The Sevenfold Unity of the Church
April 11th, 1965 @ 10:50 AM
THE SEVENFOLD UNITY OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-11-65 10:50 a.m.
The First Baptist Church in Dallas is grateful to share with you, who look on television and who listen on the radio, our morning services. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Sevenfold Unity of the Church. Now the subject this morning—I had more time at the earlier service to preach than at any other time that I can remember, and I still didn’t finish. And I have to mention that because the subject is in following the text of the Bible here, The Sevenfold Unity of the True Church. There are seven of them, and I only got through five of them, so I’ll be through maybe less than that this morning. But I didn’t want you to think because I preach on five, there are just five; or four, there are just four. There are seven of them. And whether I finish it––which I won’t––whether I finish it or not, there are still seven.
Now turn in your Bible to the fourth chapter of Ephesians, the fourth chapter of Ephesians, and I shall begin reading. If you leave your Bible open there you can follow the message so easily. Ephesians chapter 4:
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherein ye are called,
With all lowliness and meekness, with long suffering, forbearing one another in love;
Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
So he is pleading for a unified church; “Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” [Ephesians 4:3]. Then he names seven unities. “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, above all, and through all, and in you all” [Ephesians 4:4-6]. The seven unities of the true church: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God the Father of us all [Ephesians 4:4-6].
Now it would be very apparent why such a message would be delivered in the series that I have been following on the church. If you read at all, if you read at all, you cannot but be cognizant of the tremendous ecumenical movement in our modern generation. It started about, oh, seventy, eighty years ago and it gains momentum, and momentum, and momentum. And it is beginning to include the entire religious world.
They call it the ecumenical movement; ecumenicity, ecumenicalism, ecumenism. That sounds like a high-powered, theological word. It comes from the Greek word oikoumenē. And the Greek word oikoumenē referred to the whole inhabited earth. So ecumenical, oikoumenē refers to an attempt to bring into one, all of the religious bodies, and denominations, and faiths of the world, which of course is a marvelous thing. Our Lord prayed for it in the seventeenth chapter of John [John 17:23]. And Paul speaks of it here mightily, and wonderfully as he makes appeal, that we keep the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” [Ephesians 4:3]. A true ecumenicity, a true ecumenicalism is to be hoped for and devoutly prayed for, and someday will of course be true when God gathers all of His people home [John 10:16].
But the ecumenicalism that we know today, and all that goes into that movement at this hour, is based upon an appeal that we discard the faith, and we forget the oracles of God. And however the Lord may have spoken, and however the Scriptures may reveal, and however the Holy Spirit may teach and guide, these things that separate us, leave them out, forget them. Let us all be drawn together in some kind of a common denominator that ultimately gets to be where you believe nothing. It’s like somebody who left our church to belong to a certain church in this city, and they came to me and they said, “Oh, you cannot imagine such a wonderful church; you don’t have to believe anything to belong to our church!” And they said that to me triumphantly, “What a marvelous commendation to me! You don’t have to believe anything to belong to our church.” That is the spirit of modern ecumenicity.
I wonder what the martyrs would have thought about it. Do you remember the story of Antiochus Epiphanes who in about 160 BC, sought to make one common religion for his part of the Greek Empire? And he had in that empire a little section, a little province, called Judea. And in it, stubborn people called Jews. And when he sought to make all of his people conform to Greek religion, he sent his emissaries, and his armies, and his captains to force the Jew to conform to the religion of the Greeks. And when one of those emissaries came to a little Judean village by the name of Modein, there was an ancient, old priest there named Mattathias. And when one of the apostate Jews approached the altar to a Greek god––there to sacrifice, to forget his faith, and to compromise in religion, that they might have a true ecumenicity in ancient Syria, over which Antiochus Epiphanes presided as king––when Mattathias saw that apostate Jew begin to bow before that heathen altar, he slew him. Then he turned and he slew the officer. And that began the rebellion. One of his boys, Judas, was named Maccabeus, “the Hammer.” And we gain from his name, the Maccabean rebellion. And had it not been for Mattathias, and Simon, and Jonathan, and Judas the Maccabees, there might not have been any true religion known in the world today. For it was the purpose of Antiochus Epiphanes to drown it in his ecumenical movement.
