so. When his disciples queried him as to why he so often taught in parables and dark sayings, he answered: "Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand."Matt. 13:13
In times of war embattled nations will send their secret orders in code, not identifiable except through a decoding device. Thus enemy spies may hear the orders transmitted but will misinterpret their real meaning, while the intended recipient, decoding the message, will both hear and understand.
So it is with the Christian church. Jesus communicates in the code language of parables and prophecies, of types and symbols, confusing and conflicting to many who hear but clear and very forceful to those who possess the decoding device of the holy spirit. Jesus promised his followers the holy spirit for just such a purpose in John 14:26: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."
The discernment of Gods will for his church would come through a "renewing of the mind" as described by the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:2. "And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."
In order to have their minds renewed, the early followers of Jesus understood the need to study the Bible regularly. The early church at Berea were praised by Paul for such diligent study. "These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so."Acts 17:11
Again, notice the admonition in 2 Timothy 2:15, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
The principle of Bible study which Paul hear suggests is called "dividing" "rightly dividing the word of truth." This implies that some features apply at one time and some at another; that some apply to one person or group and some to another; that some apply literally and others symbolically.
The Doctrine of Salvation
It is for this reason that it is helpful for Christians to study the Bible topically in addition to verse by verse reading of Scriptures. Follow one subject throughout the Bible. For instance, let us look at the topic of salvation.
The key to the doctrine of salvation lies in one simple statement in 1 Corinthians 15:22: "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive."
First of all, this tells us that the cause of all death lies in Adam. Romans 5:19 adds to the thought: "For as by one mans disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."
It was, then, the sin or disobedience of Adam that caused death. The contrasting results of that sin and of the righteousness of Jesus Christ are brought to our attention in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
To sin, therefore, is to die. To die is to cease to live, to slip into the unconscious sleep of death where, as Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, "the dead know not anything."
But God has a remedy for death. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."John 3:16
The universality of this redemption is spelled out in John 5:28: "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice."
But all do not rise simultaneously. "But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christs at his coming."1 Corinthians 15:23
"Christ the firstfruits" is in the plural and includes not only Jesus but also his faithful followers who, because they were faithful to him during the present period when evil predominates, will live with him in heaven, as it is promised in Romans 8:17: "If so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."
But othersthose who "afterwards" are "Christs at his coming"will be raised to live again forever on this earth. This dual nature of salvationone heavenly and one earthlyis attested often in holy Writ.
"But God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. . . . There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another . . . As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly."1 Corinthians 15:38, 40, 48
"Thy Kingdom Come"
This resurrection of the othersall otherswill be in the time Christians pray for when they repeat their fervent desire "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." (Matthew 6:10)
The divine principle is clear. This kingdom is Gods. This kingdom must be established by God. It cannot be established by man, no matter how well intentioned. It cannot be established by the Christian church before the time God has ordained for it.
Christendom tried to establish this kingdom back in the days of Constantine when they first united church and state. After completing this union in the days of Charlemagne (800 A.D.) they instituted a 1000-year kingdom upon the eartha reign of terror, of repression, of inquisition, of persecution.
No kingdom devised by man, no matter how beautiful in theory, has the power to fulfil the conditions of "Thy kingdom come."
Legislative attempts to end social injustice are certainly commendable; but as man replaces legal injustice with "de facto" injustice the results are the same. The point is re-emphasized. You cannot legislate paradise. Only God can bring in the promised reign of peace because only God can change the stony, bigoted, hearts of men for hearts of fleshhearts of love, hearts of compassion.
In the meantime the fear of political incursions of Utopias by Communism, Socialism, humanism or any other "ism" continues to push Christendom forward to compete with their own "ideal state," their own "new world order."
But the message of Gods word is in sharp contrast to the rush to such ecumenism, to such organic joining of churches or states:
"Say ye not, A confederacy, to all them to whom this people shall say, A confederacy; neither fear ye their fear, nor be afraid. Sanctify the LORD of hosts himself; and let him be your fear, and let him be your dread."Isaiah 8:12, 13
To the true Christian, then, the Scriptures clearly teach that the present mission of the church is the perfecting of the saints for their future work of service, to develop in herself every grace, to be Gods witness to the world, and to prepare to be kings and priests in the next age.
