Unity of the Church

Review and reflections on “Biblical Ecumenicity” article by Prof Herman Hanko

The church is the creation of God which He forms through Jesus Christ. She is called the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:27), the temple of God (Ephe 2:20-22), a royal priesthood and an holy nation (1 Pet 2:9), a vine and its branches (Jn 15:1), the bride of Christ (Rev 21:9) and many other figures.

The unity of the church is thus a unity of the body of Christ. Just as a body has many members, believers are many members of the same body of Christ. Christ died that His church might have a new life in Him. The church exists in Christ and lives out of Christ. The church is one in Christ, even as Christ is one in God. (Jn 17:21).

The unity of the church in Christ is a unity of faith in the truth of God’s Word. The church is a unity of faith because the believer is engrafted into Christ by faith. By His Word and by His Spirit, Christ gathers, defends and preserves His church. The unity of the church must be built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself being the chief corner stone (Eph 2:9). Only where Scripture is the infallible rule of faith and life can true unity prevail.

Institutional Unity

Each local congregation is a complete manifestation of the body of Christ. The rule of Christ is represented by the office-bearers, who exercise the rule through the preaching of the gospel, the administration of the sacraments and the exercise of Christian discipline. The church expresses her unity by means of creeds, which are confessions of the truth of God’s Word.

The local congregation may only join with other congregations in denominational activities when they are united in the same truth of Christ. Only when denominations are formed on the basis of a mutual confession of the same truth can there be any true unity. The historic confessions of the truth unite the church of today with the churches of all ages and make of all the church of Christ one spiritual universal church.

Does Modern Ecumenicity Express This Unity?

By Ecumenicity, is meant the movement of churches to unite under one ecclesiastical roof. Modern ecumenicity takes on different forms:

1) There are attempts being made to include all religions in the world under one universal and world- wide syncretistic religion which will embrace all men. This union of all religions will bind all men in a common brotherhood under a universal god.

2) Another form of ecumenical movement is the formation of various organizations which are the unions of Christian denominations, in which each denomination retains its own denominational structure but cooperates in various ecclesiastical enterprises. These organizations range from the very liberal World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches, to the more conservative organizations such as the International Council of Christian Churches and the Reformed Ecumenical Council.

3) There is also a merging of distinct denominations into one large church such as the Consultations on Church Unity (COCU) and various branches of Presbyterianism.

Modern ecumenicity falls short in important respects from the scriptural unity of the church.

The impetus for modern ecumenicity was found in the mission field historically. In the mission work of the church, the church was embarrassed by the fact that different denominations worked in the same places teaching different doctrines. The first ecumenical organizations were mission organizations.

However the concept of mission work has been excluded as an impelling force in ecumenicity and it has been replaced by what is called ‘service’. The original Executive Committee of the Life and World Movement (a forerunner of the World Council of Churches) sharply defined this when it said in an official policy paper: “Doctrine divides, Service unites”. The calling to serve has been the underlying factor in many ecumenical movements.   A social gospel with the implied promise   of a heaven here upon earth has substituted the true gospel preaching of the whole counsel of God. Their goal is unity at any cost. The concern of ecumenical leaders is a one-world church. The underlying premise is doctrine is relative, subject to change, adaptable to every new generation. The Bible is no longer regarded as the infallible inspired Word of God as a rule of faith and life. The ecumenical movement has mired itself in the political and sociological issues of the day.

Thus, can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)

The Calling

As the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ nears, the efforts to bring all denominations and churches together into a one-world church will increase.

Our calling is to condemn such false unity unceasingly and unwaveringly. We must not have any part in false ecumenicity. The time will come that those who refuse ecumenicity will invite persecution and will even be denied the right to existence.

The church must treasure her unity in the truth of Christ. Where the truth is preached in purity, the saints of the true church of Christ will grow in truth and thus true unity will come to fuller expression. The historic confessions of the Word of God must serve as the basis of unity. The true child of God must not be deceived by great apostasy (corruption of God’s Word). The true church of Christ is called to live in one faith, one Spirit, one God (Eph 4:4-6), though all the forces of hell seek to destroy her. God shall preserve His spiritual universal church, His Body, His Bride till the final unity of the church is achieved in the tabernacle of God (Rev 21:3).

Written by: Daisy Lim | Issue 7