“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren
to dwell together in unity!”
Throughout history there are what have been called “defining moments.” These are events that can mold and shape the destiny of a people – and to be sure, the United States has experienced many of them. One such moment took place on Thursday, June 28, 1787 during a gathering of the Constitutional Convention. At that time, a serious rift was fomenting between some of the delegates. At issue was how each state would be represented in the new government. The smaller states feared that their constitutional influence would be minimized by the larger states—reducing them to nothing more than observers. Some even thought their sovereignty could be stripped by a strong centralized government. The contention over this issue became so bitter that some of the delegates actually left the convention and as a result the republic appeared to be on the brink of collapse even before it was fully formed.
The Franklin Solution
This situation prompted Benjamin Franklin to propose an idea that he was absolutely convinced would remedy the crisis. Mr. Franklin was the governor of Pennsylvania at the time and one of the convention’s delegates. He was also a man of extraordinary talents. He was a prominent inventor, author and statesman. Furthermore, his intellectual skills were legendary. Not only was he a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and later, the Constitution, he was also a gifted representative of American interests in Europe. He personally negotiated the Treaty of Paris, which many to this very day consider the greatest achievement in the history of American diplomacy.
His pedigree was also interesting. Ben Franklin was the 15th of 17 children. And although his family couldn’t afford a formal education for him, he had an insatiable appetite for learning. Franklin spoke five languages and wrote prolifically. He founded the University of Pennsylvania. He also organized the first postal system in America as well as the first circulating public library. Additionally, he was considered a literary genius as a result of his annual publication of Poor Richard’s Almanac.
Franklin the Inventor
This remarkable man’s reputation went far beyond the areas of statesmanship and academia, he was also regarded as an inventor of considerable talent—and his contribution to his world in this regard was significant. He invented the Franklin stove, the rocking chair, and because of his frustration over constantly having to put on glasses to read and then take them off to see normally, he invented Bifocals.
Suffice it to say, Benjamin Franklin was a man of considerable skill and as the senior delegate at the convention at 81 years of age, he commanded enormous respect. But ironically his solution to the dilemma at hand was not related to intellect or skill. It had absolutely nothing to do with talent and resource. Furthermore, it didn’t even hint at a political solution. Nevertheless, he was steadfast in his conviction that the country’s survival would be assured if its leaders would follow his advice.
Franklin addresses the delegates
Franklin then stood and addressed George Washington, the convention’s recently elected president.
The small progress we have made after 4 or five weeks close attendance & continual reasonings with each other -- our different sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as many noes as ayes, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection of the Human Understanding.
We indeed seem to feel our own wont of political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We have gone back to ancient history for models of government, and examined the different forms of those Republics which having been formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And we have viewed Modern States all round Europe, but find none of their Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.
In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings?
In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance?
I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that "except the Lord build the house they labor in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and a bye word down to future ages.
I therefore beg leave to move -- that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.
The Assembly’s Reaction
So moving was this address that Jonathan Dayton, a delegate from New Jersey wrote of its impact on Washington and the other delegates.
“The Doctor sat down; and never did I behold a countenance at once so dignified and delighted as was that of Washington at the close of the address; nor were the members of the convention generally less affected.
“The words of the venerable Franklin fell upon our ears with a weight and authority, even greater than we may suppose an oracle to have had in the Roman senate.”
To this very day, every session of congress is opened with prayer. However, the irony of this is too rich to ignore. While all too many of America’s leaders labor to expel God from the public square, on constitutional grounds no less, Ben Franklin, with the full concurrence of our founding fathers was endeavoring to insert Him into the very midst of our fledgling Republic.
But what does this have to do with God’s people?
A Defining Moment in God’s Church
Down through history God’s people have had their defining moments as well—moments that would shape their destiny. One such moment took place on the eve of Christ’s arrest, trial and crucifixion—and like Franklin’s address to the Constitutional Convention, this one also involved an appeal to God for UNITY—the UNITY of His Church and was offered up by the Savior of the world.
The Messiah’s Prayer
The words spoken by the Messiah at this time stand as among the most impassioned ever recorded. Furthermore, they identified one of the greatest threats His Church would ever face—a threat that looms extraordinarily GREAT in the body of Christ today.
Today, there are virtually HUNDREDS of splinters in God’s Church. This despite the fact that Christ Himself specifically begged His Father to keep us UNITED. He did so because He was all too aware of human ego and pride and the impact those moral defects can have on His people.
In a Place called Gethsemane
The Messiah’s words were uttered shortly after His last Passover while He and His disciples proceeded toward the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane It is there that He makes His appeal to His Father in heaven. He began His prayer by acknowledging that He had accomplished all He was to do during His time as a man on the earth and that it was done in accordance with the Father’s will.
These words spoke Jesus, and lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, Father, the hour is come; glorify your Son, that thy Son also may glorify you: As you have given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as you have given him. And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have glorified you on the earth: I have finished the work which you gave me to do. (Jn. 17:1-4)
Jesus would then appeal to the Father to restore to Him the glory He possessed prior to His incarnation.
