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How Can Unity Be Bad?
Our Lord's parable of the wheat and the tares (Matt. 13:24- 30) forms an excellent basis with which to begin a consideration of church union. This parable predicts the history of Christianity for nearly two thousand years. The parable explains that Jesus would sow the Gospel message followed by Satan's sowing a counterfeit message.
Thus the true Church was founded, but the apostate church also grew very quickly. The Lord's servants inquired about the wisdom of separating the two groups, but the Lord cautioned that such separation would do more harm than good until it was the proper time for separation. The fact that the gathering out of the tares would have rooted up the wheat also shows prophetically that the false church (tares) would probably outnumber the true Church (wheat). This is in harmony with Jesus' statements that "many are called but few are chosen," and with His naming His true Church a "little flock." Just so it has been. The message of the Lord and the Apostles was soon corrupted. The ambition of early churchmen placed power above truth, and the great Roman Church ruled the world. Some did attempt reforms, but the spirit of Satan infiltrated these reform movements so that they too became tare- infested and formed their own denominational tare collections -- each, however, containing some wheat. The parable ends with a very important message for us. It says that the day would come when it would be proper to separate the wheat from the tares. This would be in the time of the "harvest," which our Lord elsewhere explains is the end of the age -- the end of the call of the Church -- the time of His return.
We are now living in the harvest of the age. Therefore the Lord looks over his field to see what fruit it has borne. He considers the tares (false church) worthless for his purpose (which is to bless the world), and so he determines their destruction -- as institutions, not as people! Remember that the Lord did very much the same thing at his first advent. He looked over the Jewish church to see if it had borne the proper fruit. When he saw it had not, he determined their destruction -- again, as a nation, not as individuals. But those Jews who were faithful -- those who were "wheat" -- he separated and gave them the opportunity of being the first members of the Church. (Compare Matt. 23:37-39 with John 1:11,12.) Matthew 13:30, therefore, becomes a touchstone for our study of what is happening in the ecclesiastical world. Note just what it says: "Gather . . . the tares and bind them in bundles." Here it is! The ecumenical drive for unity is here stated with such simplicity! The Lord is here predicting that prevailing forces which he would maneuver would actually cause the "bundling" together. Of course, the denominations think that unity is for their benefit and strength; but the parable states otherwise. It points out that they are being bundled to be burned (destroyed as institutions). The wheat, however, which is the true Church, is being gathered out from denominationalism to be gathered together with Jesus to reign with him to bless all the families of the earth. (And, by the way, those who were the tares will be among those who will be blessed!) It becomes clear, then, that those who would be faithfully following the Lord at this time (the wheat) could never participate in the church union (tare) movement. Instead, the true wheat will recognize the ecumenical movement as a sign of the nearness of the kingdom. They will be content to lean on the Lord and his wisdom rather than on the organizational stratagems of the so-called churches. The true Church will stand separate (and informed), neither joining nor fighting the ecumenical movement.
Other Scriptures state the same lesson. A brief consideration of an Old Testament prophecy will be a help. It is found in Isaiah 8. For brevity we shall consider only verses 9- 13: "Associate yourselves, O people, and ye shall be broken in pieces; and give ear all of ye far countries: gird yourselves, and ye shall be broken in pieces; gird yourselves and ye shall be broken in pieces. Take counsel together, and it shall come to nought; speak the word, and it shall not stand: for God is with us. For the Lord spake thus to me with a strong hand, and instructed me that I should not walk in the way of this people, saying, 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." In verse 9 we find the forecast that the people will want to associate themselves. It also states that they would "gird" themselves. Gird means bind. It is clearly the same binding in bundles to which our Lord refers in the parable. But the Lord declares through the prophet that all their attempts would ultimately meet with destruction. Ultimately they would be "broken in pieces," and their counseling would not produce the ends they desired. And why not? Because God would not be with them! He would be with "us" (vs. 10) -- the true Church. In verses 12 and 13 the Lord counsels the true Church as to what its position should be: "Say ye not a confederacy" -- don't participate in the union. "Neither fear ye their fear or be afraid."
What is the fear of denominationalism? Their fear is that their influence is waning; their fear is that they are losing the support of the people; their fear is that society is collapsing. Indeed, their fears are well founded! But they know not that the Lord has decreed the destruction of the denominations and even the social order itself so that He can establish His righteous kingdom on earth in the place of the present corrupt order of things. The true Church, understanding what the Lord is doing, does not fear. It rejoices to see the evidences of the nearness of the kingdom. (Psalm 97:8)
How Can Unity Be Bad?
Very often the advocates of church union quote from our Lord's prayer as recorded in John 17. Here Jesus prays for his Church and asks the Father that "they all may be one." (vs. 21) Jesus' desire for the unity of the Church, however, could only refer to the true Church, the wheat. If he desired unity for all now, why would he have said that he would separate the wheat from the tares? Jesus' prayer does have an answer, however. The true Church is united -- and it is united in the way which Jesus wanted: by the Truth. That is what he requested in John 17:17. Notice that Jesus asks that they be "sanctified" by the truth. Sanctified means separated! The true Church (wheat) is to be separated (sanctified) from the false church (tares) by the truth. It is not to be united to the false church just for an outward show of unity! The desire for unity in the ecumenical movement is a desire based on error -- on misinformation. The so-called churches, not understanding the true and whole Gospel, want everyone in harmony now, thinking this to be God's way to improve the world. But God's way to improve the world is the kingdom on earth which will do away with all error. This kingdom cannot function fully until the true Church (Abraham's seed) have all been separated and glorified. Then they will bless all the nations of earth even as God himself promised to Abraham so many years ago. God never breaks a promise.