"Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 6:4). "There is...one God" (Ephesians 4:6). "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" (John 17:21). Many men say that they want the world to believe in Jesus, but here we find one of the essential elements in the expression of believers which God wants to speak to men of Himself--the oneness of the testimony. God is love, and love unites us as one. In fact, love is the binding element in the body of Christ (Colossians 3:14). Oneness is defined for us in the Godhead, "...that they may be one just as we are one" (John 17:22). The only kind of oneness that will witness effectively of God is a testimony of oneness that is true to God's nature. Anything less than this will not speak of God, and thus will be ineffective in touching others' lives. If believers are to function as the body of Christ in reality, the first testimony they must have is that of oneness.
This oneness is only possible if we have partaken of one life by the Spirit. We do not express oneness by trying to be one, but because we are one. We can only express what is true. Many try to express oneness, but are unable to because they have not been made one by the Spirit. God does not want us to pretend. Rather, He wants us to partake of Him, so that we can express His nature. Apart from Him we can do nothing. This forms the essential element by which we accept one another. We are not one because we all believe alike or think alike, or on any natural basis such as language, race, etc. The one test in the body of Christ is life from above. The body of Christ is alive with His life, and that life is what makes us one. As we mature, we will come to a unity of the faith, but we are not any more one in maturity than when we first began. The expression of that oneness may be more mature, but the reality is not in the expression but in the reality of life.
Oneness is expressed locally. The only grounds for division in the body of Christ are distance or sin. Apart from these, our part is to express the oneness that God has made and to "be careful to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3). That is a place of full obedience. If we recognize another member of Christ in our locality, then we have a responsibility before God to endeavor to express that oneness. This is shown at the Lord's table, by partaking of the one cup and one loaf, and by our attitude toward each member of the household of God. If Christ has accepted a member, then we must also. Anything less is sin, dividing where God has not divided. The contrary is also true. If Christ has brought a division because of sin, we must be careful to keep that division. To not do so allows for a polluted testimony and an impure expression of God. God cannot dwell where there is sin. Our place as members is to know the mind of Christ, discern by the Spirit where Christ has drawn the line, and keep the same line.
It is important to note that while each believer is one with every other true believer in the world, God has never called us to express that oneness on a continuing basis past the locality in which we live. In other words, the universal government of the church is Christ by the Spirit, and the Head of each gathering is Christ directly. Organization beyond this point goes beyond the plan of God. If a member travels, the oneness will be recognized in another locality, and members in that locality are to receive their fellow member on the same basis, which is life in Christ. Any attempt to bring organizational oneness beyond the locality or on any other basis such as creed, form of worship, etc. is a direct contradiction to the nature of God and His plan, and cannot know the blessings of God.
The Church, the Body of Christ in Reality
When we think of the body of Christ, we think of a reality in expression. When Paul addressed the Corinthians, he used the example of the physical body to illustrate the spiritual body. The purpose of it all is "that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another" (I Corinthians 12:25). The whole thrust of Paul's instruction is that no member is independent of any other member. The Lord has designed that the body, as a whole, should express Christ. For this to take place, it is obvious that the members must be dwelling together. Care and ministry of one member to another cannot take place if there is no contact. The concept of a mystical body that is one in God's eyes but has no practical expression of oneness on earth is totally foreign to God's purpose. The whole purpose of the body is to express something, and that expression is real! It is not possible to speak of a body functioning and expressing something where the members are not together.
There is a concept in the minds of many, that members of the body of Christ in a locality can love each other, see each other once in a while, shake hands, but separate themselves in different gatherings. Such a concept is a total contradiction to the nature of God's love which binds all together, breaks down every natural barrier, and gives forth a testimony of God Himself dwelling in the midst of His people. On the Day of Pentecost, the believers were of "one heart and one soul." The church began with a pure expression of oneness, and it has never changed. The body of Christ is one. God's love never fails, and love binds together as one.
We would think it foolish if a couple were married, said they loved each other, and then moved into separate houses. Yet the same foolish thinking is allowed when believers say they are one, say they love God and each other, and yet that love does not bring them together in worship, fellowship, partaking of one cup and one loaf, and giving forth a testimony of one household to the world around. No wonder the unbelievers do not want God! They do not see anything different in the expression given by people who claim the name of the Lord.
When God is in our lives, He makes a difference. The true love of God is not in words only, but in deeds. Honestly facing what we know to be the character of God would bring many to realize that the love of God is absent from many gatherings. How much better to face the truth now while there is time to do something about it, than to go on fooling ourselves until the judgment day when all is revealed and the final verdict is given by God. What loss there will be on that day!