Recently, I have been involved in debates with some people in my denomination who argue that we should accept different positions on sexuality in general and homosexual practice in particular. One of their frequent arguments is that Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers and that consequently, conservative Christians sin if they exclude those with different theological convictions.
This raises the question: Did Jesus really pray for such a unity? What did He actually pray for when He prayed: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you” (John 17:20–21)?
Preceding these verses, Jesus had prayed first for Himself and then for His closest circle of disciples, the Apostles. Beginning in John 17:20, He then prays for everyone who will believe in Him through their Word, which is the Apostolic Word. This Word is the faith-producing Word that must be preached and through which people will come to know and believe in Christ. In Him and in the truth of this Word all Christians will be united. Clearly, Jesus prays for all Christians throughout the ages. He prays for you, Christian, but also for all those who have come before and for all those who will follow. He prays for Christians in the United States, for Christians in Germany, and for Christians around the globe.
This is very important to recognize. What some people in our churches demand in response to Jesus’ prayer for unity would actually be the end of unity. If a church or a denomination today made provision for the acceptance of positions and practices that the church throughout the ages has universally recognized as sinful based on the Word that Jesus gave His church, this would surely not be in line with what Jesus prayed for. Consequently, we should be very careful to not move away from the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). If we do this, it is actually we who sever the bond of unity with the church that came before us, and doing so severs the bond with the universal church in the present, which has not given in to the lies of the spirit of this age that is shaping Western culture.
Jesus prays for the unity of all Christians. Therefore, we should be mindful not to endanger this unity by introducing divisive positions and practices into our churches and denominations. While Christians have always disagreed on some secondary issues, such disagreements should never destroy our unity even though they might cause separations into different churches and organizations.
Nevertheless, whenever attempts are made to introduce new doctrines and practices, the church is called to defend its unity by dismissing such divisive and destructive attempts. Brothers and sisters, let us honor our Lord by laboring for the true unity of His church.