Wonder what the martyrs would think about this, “forget it, forget it; compromise it.” Ignatius, the pastor of Antioch, the first one who was fed to the lions in the Roman Coliseum; Polycarp the pastor at Smyrna, all that he had to do to save his life was to say Kurios Kaisar, “Caesar is Lord,” and not Kurios Iesous , “Jesus is Lord.” Just say a sentence and how simple to say a sentence. Wonder what the martyrs would think.
John Bunyan languished in Bedford jail twelve years. All that he had to do was to conform to the Church of England, and to deny his Baptist religion, and his Baptist preaching. He could go out here and preach the articles of faith in the England church forever, nobody do ought but exalt, and compliment, and receive. But because he was a Baptist, he languished in that jail twelve years. Wonder what he’d think about it. Wonder what Roger Williams would think about it who was exiled in the dead of winter, wandering among Indians, through the thick snows where no human man had ever traveled before. Wonder what he would think about it.
Now I am not speaking against a true ecumenicity. I am just avowing in the message this morning that there is one in the Holy Word of God, there is one in the Bible, there is a great, mighty, in heaven and earth, in time and eternity, oneness, in the purpose of God for us. And let’s open our hearts to receive it.
Now let’s begin. “There is one body,” one body, one church [Ephesians 4:4]. We who are Christians and regenerated [Ephesians 1:23] are members of that one body, the true and only church. There is one church. There is one household of faith. There is one body. You know that word “church” to the body of Christ, is used in three ways. The word is used three ways in the New Testament. Sometimes it’s used generically, “upon this rock I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18]. A generalized idea, like you say “the government,” or “the law,” or “the school,” or “the home,” or “the family.” An idea, “the church”; is that way.
Practically all the time, practically all the times in the Bible, the word church––and the only one we have anything actually to do with in this life––it is used locally ”the churches of Judea,” plural, the churches. There is no such a thing as “the church of Judea,” or “the church of Asia,” or “the church of Macedonia,” or “the church of Galatia”; such an idea is not in the Word of God. “The churches,” plural, “of Judea,” “the churches of Galatia” [Galatians 1:2], “the churches of Asia” [Revlation 1:4], “the churches of Macedonia” [2 Corinthians 8:1];; now that’s the one that we have to do with down here, and that’s the way that the word “church” is used.
And it is used in another way. And this is the sense in which it is used here [Ephesians 4:4]. There is a way of referring to the church as including all of the household of faith, those who are in glory. You have a father and a mother who have preceded you, then they belong to it. Or some of us down here in this world, then we belong to it. The apostles, and the martyrs, and the evangelists, and the missionaries, and the saints of all the days, and of all the centuries; there is one body, one church. And you’ll find it used in that sense in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Hebrews: “For we are come unto the general assembly and church of the first born, whose names are written in glory, in heaven” [Hebrews 12:23]. Now that is the use of “the church” here.
There is one church, there is one body, there is one assembly of God [Ephesians 4:4]. And we have the guidance of God, and the presence of God, and we share the life of God. There is one household of the Lord. The author is the one God, our Father [Ephesians 3:14-15]. We have one head, the Lord Jesus Christ [Ephesians 5:23]. We are motivated and quickened by one Spirit, the Holy Ghost [Ephesians 4:4-6]. We have one aim, and our faces are toward one country, the home that is yet to come [Hebrews 11:16]. And we are guided and instructed in holiness and faith by one Book, the Holy Scriptures. And the true unity of the true church is not found in man, but it is found in the unity of the Godhead Himself [Ephesians 4:6].
And the chains that bind us together, and bind us to the feet of God, are those golden chains that reach upward from the human soul, heavenward, upon which no man can tramp, no human heel can crush, no human hand can sever. For the unity that binds the true people of God together is the unity that binds us upward to the heart of our blessed Lord. And we are members wherever we are. And we are members in whatever age we live. And we are members in whatever language, or tongue, or household we live in. We are members of that glorious communion, that assembly of the saints, God’s people [Romans 12:4].
After the war, two years after the war, in 1947, and then in 1948, I visited and preached to a household, a band of our Baptist people in Munich. So soon after the war the country was still prostrate. There were no buildings rebuilt, just shoveling away of the debris through which an automobile or a truck could pass and that was all. And when I met with the brethren in Munich at night, there was no power, and I preached by the light of lantern. The place was bombed out for miles and miles, as far from horizon to horizon as the eye could see, and we met in some kind of a dark shelter. And when I spoke, every word that I spoke was translated into three languages. For there were there, not only the brethren that remained in the city of Munich, but there were refugees out of the Ukraine, and out of Russia, and out of the eastern countries that border the Soviet Union.