Ecumenism in Prophecy
Seeing then what the Scriptures say about the unity of the Christian church and its present mission, let us examine what the Bible has to say about the future of the one world church.
The book of Revelation deals with matters of the end time, the period just preceding the establishment of Gods kingdom on earth. This book begins with the statement that it will show what the spirit "signifies"or tells in signs or symbols to the Apostle John.
The various object in this book, therefore, are not to be interpreted literally, but as symbols or pictures of prophetic truths. Once again the Bible speaks, as it so often does, in code language waiting to be decoded by the holy spirit with "Scripture interpreting Scripture
In the thirteenth chapter of Revelation we are introduced to a leopard-like beast that many scholars of the Bible identify with an apostate church system.
Shortly another beast, this one with two horns, looking like a lamb but speaking like a lion, rises on the scene and oversees the making of an image to the first beast. He later gives it life and, with life, persecuting power.
A mark of endorsement is then forced upon all people of the earth, those not receiving this "mark" being forbidden to buy or sell.
The progression seems to be that an apostate church system would be joined by a similar system which, though innocent in appearance, would speak with the same oppressive authority. This similar, though protesting system, would construct a third, united, system modeled after"in the image of"the first system.
One 20th Century Bible commentator, Arthur S. Maxwell, a Seventh Day Adventist, in his book Time Running Out put it this way: "Does this mean that all professing Christians will return to the `mother church? By no means. There are many who, though fully in sympathy with the reunion movement, will feel that they cannot go so far as to admit the primacy of the pope. These will find their spiritual home in a non-Roman, but pro-Catholic body, such as the World Council of Churches.
"These two bodies . . . `Roman Catholic and `Catholic and Reformed . . . will then move on in parallel courses, both so alike in purpose and method that sometimes it will be difficult to tell them apart. One will be the replica of the other; so much so that the recalcitrant minority of Bible-loving Christians, looking from a distance upon this much published `religious revival, will suddenly recognize `the beast and his image so vividly described in symbolic and picturesque language by the apostle John."
This same "unity movement" is described in Revelation 16:13 where the same beast of Revelation 13 is seen in connection with the false prophet (the image of the beast after it has been given life) and the dragon, a symbol in Revelation of political power.
There, united, these three issue certain proclamations described as being unclean, "like frogs." These have the effect of bringing the nations of the earth into the Battle of Armageddon, the climactic battle of the ages, which will fully introduce the blessings of Gods kingdom of peace.
The final destiny of this great united churchjoined with various governments of earthis shown a few verses later, in Revelation 16:19, when, during the final conflict, or last plague, the alliance is broken into its three constituent parts"and the cities of the nations fell."
This break-up however, only serves to pave the way for the establishment by God of that very kingdom which they sought to establish without God.
The first feature of this kingdom will be to put down all opposing forces of evil as described pictorially in Revelation 20:2 when Christ "lays hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil and Satan, and binds him a thousand years."
Then, with evil bound and sin removed, the work will begin of raising the billions of earths dead"all that are in their graves."
That this work will not be done by Jesus alone is attested in Revelation 20:4 where we see the followers of Christ, those who have been figuratively "beheaded for the witness of Jesus" living and reigning with him for the thousand years.
This will be the time when God will establish his one world church. They will be the followers of Jesushis "bride," his "church"now exalted with him in heaven. They will help their Lord raise the dead of earth and instruct them in the laws and rules of that kingdom, leading them, as the prophet Isaiah says, up a highway that leads to holiness. (Isaiah 35:8-10)
Unity of the Spirit
In the meantime the lesson is clear to those truly desiring to be Christians: "say ye not a confederacy"steer clear of organizational unity not based upon a unity of the spirit.
Instead strive for that unity of the spirit that exists between all true Christians, that oneness described by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:3-6
"Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
To attain this end, then, let us continue daily feeding on the Word of God as ancient Israel fed on Manna in the wilderness, proving all things and holding fast to that which is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:21)
Let us unite, indeed, with other like-minded Christians, comparing our thoughts on Scripture with theirs, drawing closer to them in the bonds of Christian love as we are both drawn closer to our mutual goalJesus Christ himself.
Let us leave the solution of the worlds problems to God, knowing that he has adequately prepared for that solution, in that time for which we continue to pray, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."