Two little boys were sitting on a church corner where several churches could be seen facing each other. One asked the other, “And to what abomination do you belong?” Division in the church is indeed an abomination to God because His people, of all people, should be one. The Bible says, “There is one body” (Eph. 4:4).

     In a tract entitled “The Greatest Tragedy of a Thousand Years” the late Walter Stram wrote, “The last two World Wars, with their terrible loss [62 million dead], were not as disastrous in their total results as has been the influence of the division, sectarianism, confusion and hatred in the church world. A life lost in war is a temporal loss, but a soul lost through sin brings eternal loss. Division in the church world today is treason against Christ, and presents a tragic stumbling block to the non-Christian.”

     The world needs Christ. The church is the bridge between Christ and the world. Thomas W. Phillips said, “The church is a divine institution and is the means by which God is saving the world.” An old preacher said, “The world at its worst needs the church at her best.” We are at our best when we answer the prayer of Jesus for the world.


     Twelve hours before Jesus went to the cross He prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).

     Notice that Jesus addresses God as “Father.” He said, “I and my Father are one.” Islam has “the 99 beautiful names for Allah” – but not one of them remotely resembles the intimate term “Father.” That’s because the Koran teaches that it is beneath the dignity of Allah to have a son.” I’m so glad it was not beneath the dignity of God to have a Son!” At the baptism of Jesus, God spoke from heaven: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Jesus refers to God as His Father over 100 times in the gospel of John alone! We gladly confess, “I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the loving God!” That’s what separates Christianity from all other religions.

     So, Jesus prays for the Father to glorify Him that He might glorify the Father. When did that take place? Very soon! On the cross, Jesus fulfilled the work His Father had sent Him to do – to redeem lost mankind through His atoning death for sin on the cross, crying “It is finished!” “In the fullness of time God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5). This tremendous act of redemption brought salvation to man and glory to God. God is glorified every time a lost sinner is redeemed by Christ.

     Then Jesus prayed that His disciples might be sanctified. “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (v. 11). [This is the only time the term “Holy Father” appears in Scripture.] “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Please notice that the sanctifying agent is truth. “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). Truth is important for our salvation and sanctification.

     Third, Jesus prays for the unity of all believers. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You Father are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that you sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one. I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me” (vs. 20-23). Four times Jesus prayed that His followers might be one!

     Many years ago I wrote these words at the top of chapter 17 in my Bible: “The unity of believers is essential to the conversion of the world.” I still believe that.

     Notice three things about this wonderful prayer.

First: it is Christ-centered. “I pray for those who will believe in Me.” Jesus once said, “You believe in God; believe also in Me.” To have Christian unity we must believe in Christ. Walter Scott said, “The Bible contains one truth which is the sun to which all other Christian truths are planets in the spiritual solar system.” That one truth is expressed in Peter’s confession, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God!” Millions of martyrs and legions now living have made that good confession. I myself made in June 1958 prior to my own baptism.

     For unity to be Christian, it must be centered in Christ. Paul determined not to know anything among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). Think what might happen if we made that same determination! Jesus said if He was lifted up He would draw all men to Him. That’s why we need to lift Jesus up in our preaching, teaching, singing, witness and character. The world needs to know that Christ died for their sins. That is the very heart of the gospel. When I was preaching in Australia I saw “The Southern Cross.” I was told that if you get lost in the Outback, just wait for nightfall, look to the heavens, and the way of the cross will lead you home! We can be wrong about a lot of things but we cannot afford to be wrong about Christ! God sent Him to be the Savior of the world and we must lift Him up at every opportunity.

     Second, this prayer is Bible-based. Jesus prayed for those who would believe on Him “through their word.” Other translations say “through their message.” That is to say, through the witness and word, the teaching and testimony, the preaching and proclamation of Jesus through the apostles. The Bible calls this “the apostles’ doctrine” or “the apostles’ teaching.” It was not about themselves but all about their Lord and Savior, their Master and Commander, Jesus the Christ (Messiah: anointed and appointed One). Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (or Christ). The Scriptures point us to Christ. Spurgeon said, “I read the text and then I make a beeline to the cross.” When Saul was converted to Christ in Damascus the Bible says, “Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). Later he declared, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” Converts to Christ in the Church of India place their hands on their heads before they are baptized and say, “Woe is me if I preach not the gospel.” To preach the written Word is to proclaim the living Logos, Jesus, who is the Word that was with God and was God.

     Third, this prayer is people-predominant. “That they all may be one” – but why? “That the world may believe that You sent Me . . . that the world may know that You Me and have loved them as you loved me.” The golden verse of the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). 17 times in John 17 we find the word “world.” What percent of the world today believes that Jesus is the Christ? What percent of the world today knows that God loves them just like He loves His Only Son? What percent of the world today knows that God so loved the world (them) that He gave His only begotten Son for them so that they would not perish but have everlasting life. To whom was the commission given to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”? People need the Lord! We must carry the message to them and the whole world before Jesus comes again.