And then in 1955, once again we returned to Munich and attended the services there. This time they had rebuilt a part of the church house and they had assembled in their new auditorium. Their pastor was crippled, very crippled. He had been wounded in the war. And after the service was over they had the Lord’s Supper, the breaking of bread, the memorial of the shed blood of Jesus [Matthew 26:26-28, 1 Corinthians 11:23-26]. And it was then, for the first time in my life, that I saw a household of faith, people do something that I had never seen before. And I brought it back to our church here in Dallas, and we’ve been doing that same thing ever since. After the service was done, and the sermon was preached, and after the breaking of bread, the congregation stood up and joined hands, and sang together,
Blessed be the tie that binds,
Our hearts in Christian love,
The fellowship of kindred minds,
Is like to that above.
We share our mutual woes,
Our mutual burdens bear,,
And often for each other flows,
The sympathizing tear.
[“Blessed Be the Tie That Binds,” John Fawcett]
And Ukraine, and Russian, and Polish, and Czechoslovakian, and German, and whatever, whose language I couldn’t understand, and whose faces were so unfamiliar to me, yet in that holy and heavenly fellowship, joining hands, I felt myself a vital part. That is the true ecumenicity, and that is the true fellowship, and that is the true assembly of God, and that is the true church of our Lord. “There is one body” [Ephesians 4:4]. And wherever on the face of this earth there is a heart that loves Jesus, and has given himself in obedience to the holy commandment of faith and fellowship from His gracious lips, there is the true assembly of the saints. Of which we, God bless us. Of which we are a part. There is one body [Ephesians 4:4].
There is one Spirit [Ephesians 4:4], one Holy Ghost that permeates the body of Christ. He is the One that quickens us, that raises us from the dead [Romans 8:10-11]. And without His presence we are no more capable of spiritual motion than a corpse is capable of the functions of life. All that we might have, hope to have; every movement, every heart, every vision, every dream, every motion, all of it, if it is godly, comes from His presence in our midst. There is one Holy Spirit of God. And He lives in His church [1 Corinthians 3:16], and He lives in the hearts, and souls, and lives of God’s people [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].
Just as in the thirty-seventh chapter of the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord brought him, carried him in the Spirit,” and set me down in a valley full of bones [Ezekiel 37:1]. And they were very dry,” very dry, dead, decomposed, corpses gone back to the dust and just those bleached, and white bones remained; a valley full [Ezekiel 37:2]. And the Lord said to Ezekiel, “Preach to them, preach to them, prophesy” [Ezekiel 37:4]. And while Ezekiel prophesied in the power of the Lord, they assembled themselves, each one, each one in his place. And then flesh came upon, and then sinew, and the outward skin, and they were whole, except they were still dead [Ezekiel 37:5-8]. And the Lord God said to Ezekiel, “Ezekiel, turn to the breath of God. Turn to the breath of God, and say, Come ye breath of God and breathe, that these may live.” And the breath of God breathed, and they lived. They stood up upon their feet; an exceeding great army [Ezekiel 37:9-10].
That is precisely what God’s Holy Spirit does to His church. We would be dead and powerless without unction, without presence, without thrush, without march, without life were it not for the Spirit of God! Like the church that the Lord assembled, it had its ordinances, its Great Commission, it had its discipline, it had its word of testimony. But first it must be baptized, it must be quickened, it must be visited from heaven, it must be endued and empowered. And that enduement and that visitation came at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-4]. There is one Spirit that baptizes us into the body of Christ [1 Corinthians 12:13]; makes us live, regenerates us, quickens us, fashions us into the heart, and mind, and image of our Lord [Ephesians 2:1, 5].
“One body, one Spirit, one hope” [Ephesians 4:4], one hope; what a magnificent, what a magnificent passage that closes the sixth chapter of the eloquent author’s letter in the Book of Hebrews; to the little church of Hebrew people, closing the sixth chapter of his book. “We have an anchor,” he says, “sure and steadfast, that entereth within the veil; where even Jesus, our forerunner has gone” [Hebrews 6:19-20]. There to make expiation for our sins [Leviticus 17:11] and to make propitiation before God [1 John 2:2]. And there to intercede, bringing His blood of atonement into the Holy of Holies, to intercede and to mediate for us [Hebrews 9:11-12].
