Many heretics arose and taught differently in the first century, but these heretical teachers were silenced by the truth. However, they began to flourish in the second century and their work led to the dark ages when the truth of God was ignored for the fabrications of men, thus fulfilling the predictions of the inspired Apostle Paul. (1 Timothy 4.1-3.)
Many religious people disagreed during this time, but after the church received imperial recognition in 313 A.D., it exercised enough power to silence opposition with the sword. The church leaders then tried to get people to bow to their dictates by force - an action contrary to Christianity. Those who protested were slain until Martin Luther gained the protection of the Elector of Saxony and began the first successful revolt. Several other successful breaks were made about the same time in Switzerland by Zwingli, and in England by Henry VIII.
Most of the reformers only desired to reform the existing religious bodies. Luther wanted to reform the Catholic Church in certain teachings and practices which he believed contradicted with the Bible. Later John Wesley wanted to reform the Church of England for the same reason. The reformers found this task impossible. They soon realized that the only way was to withdraw their followers and to form new groups, which soon grew into congregations and ended up in denominations. To produce conformity among their people the reformers wrote creeds, confessions of faith, catechisms and the like.
Everyone strove to make converts to his own brand of "theology." Since Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others disagreed, their followers argued, split, and worked in warring camps. Fellowship among them became impossible, and thus, denominational division arose. The order and peace of the early church was lost to the rivalry and confusion that resulted and still exists today.
The world today has not found a solution to the problem of division. This is because they have yielded to and allowed certain conditions and principles to prevail which cause and promote division. From the scriptures we can list some hindering causes to the unity of believers. When these causes are removed the ground will be prepared for unity.
No denomination was ever established from strict
adherence to the authority of Christ and the New Testament. It is not what the
New Testament teaches that divides, but what it does not teach. Commenting on
religions and preferences of men, Jesus declared, "Every plant, which my
heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up." (Matthew 15.13.)
In 1795, in London, an attempt was made. The result was the London Missionary Society. This produced no unity.
Another attempt was made in 1910 which resulted in the Edinburgh World Mission Conference. Then came the Stockholm Conference in 1925, and the establishment of the world Council of Churches in 1948. This was thought to be the final solution for unity, but it brought only a compromising union of religious bodies.
Efforts have also been made in Africa towards the
unity of the churches. The result of these have been the founding of the
Christian Council of Ghana in the Gold Coast in October 1929 and the more
recent Council of Liberal Churches. These councils are unions without unity of
speech, mind, and judgment, which is the standard set forth by God in 1
Corinthians 1.10. These have failed to bring about Christian unity to the
world. I do not want to sound like a prophet, but I believe that all such
attempts, which are made man's way, will end in artificial union - far short of
the "unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4.3.) The
result of such attempts is like gluing wood to steel (a union); but not like
melting steel together with another steel (which is true union).
The real problem of religious division is basically and almost altogether a doctrinal one. Until we are doctrinally united these divisions will continue. The only cure for the disease of religious divisions, as well as for other sins, is the New Testament, which is Christ's all-authoritative word. No human creed or method will. The New Testament is the only standard that can bring unity out of division and order out of chaos. If we want to eliminate human divisions, we must eradicate human doctrines. God wants us to be united and He has made definite provisions for that unity. Only God's way will work!
From the Bible we read of God's way to unity in:
Among the reasons given for this prayer for unity Jesus said, "that the world may believe that thou host sent me." (John 17.21.) The unbelievers can be convinced only when we are united - when we have thrown away all man-made creeds and names. In 1Corinthians 1.10-13, the inspired apostle Paul pleads earnestly for unity. Here the wearing of names not given by God is condemned.
There is power in unity.
Unity is both pleasant and good. (Mark 3.24; Psalms 133.1.) If we respect Him
whom we call Lord, we shall be united. (Luke 6.46; John, 14.15.)
If we cannot wear the names of such inspired men as Peter and Paul, what of the names of such uninspired, fallible men as Luther (Lutheran Church) or Wesley (Wesleyan Church) or Odiyifo Nkansa (Odiyifo Nkansa Asore) and so on? There is one thing we can do with such names and that is to bury them with the dead men whose names they are and instead exalt the name of Christ. (Philippians 2.9-11; Colossians 1.18; Acts 4.12.)
Also from the passage we learn that we have no right to wear any name into which we have not been baptized. That means Pentecostal, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, Anglican, etc. are all condemned. If those who wear them cannot prove their being baptized into them, let them drop such names. Human names do not only divide, they detract from the honor and glory which is due Jesus Christ. (Colossians 3.17.)
1. "There is one body" v. 4. This suggests unity of organization.