 I want to shift from John 17 to about 50 days later, the Day of Pentecost (Pentecost was the 50th day after harvest) in Acts 2. Here we will see the beginning of the answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Jesus has been crucified, buried, and raised to life again. He has appeared again to His disciples. Then He ascended into heaven – but before He did so, He gave some final instructions. Luke says He told them that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47). He also told them to tarry in the city of Jerusalem until you are endued with power from on high” (v. 49). In Acts 1:8 Luke adds these words of Jesus: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be witnesses [same Greek word for “martyr”] to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

     After the ascension the 11 disciples return to Jerusalem and they go to the upper room where they were staying. They are named for us in Acts 1:13. Here we see Peter the presumptuous, James the practical, John the lover, Andrew the people-person, Philip the questioner, Thomas the doubter, Matthew the IRS man, and Simon the Zealot. What a diverse group. But notice carefully what is said next! “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers [4 of them, who once did not believe, are now numbered with the believers!] (v. 14).

     Remember that phrase “with one accord.” We also find in in Acts 2:1. “Now when the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place.” The KJV, NKJV, ASV, and RSV [in places] all retain a phrase lost in the NIV – “with one accord.” (The NIV uses “together.”) But you can have two people, or even two groups of people, in one room and not have unity. Sometimes, even in a church assembly, you can have people together in the same room, but they are not of “one accord.” Any of you ever attended a rancorous business meeting of a church?!

     M.R. Vincent, a Greek authority, says the meaning of this word is the same as “agree” in Matt. 18:19, where Jesus said, “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” That Greek word means SYMPHONY.

     In fact, the Centenary Translation (The NT in Modern English) – the only NT translation done entirely by a woman, Helen Montgomery, translates Matt. 18:19, “If two of you on earth SYMPHONIZE your praying.” This is what was going on in the upper room. This is what was going on the Day of Pentecost. They were all together in one place “with one accord.” They were in symphony with God and each other. There was not a note of discord among them. In a symphony orchestra there is a beautiful harmony of sound as different players all follow the leading of the conductor! God is orchestrating or conducting the events going on at Pentecost, to honor His Son’s dying prayer. It is about to be answered!

     To make a long story short, the whole house where they were sitting was filled with the sound of a rushing mighty wind. Enter the promised Holy Spirit. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them utterance. Devout men from every nation were in Jerusalem for Pentecost. They knew something supernatural was going on. “Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? How is it that we hear, each in our own language?”

     At this point, Peter stand us with the eleven (Matthias has been chosen to replace Judas) and begins to preach the story of Jesus: sent by God but put to death by wicked hands; raised up by God and exalted at His right hand; and then he lowers the boom!

     “Let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ” (v. 36). The audience was “cut to the heart” and they cried out to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

     Before I share Peter’s answer, let me remind you of what Jesus had told the apostles just before He ascended to heaven. “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

     The apostles are in the right place: Jerusalem! They are preaching the right message: Repentance and remission of sins! They are preaching in the right name: the name of Jesus. Look at v. 38 which says, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” And, praise God, those who gladly received his word were baptized and that day about 3,000 souls were added to them! (v. 41).

     I want you to also notice that this unity of believers, this being “in one accord,” did not stop at Pentecost. They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. All who believed were together and had all things in common. And the Lord continued to add to the church daily those who were being saved. The number of men soon came to be about 5,000 (4:4). Then the Bible starts using the word “multitudes.” “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul” (4:32) and “great grace” was upon them all (v. 33). Chapter 5 says “they were all with one accord” (v. 12) and believers were “increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (v. 14).

    In accordance with the Christ commission, the gospel was taken to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth. They “turned the world upside down” with the gospel message. The secret to the success of the first century church was their spirit of unity. They were of one mind, one spirit, one heart, one soul, one purpose. They answered the prayer of Jesus: “that they all may be one . . . that the world may believe . . . that the world may know.” We are to do the same today until the whole world knows that God sent Jesus to be their Savior and loves them just as He loves His Own Son – that they too can become sons and daughters of Him, bring glory to God.


     Now let me make another shift, a lane-change as it were, from Pentecost to the present. How in the world did we become a part of this process? What is the beginning of the churches of Christ and Christian churches in America?

     Again, I will have to make a very long story quite short. The Scriptures foretold a falling away from the faith. “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1). With the deaths of the apostles, the simple pattern of the NT church being led by a plurality of elders was eventually supplanted by one bishop (elder) ruling over many churches and finally one church ruling over all other churches. The Bible was chained to the pulpit and was not accessible to the people. Brave men like William Translated the Bible into the language of the common people but he was burned at the stake for doing so.  

     In 1517 a simple German monk named Martin Luther started what is called the Reformation Movement; a movement to reform the Roman church. Those who did manage to read the Word became divided in their interpretations and applications of the word. John Calvin actually had people burned at the stake for disagreeing with his interpretations. But men like Rupert Meldenius, a Lutheran theologian, thought differently. He declared, “In essentials, unity; in opinion, liberty; in all things, charity.” Eventually that little slogan became a watchword for those who wanted not just to reform the church, but restore the pattern of the NT church.