And the eloquent author of the Hebrews calls that entrance of Jesus into the Holy of Holies, there to expiate our sins, and to make God propitious, to make God favorable; to open the heart of God that He might receive sinners into His presence. The eloquent author of Hebrews calls that our hope within the veil [Hebrews 6:19]. What is our hope? It’s Jesus. It’s Jesus. If we have any hope for the inheritance that is yet to come, undefiled that never passes away [1 Peter 1:4], if there is any hope it is in Jesus our Lord and Savior, the blessed Jesus, the one hope.
Isn’t that a strange thing how this Bible is? It doesn’t mention our one hope that’s government, or our one hope that’s the army, or our one hope that’s conquest, or our one hope the defense of these new mechanisms of destruction. Isn’t it amazing? We have one hope, and that hope is Jesus who has entered for us within the veil [Hebrews 6:19-20]; One that reaches beyond the grave, and beyond death, and lives for us, and everlastingly so––Jesus, in glory, mediating in our behalf [Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25]; one hope.
I heard a missionary from India one time speak. And he referred to a caravan in which he was traveling. And as the caravan followed along in those vast areas of India, he saw a man who had been left by the side of the road to die by a previous caravan. And life is so cheap that the caravan before, seeing the man was ill and couldn’t be sustained, rather than fool with the weight of his corpse, they just left him by the side of the road to die.
And the missionary said, “When our caravan came, I asked for time. And I dismounted, and I knelt by the side of the man, and he was almost gone. And I asked him one question. I said, ‘Sir, do you have any hope? Do you have any hope?’” And the missionary said, “To my amazement and to my vast surprise, he replied, ‘The blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us, cleanseth us from all sin’” [1 John 1:7]. And the missionary said, “Upon that, he expired.” He said, “It was then that I noticed that in his fist was a leaf clasped.” And he said, “I undone his fist, and took out the leaf, and I found it a page from the Bible. It happened to be 1 John and in the passage, the Scripture, the promise, ‘and the blood of Jesus Christ God’s Son cleanseth us from all sin’” [1 John 1:7].
“There is one body, there is one Spirit, there is one hope [Ephesians 4:4]. There is one Lord” [Ephesians 4:5], one Lord––Jesus, who purchased the church with His own blood [Acts 20:28], who presides over it as our living Lord [Ephesians 5:23]. And before whom someday every member shall stand, judging us according to the deeds we have done in the flesh [2 Corinthians 5:10]. There is one Lord [Ephesians 4:5]. And He is not the Lord because of any mandate from man, from any suffrage of human society, from any electoral vote on our part, but He is Lord by the fiat, and the order, and the mandate, and the will of Almighty God.
Second chapter of Philippians:
Because He suffered, even the death of the cross.
Therefore, therefore, God hath also highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth in the netherworld
And every tongue should confess that He is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
“There is one Lord” [Ephesians 4:5]. Oh, the dramatic meaning of the passage in the fifth chapter of the Revelation, “And I saw in the right hand of Him that sat on the throne a book…sealed with seven seals. And a great angel cried with a loud voice, Who is worthy to take the book, and to break the seals, and to look thereon?” [Revelation 5:1- 2] The book of redemption, our names written in that book; and there was no one in heaven, and no one in earth, and no one in the netherworld worthy to take the book and to open the seals thereof [Revelation 5:3]. “And I wept much,” said John,
because no one was found worthy…
And one of the elders came unto me saying, Weep not, weep not: behold, behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah… hath prevailed to break the seals and to open the book and to read therein.
And I looked, and behold, the Lamb as it had been slain…
And He came and took the book out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne.
And when He took the book, the four cherubim, and the four and twenty elders, and these saints fell down and worshipped Him
And sang a new song saying, Thou art worthy.
Oh, don’t you wish you could sing that kind of a song?
Thou art worthy to open the book, and to break the seals thereof; for Thou was slain, and hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood out of every nation, and family, and tribe under the sun.
And Thou has made us priests and kings unto God our Father and we shall reign upon the earth,
One Lord, one Lord [Ephesians 4:5].
