“Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are… I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who shall believe on Me through their word; that they may all be one, as You Father are in Me, and I in You; that they may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:11b, 20-21).
In the final moments before His betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion, all of which were foreknown the Lord (John 13:1), Jesus prayed for the unity of the apostles and all those who would believe in Him through their word. It is no small matter to know that the unity of all His followers was primary in His mind as He contemplated the events about to unfold and His departure to be with His Father.
It is also important to note that Jesus did not pray for union, but for unity. As an old preacher once noted, “You can tie two cats’ tails together and hang them over a clothesline and you’ll have union, but you won’t have unity.”
This is the picture I often see when I observe modern “unity meetings” between differing and sometimes competing religious bodies. Events such as the National Day of Prayer or March for Jesus find representatives from groups with different or conflicting doctrines all gathered together to demonstrate their “unity.” Some even speak of this as a matter of “following the teachings and the commandments of Jesus Christ” (https://marchforjesus.love).
But is it? Is this a representation of the type of unity Jesus prayed for in John 17? Hardly. In both statements of the Lord’s prayer regarding unity, Jesus held up the unity between Himself and His Father as the sole standard. The apostles’ unity was to reflect the unity of Jesus and the Father. The unity of all believers was to reflect and imitate the same.
This is not what we are witnessing in today’s Christendom. Denominationalism and other religious division are actively thwarting the Lord’s prayer for unity by their teaching and practice. Choosing to ignore their differences in the name of some temporary union are an afront to the Lord and contrary to His prayer and teaching, as well as the teaching of the apostles (cf 1 Cor 1:10). The only solution is a dismantling of human creeds and organizations and a return to the Bible.