What is the "one body" of which Paul speaks? He answers in Ephesians 1.22-23, and in Colossians 1.18,24. ". . . the church which is the body," "... this body which is the church." Thus the body to which Paul by inspiration refers is the church. Plain words these!! Therefore, there is but one church. A multiplicity of churches then is contrary to God's order. This is true because:
2. "There is one Spirit" v. 4. This suggests unity of revelation.
This "one Spirit" all agree is the Holy Spirit. It is through this "one Spirit" that God revealed to us the word which is the truth. (John 16.13; 2 Peter 1.27; 1 Corinthians 2.9-12; Ephesians 3.3-5.) The Holy Spirit did not only reveal the Word to the apostles, but He also enabled them to confirm the spoken word by miracles and signs. (Hebrews 2.3; Mark 16.20.)
Many uninspired people have arisen who have claimed inspiration and have by that claim started religions with their writings as all-authoritative in their respective religious bodies; for instance Joseph Smith (Mormons); Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Scientists); Mrs. Ellen G. White (Adventists) to mention just a few. These claimed to have received special revelation from the Holy Spirit. Yet what they wrote differs from what the inspired Apostles who were led into all truth taught. (John 16.13.) Truth does not contradict itself! This makes these religious founders of this and past centuries just plain false apostles and deceitful workers. (2 Corinthians 1.15.) All so-called revelations which differ from the Bible are false. If we would have unity, they must be discarded, for unity of revelation is an essential element in Christian unity which cannot be achieved while men hold on to these so-called revelations. Different spirits reveal different things, as for example in Genesis 2.17 and Genesis 3.4. We, must, therefore, heed the warnings of God in Galatians 1.8-9 and 1 John 4.1.
3. "There is one hope" v. 4. This suggests unity of purpose.
The Christian's outstanding desire and
expectation (hope) is eternal life. (Titus 1.2; 3.7; Mark 10.30; 1 John 2.25.)
In every rational heart there is the desire for a better life and existence
beyond this veil of tears and woes. (2 Corinthians 5.1-8.) All that has been
said and done in history about the "water of life" and the
"fountain of youth" go to confirm this universal hope of man. Thanks
be to God that because of Christ and His gospel we can be reconciled unto God
and live in hope of an eternal inheritance. (Colossians 1.27.) The Bible uses
three great adjectives to describe our hope.
Christ is with the Father preparing a place for the obedient and faithful. (John 14.2.) Both Peter and Paul tell us this hope is laid up for us in heaven. (1 Peter 1.3-5; Colossians 1.5; 2 Corinthians 5.1.) But not all religions share this hope of eternal life in a heavenly home. Some believe that the earth will be renovated for them. Others believe they will reign with Christ on earth instead of going to heaven in glory. These diverse hopes make religious people live and prepare differently for Christ's coming. Some have even gone to the extent of living near beautiful mansions hoping vainly (2 Peter 3.10.) that when Christ comes they may be first to take possession and be allowed to occupy those mansions. But in order to unite there must be one expectation and desire of all believers - one purpose for which we all strive together - that of eternal life in a heavenly home which was the desire of the patriarchs. (Hebrews 11.16.)
4. "There is one Lord" v. 5. This suggests unity of authority.
The word "Lord" defined stands for one in authority; one supreme; a ruler; one who has the power over life and death. Jesus is Lord and has all authority. (Acts 2.36; Ephesians 1.19-22; Matthew 28.18; 1 Corinthians 8.5-6.) He is the only rightful Lord of our lives.
One thing the world needs desperately today is a recognition of and submission
to the authority of Christ, for the subject of the Lordship of Jesus is
relevant to all men.
5. "There is one faith" v. 5. This suggests unity of doctrine.
This one faith is the system of belief revealed in the New Testament and for which we are charged to "contend earnestly." (Jude 3.) We must defend what the Bible teaches, not what a church does by tradition or a preacher's word or opinion. (Romans 3.4.) Paul charged Timothy when he left him in Ephesus that he might "charge some that they teach no other doctrine." (1 Timothy 1.3.) The teachings of Christ through the apostles which are recorded in the Bible for us are all sufficient, and they furnish us to life and godliness and every good work. (2 Peter 1.3; 2 Timothy 3.16-17.) What Christ and the apostles taught should be only what we teach for doctrine and not the commandments of men. (Matthew 15.8-9.)