If the church can be conceived of as a household of faith, then Jesus is our Master. If the church can be conceived of as a school of holiness, then Jesus is our Teacher. If the church can be conceived of as a host, then Jesus is our Captain. And if the church can be conceived of as a bride, then Jesus is the Husband and the Lord. There is one Lord Jesus [Ephesians 4:5].
That is why the persecution of the Christians, in the Roman Empire––what an amazing thing. No government was ever so tolerant of religion as Rome, no government. Rome conquered province after province. And if it were Egypt, he let Egyptian gods be worshipped anywhere. Were it Gaul, were it Asia, were it Macedonia, were it Greece, anywhere, Rome was tolerant of religions. They built a Pantheon.
If you’re ever in the Imperial City, the most perfectly preserved building of ancient antiquity is the Pantheon in Rome, built by Agrippa the friend of Julius Caesar in about 45 BC. And in that Pantheon, though empty now, under the great and beautiful dome, there is a niche for god, there’s a niche for god, there’s a niche for god, there’s a niche for god. And when Rome conquered Egypt and Egypt wanted their gods worshipped, there was a place for the Egyptian gods. Here was a place for the Gallic gods, here was a place for the Alexandrian gods, and here was a place for all of the gods of the empire, in the Pantheon. Pan-all, theos-god; in the all god place.
So when the Christians came, and preached Iesous and Anastasis—Jesus, and the resurrection; why, the Romans said, “Marvelous, wonderful, there’s a fine niche here in the Pantheon for Iesous and Anastasis; Jesus and the resurrection.” And the Christians said, “But not so, but not so. There is no God but God. There is no Lord but the Lord. There is no Spirit but the Holy Spirit, and these Three are One; and to place Jesus by Neptune, to place Jesus by Isis or Osiris, to place Jesus by Jupiter or Jove, No!” said the Christian. “There is one God, Lord Christ Jesus” [Ephesians 4:5]. And that is why they laid down their lives unto death.
In the Old Testament, He is called Jehovah; incarnate [Exodus 6:3, Isaiah 26:4]. In the New Testament, He is called Jesus [Matthew 1:20-25]; and coming again He is our ultimate, and final, and reigning King [Revelation 11:15].
Oh, it hurts my heart to quit but I must! We’ll continue it someday in God’s time. Now while we sing our hymn of appeal, while we sing our hymn of appeal; you, somebody you, give himself in confession of faith and trust and commitment of life to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:8-12], you come and stand by me. A family you, putting your life in the fellowship of the church [Hebrews 10:24-28], you come and stand by me. “Pastor, these are our children, and this is my wife, and all of us are coming today.” Or a couple you; one somebody you; as the Spirit shall speak and as God shall say, and as the Lord shall open the door, make it now, make it now. Come now, on the first note of the first stanza, when you get up, come, and the Lord attends your way, while we stand and while we sing.
THE SEVEN-FOLD UNITY OF THE CHURCH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
A. Oikoumene – refers to the entire inhabited world
1. English word “ecumenical” refers to the togetherness of all Christianity
B. Movement to get all the denominations together by compromising beliefs
C. There are seven tenets of true ecumenism – the true unity of the churchII. One body
A. “Church” used three ways(Matthew 16:18, Hebrews 12:23)
B. A community sharing the life of God, governed by the will of God
C. Unity of the church found in Almighty GodIII. One Spirit
A. Inhabits that body; fully permeates body of Christ
B. It is His presence alone that gives life(Ezekiel 37)IV. One hope
A. Bound up in Jesus (Hebrews 6:18-20)
B. The blessed hope (1 John 1:7, Titus 2:13, 1 Corinthians 11:26, 15:26, 51-58)V. One Lord
A. Jesus, who purchasedus with His blood(Philippians 2:8-11, Revelation 5:1-10)
B. He is all in all to us – to the exclusion of all othersVI. One faith
A. By which alone we are saved
B. Body of truth that we accept(Genesis 2:7)VII. One baptism
A. An idea that originated in heaven, revealed to men(John 1:33)
B. The type, symbol of death, burial and resurrection of ChristVIII. One God and Father
A. We believe in one God who reveals Himself incarnate in Jesus
B. In the Old Testament, “the great I Am”; in New Testament, “Jesus”(Exodus 3:14, Genesis 1:27)