And now, O Father, glorify you me with your own self with the glory which I had with thee before the world was. (verse 5)
The Greek word “glory” used by the apostle John when recording Jesus’ prayer, is doxa and can be translated: “dignity,” “honor,” “praise,” or “worship.” Here, Jesus was appealing to His Father to return to Him the great dignity He surrendered when He came to earth as a man. Consider what Jesus willingly left behind in order to become flesh. Prior to His birth, the Messiah was infinitely powerful. Even time and space could not subdue Him (Psa. 90:1-2). His strength was endless. His beauty and majesty was unmatched. His wisdom and virtue was pristine. Jesus was the God of the Old Testament. It was He who spoke and earth existed. It was He who fashioned the heavens by His Wisdom. Jesus was the One who spoke to Abraham in Haran and to Moses on Mount Sinai. He was El Shaddai, the Almighty.
Jesus then makes an appeal to His Father for Unity in the body of Christ
An Appeal for UNITY
I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gave me out of the world: thine they were, and you gave them me; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known that all things whatsoever thou hast given me are of thee. For I have given unto them the words which thou gave me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are yours. And all mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I am glorified in them. And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to you. Holy Father, keep through your own name those whom you have given me, that they may be one, as we are. (Jn. 17: 6-11)
At this point it would seem appropriate to ask ourselves: Just how unified are the Father and the Son? The answer is really quite simple:--the connection these two beings has is immeasurable and their experiences down through the corridor of time demonstrate that fact. For all eternity this Father and Son have shared life’s greatest mysteries. They were together when the angelic realm was created. They were together when the universe was fashioned. They were together when man was formed out of the dust of the earth. They were together when the Destiny of all mankind was first envisioned. They were together when the Plan that would bring that Destiny to fruition was crafted.
The unity enjoyed by the Father and Son reflect an absolute coalescing of will. They are in perfect agreement—not by reason of their power, but by reason of their virtue. There is never posturing with them. Never has one asserted Himself over the other. The life they have shared throughout eternity is driven by a deep respect and abiding love they have for each other—and the intimacy they share can easily be seen in the Messiah’s prayer. He continues His appeal for unity:
While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those whom you gave me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled. And now come I to you; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I pray not that you should take them out of the world, but that you should keep them from the evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. Sanctify them through thy truth: your word is truth. As thou have sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on 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 have sent me.
And the glory which you gave me I have given them; that they may be one, even 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 hast loved them, as you have loved me. (Jn.17:12-23)
Here is something God’s leaders would be well advised to consider. The unity in the Church is a testimony to God’s plan and Christ’s Messiahship. The question we all must ask ourselves is this. Does the behavior of the Church today declare that truth? Or, is its behavior an affront to it?
Acting like Scavengers
If the scriptures tell us anything it is that God’s people don’t get to define unity, it is unity that defines them—and so does the absence of it. Sadly, at this particular moment in history the behavior exhibited by God’s people does not paint a pretty picture of our Christianity. To illustrate this point, consider the following:
A Few years ago one of the most prominent COG groups found themselves embroiled in a HUGE rift in their leadership. They were literally fractured by it. The result was yet another split. But the thing that was so striking was the reaction of some of the other major COG Associations. You almost got the impression that they viewed this crisis as proof of their own legitimacy and as a referendum on the legitimacy of the embattled group. Leaders of other groups even went so far as to attempt to seize upon this rift as an opportunity to recruit members from the embattled fellowship. Noticeably absent was any attempt to encourage them to reconcile.
Returning to the Messiah’s Prayer
Jesus concludes His prayer with words of extraordinary consolation and hope.
Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known you, and these have known that you hast sent me. And I have declared unto them your name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith you hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (Jn. 17: 24-26)
What Jesus was saying in effect was, "Father, I want you to love them as much as you love me.” The lesson leaders in God’s Church should draw from this should be pretty obvious—here it is: If our Savior can say this about His people with all their flaws, who are the leaders of His Church to stand in condemnation of them? Perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best.
“I resolve to speak ill of no man whatever, not even in a matter of truth; but rather by some means excuse the faults I hear charged upon others, and upon proper occasions speak all the good I know of everybody.”
A Final Thought
“A divided Church is a declaration and testimony to
this world that Jesus Christ is a fraud”
While all too many in the Church today assert their own self-proclaimed power and authority as evidence that they are the true leader of God’s work, while all others are imposters, they would be well advised to understand that the true head of the Church has a different standard. Here is how He said His family of future kings and priests could be identified in a sea of difference:
You cannot identify them by what name they use when addressing the Father or His Son.
You cannot identify them by how they calculate days or seasons.
You cannot identify them by the governance they enjoin.
Or the size of their work
Or the quality of their publications
Or the intellectual caliber of their ministry
However, there is a way
“By this shall all men know that you are my disciples,
if you have love one toward another”