When we think of church unity, we think of political unity, yet in the greatest sense is the Church already unified?
Has God already unified His Church in a way that those who focus on church politics miss?
Let’s look at John 14:15-21 and how the Holy Spirit unifies Christians.
John 14:15 Jesus’ Commandments
Some Christians presume that the word “commandments” always means the Ten Commandments. That’s a false assumption. Obedience to Jesus’ commands proves that we love Him. He said, “If you love me…” In John 14:15 Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” In this context Jesus commanded, to “believe also in Me” (verse 1). The natural reading (in context) is His commandments, not the Ten Commandments. Jesus also reminds us of several of over 600 Old Testament commandments that we love God and neighbor. The commands of Christ do not dismiss Old Testament commandments, but rather fulfill their spirit through faith in God the Father and God the Son.
John 14:16 East-West Divide
An east-west division is visible in John 14:16. “I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper...” Who does the Holy Spirit proceed from, the Father or the Father and the Son? The Nicene Creed in the East leaves out the words “and the Son” (filioque in Latin). This verse seems to say that the Father sends the Spirit on behalf of the Son. Both East and West may agree on that. Because the addition was never authorized at a truly ecumenical council of Eastern and Western churches, it has caused unnecessary division. Jesus is a Comforter (1 John 2:1). The Holy Spirit is another Comforter.
John 14:17 Spirit of Truth
The Holy Spirit is called the “paraclete,” variously translated as Comforter, Helper and Advocate. More closely aligned with being “the Spirit of Truth” in John 14:17 is the translation Advocate. Whenever we meet someone who does not have what we deem to be the truth, we do not need to coerce or persecute them as some Christians have been tempted to do. It ought not surprise us that “the world cannot receive” the Spirit of truth. Our best arguments will all fail, because the world cannot receive the truth. We should simply trust the Holy Spirit to do His job, “He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).
John 14:18 I Will Come to You
In John 14:18 Jesus promised his disciples, “I will not leave you orphans.” The Greek word is orphans. The word comfortless in some translations misses the context of the conversation beginning with “Little children...” (John 13:33). Here is another coming of Jesus Christ, in the Spirit. He said, “I will come to you.” This refers perhaps to two things, the time Christ would be with them after the resurrection and his presence with them through the Holy Spirit. MacLaren's Expositions calls this presence through the Holy Spirit the absent-present Christ. As Jesus promised in Matthew 28:20 “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
John 14:19 You Will See Me
In John 14:19 Jesus promised his disciples that after His death, “the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.” This has two possibilities. They would see Jesus as they did between Resurrection Sunday and His Ascension. The second possibility is that this includes seeing Jesus through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also spoke of their future eternity, “Because I live, you will live also.” This also refers to the higher life of Christ which is independent of death. Because He lives, we will be partakers of life forever more. This indicates that our eternal life is dependent directly on Jesus giving it to us.
John 14:20 In that Day
In John 14:20 Jesus said, “In that day,” either referring to the day when “another Helper” “the Spirit of Truth” (verses 16-17) would come, that is, the Day of Pentecost beginning the Christian era or perhaps the day of His resurrection, celebrated every Sunday. His disciples “will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.” This union of mutual indwelling is lived out in our mystical personal relationship with God the Father and God the Son through the Holy Spirit. Is this oneness with God what the resurrection life is all about? Is this the realization of a life at peace with God?
John 14:21 Love and Manifestation
In John 14:21 Jesus rephrases verse 15, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me.” This involves the mutual indwelling of Father, Son and Holy Spirit with us. Those who dwell in Christ are obeying His commands, perhaps summarized in words like faith and love. We accept His words and act on them. The result is being “loved by My Father.” This relationship that exists between us and God rests on faith. Jesus then promises that He will love us and manifest Himself to us. This revelation is a Coming different from His Second Coming. It is the manifestation of Christ in the Spirit.
Why Church Division?
The Christian Church is united on the essentials. We probably agree on 95% of our faith. We are divided over a lot of non-essentials. Rather than continue the division, it is good to understand various sides of a doctrine without prejudice. To understand all sides of an argument over a non-essential issue can eliminate bigotry. It does not mean that we compromise on sin or heresy, but it does mean we recognize that the Holy Spirit is not exclusive. The more we learn to respect other opinions instead of being dogmatic that only our way is right, the more we recognize God’s grace in the world, and find differences less important.
Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholics, and many different Protestant churches all claim to be the one true church. But, none of us has the authority to tell the Head of the Church where He may dwell. Jesus has come to His Church. It is wherever He dwells through the Holy Spirit and wherever His love lives in people.