To tell a man to join the church of his choice or that he can be saved by faith only is to teach another doctrine, for the Bible does not teach it. And to give the congregation the bread and to drink all the wine alone is another doctrine which the Bible does not teach. These and many other damnable heresies must be dropped for the true doctrine of Christ to be taught and preached. This means the repudiation of all human documents, creeds, and disciplines which divide religious men as unauthorized. We cannot be united until we make the world hear the same doctrine preached so that they can believe and obey the same commands in becoming Christians. This is how it was originally done in the New Testament times and we can't afford to do less if unity is had today. Let all be warned that God's "anathema" hangs upon the head of every man who teaches any other message than what the apostles taught by Christ's authority. (Galatians 1.6-9.)
6. "There is one baptism" v. 5. This suggests unity of practice.
Baptism is an ordinance of Christ which He placed between the sinner and salvation. (Mark 16.16.) In the Bible one reads of various types of baptism such as the Holy Spirit baptism (Matthew 3.11), John's baptism (Luke 3.3), fire baptism (Matthew 3.11), etc. Yet in 62 AD Paul declared that at that time there was only one baptism that was both valid and binding. (Ephesians 4.5.) Thus, there was to be one baptism for all men in all places and for all time. The one baptism is the baptism commanded by Christ in His Great Commission. (Matthew 28.19; Mark 16.16.) This baptism is a burial in water. (Romans 6.3, 4; Colossians 2.12.) To administer it both the baptizer and the one desiring to be baptized must (1) go unto a certain water and (2) go down into the water. (Acts 8.36-38.) There is no proof in the Bible for the practice of sprinkling, pouring or using a flag - which are branded baptism by some churches today. These modes are foreign to the Bible and for such practices the religious world is today divided over the subject of baptism.
We must practice the one baptism, if we shall be united. This is not a matter of opinion or choice. It is something upon which hangs the salvation of millions, for baptism is "for the remission of sins" and our salvation. (Acts 22.16; 2.38; 1 Peter 3.21.) If all would follow the scriptural baptism and baptize the right subjects (not infants), for the right reason, unity of practice would be achieved which will lead all religious people several steps towards real unity.
7. "There is one God" v. 6. This suggests unity of worship.
To Christians there is but one true and living God. (1 Corinthians 8.5-6.) Many religious people acknowledge Him with their lips and then turn around to act as if there were more than one God. The heathen, because of the different gods they worship, have different ways of worship. Should Christians have different ways of worship, as do these heathen? (cf. Matthew 6.7.) Where is the Bible authority for Catholic worship with images, organs, incense and candles? Where is the Bible authority for Anglican worship with organs, incense and candles but minus images? And where is the Bible authority for Methodists to worship even differently? And would the same God tell the church in the Bible to use none of the above mentioned things to worship Him which He had commanded others in the same dispensation of time to use? Ridiculous isn't it? Yet this is what happens every Sunday We must worship God (Revelation 22.9), but our worship ought to be offered in spirit and in truth. From John 17.17 we learn that God's word is truth. What does the word of God say true worship should include? Five items are mentioned in the scriptures. They are singing (Colossians 3.16; Ephesians 5.19); prayer (Acts 2.42; 1 Thessalonians 5.17); collection (1 Corinthians 16.1-2; 9.7); Lord's Supper (Acts 2.47; 20.7); and preaching or teaching (Acts 2.42; 20.7). To unite on the doctrine of one God, therefore, requires the restoration of divinely ordained forms and acts of worship, in spirit as well as in letter, in place of various human innovations. Such a restoration must include: heartfelt praying instead of reciting prayers from a formal prayer book composed by others; congregational singing with the spirit and with the understanding (1 Corinthians 14.15) instead of instrumental music, dancing and clapping; simple Bible study and gospel preaching instead of modern dramas, pageants, cantatas and other devices which have been substituted to "draw" the crowds into churches; the restoration of the communion service of the Lord's Supper to its rightful place and importance as a memorial service on every first day of the week as the early church observed it to show forth the death and resurrection of our Lord. (Acts 20.7; 1 Corinthians 11.23ff.) Then can we be united!
We have now explored God's way to Christian Unity. It is simple, isn't it? Then why be led away from it? (2 Corinthians 11.3.) There is no other way to true unity. This is the plea of the churches of Christ, a return to simple New Testament Christianity in its entirety. Will you do your part to eradicate the religious division which now is, and help maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? (Ephesians 4.3.) Satan's devices are many (2 Corinthians 11.26), but none is more powerful than his employment of divisions to destroy the church. May we be so warned of his devices that we may keep away from them and be saved in the day of the Lord.
May God help us to live up to the weight of responsibility and see the day when every believer shall be united. Then would we march in one grand army under one great Captain (Hebrews 2.10) against the evils of this world and overcome them. Yes, united we stand; divided we fall! (Luke 11.17.) The Bible says, "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity." (Psalms 133.1.)