     Movements to restore, not just reform, the church sprang up in America in the early 19th century. One of the earliest was the Republican Methodist Church in Virginia in 1793. Rice Haggard suggested they be called “Christians” and they adopted that name. In 1794 they adopted what was called “The Cardinal Principles of the Christian Church.”

  1. Jesus Christ is the only head of the church.
  2. The Bible is the only rule of faith and practice.
  3. The name “Christian” rather than any party name.
  4. Christian liberty, the duty and privilege of all.
  5. Christ-likeness, the only condition of church membership and fellowship.
  6. The unity of all Christians, our aim and goal.

     In 1801, a Maryland-born Presbyterian preacher named Barton W. Stone led what came to be known as the Cane Ridge Revival in Kentucky, a 5-day meeting that saw tens of thousands of Methodists and Baptists join Presbyterians in laying aside their denominational differences in their preaching. Stone and others pleaded for everyone to reject human creeds and take the Bible as their standard for faith and practice.

     From Ireland came Thomas Campbell, another Presbyterian preacher, who arrived in America in 1807. His son Alexander joined him two years later. In 1809 Thomas Campbell declared that we should speak where the Scriptures speak and be silent where the Scriptures are silent. Later in that same year he wrote a “Declaration and Address” stating that division in the body of Christ is sinful, that the Bible alone is sufficient for doctrine and practice, and that a truly Christian spirit is manifested through love and forbearance. His son Alexander became a leading figure in this movement, as did Walter Scott and others. Campbell favored the name “Disciples.” Scott restored what he called “the ancient gospel,” teaching a simple plan of salvation that all could understand and obey. The Stone movement and Campbell movement merged in 1832 in a New Year’s meeting in Kentucky.             

     But the Civil War took its toll on this unity. In 1889 Daniel Sommer wrote an “Address and Declaration” and Sand Creek, Illinois, in which he said there could be no fellowship with those who used the instrument, among other things. With the passing of time this Restoration Movement separated into three streams: the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) – at that time the largest in numbers but today the smallest (only 380,000 members because of their liberal theology and practices; in fact, they are on track to lose half of their members in the next 10 years); the churches of Christ, non-instrumental (forming a distinct and separate fellowship 1906), and finally the conservative, Independent  Christian churches/churches of Christ separating from the Disciples in 1927 (though some give a much later date). In his book Christians Only, James DeForest Murch identifies these three groups as: leftists (Disciples), centrists, Independents), and rightists (non-instrumental – at that time actually anti-instrumentalists).

     In 1984 Don DeWelt started One Body magazine and the Restoration Forum (a 3-day unity meeting between centrists and rightists that lasted until 2007). The unity magazine continues to this day.

     Today the movement this church (Forest Park) is a part of the Christian churches/churches of Christ fellowship that numbers about 5,000 churches and 1.2 million members in the U.S. Most of these churches are located in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, and Missouri. There are about 11,000 acapella churches with 1.1 million members (more churches but most of them created by division within their own ranks). Most of these churches are located in Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. I understand that Forest Park is the largest congregation of any Restoration Movement church in Louisiana.

     So, what can we learn from Prayer, Pentecost and the Present?

  1. That the unity Jesus prayed for is still the key to evangelism. “That they all may be one . . . that the world may believe.”
  2. That this unity must continue to be Christ-centered, Bible-based and people-predominant.
  3. That the Bible only will make Christians only.
  4. That since we were all baptized into one body by one Spirit we must endeavor to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
  5. That we must keep the main thing the main thing: Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believes and is baptized will be saved, and he that does not believe will be condemned.

     When Joseph sent his brothers back to Canaan with the good news that he was alive, the last thing he told them was this: “Don’t quarrel along the way” (Gen. 45:24 NIV). Jesus has commissioned us to go into all the world with the good news that He is alive forevermore. The last thing we want to do is to be found quarreling along the way! Jesus said, “By this will all men know that you are My disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Mutual love for each other in the church is one of the most powerful witness to the world that Jesus is alive and well and can save them from their sins for all eternity!

     Walter Stram closed his tract on “The Greatest Tragedy of a Thousand Years” with this true story. “A child was lost in the great Dakota grain fields, and scattering searchers failed to find the child. Finally, they joined hands and combed the fields systematically. In the cold hours of the next morning they found the child – dead! The mother cried, “O, why didn’t we think to join hands sooner!” My friends, I am afraid that will be our indictment on the Day of Judgment if we do not come to our senses and come to a consensus on the things that matter most. “In essentials, unity; in opinions, liberty; in all things, love.”    To our dying breath let us do all that is within our power to obey the prayer of Jesus “that they all may be one . . . that the world may believe . . . that the world may know that God loves them and sent Jesus to be their Savior. I will not be content until the whole world knows. How about you?


A sermon preached by Victor Knowles, Nov. 15, 2020, at the Forest Park Church of Christ, Crowley, LA.

Victor Knowles is Founder and President of Peace on Earth Ministries (POEM). He lives in Joplin, MO.