By Brannon S. Howse
“The prayer of Jesus is that we be as one.”
That’s what ecumenists say when promoting unity among Protestants and Catholics. And since this argument so often comes up these days, it’s important that I explain why it is unbiblical. This is part of the one-world religion ploy, but in this scripture, Jesus is not praying for true believers to become one with the Church of Rome or to enter into any kind of spiritual enterprise with the Church of Rome.
The Real Lord’s Prayer
We commonly refer to Jesus’ instruction to pray “Our Father who art in heaven…” as “the Lord’s prayer.” And while there’s nothing particularly wrong with that, I think it would be even more appropriate to specify the prayer Jesus begins in John 17:1 as “the Lord’s prayer.” He prays for Himself in verses 1-5 and then specifically for His disciples through the rest of the chapter. John 17:21 is the portion of this prayer that is routinely misused by the ecumenists. Here He prays “that they [disciples] 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.” Jesus is clearly praying for those who truly follow Him, yet ecumenists use this to promote “unity” among Protestants and Roman Catholics. Let me share a few examples of how this plays out.
The prominent evangelist James Robison misleads people with this idea. On one of his television broadcasts, he expounds on his understanding of this unity with Jonathan Morris, a Catholic priest:
[quote] I am telling you that I believe that I’m going to get to see and be a part of Jesus’ prayer for us to have oneness with the Father and to see a perfected—perfectedness and perfection coming from a supernatural unity and the world know we’re His disciples because of our love. [end quote]
His conversation with the priest is not an isolated incident. Robision discusses with his wife this concept of “oneness” among “believers”:
BETTY ROBISON—But I believe God is happy when He sees His children fellowshipping together and getting along together. . . .
JAMES ROBISON—I believe angels rejoice. I believe the Father rejoices. I know Jesus, who’s daily making intercession for us, I believe He’s turned to His Father and said, “Father, My prayers are getting answered. We’re getting together.” Don’t you like what you’re seeing? Don’t you know God likes us to come together? [end quote]
The hidden assumption in Betty Robison’s remark is that we are all God’s children—but we’re not. Jesus points out in John 8 that there are only two camps: the camp of God, and the camp of Satan. But not everyone who claims to be in God’s camp is truly in His camp.
People like Betty Robison are deluded into believing that if a person claims to believe in a few Christian doctrines, then they’re one of God’s children. For instance, many people say that if you believe the Apostles’ Creed, you’re a Christian—but no. The Apostles’ Creed does not provide a clear definition of the Gospel, and here’s where the “unity” issue kicks in. The Roman Catholic Church would say that Catholics agree with the Apostles’ Creed, and yet they believe the pope and the tradition of the Church of Rome are above the Word of God. They actually believe the pope has the right to alter Scripture. They say that salvation comes, in part, through Mary. There are “loopholes” in the Apostles’ Creed that allow this kind of erroneous thinking, so believing in that particular creed does not make one a true follower of Christ.
A lot of people say they believe in Jesus. The Bible even says that demons believe in Jesus—they believe in Jesus and tremble. It’s not enough just to believe in Jesus. You have to believe in the real Jesus. Is it the Jesus of the Bible or the Jesus of the Church of Rome who’s offered up in communion and slaughtered over and over in the mass? That’s not the Jesus of the Bible.
What Did Jesus Mean?
Jesus prays His John 17 prayer just a few hours before He is crucified, and although He starts out praying for His disciples, He ends up praying for all believers who will ever claim the name of Christ, repent of their sins, and place their faith and trust in Christ alone. So Christ is praying for you, if you are a believer. Here’s the prayer for Himself, His disciples, and us (John 17: 1-23):
[quote] Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. And this is eternal life, that they may 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 have given Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.
“I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.
“I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. All Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition [referring to Judas] that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I come to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may 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, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. As You have sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth.
“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, that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.” [end quote]
To grasp the correct meaning of these verses—especially verse 21—we need to look at two key parts of the set-up. In verse 2, Jesus affirms that He is the One who grants eternal life Then in verse 6, He affirms that God gave Him the disciples who become His Apostles. Recall that there are only twelve original Apostles, plus Paul who is a special Apostle. And what is the biblical definition of “Apostle”? An Apostle had to be called of God and had to have seen the risen Lord. That means we don’t have Apostles today. We don’t need them because we have the Word of God. (I explain this in great detail in Religious Trojan Horse.) We have “little a” apostles—missionaries, messengers are “sent ones”—but we don’t have “big A” Apostles, people who perform signs and wonders and receive extra-biblical revelation. The “big A” Apostles laid the foundation of the Church, and it doesn’t have to be built again. In this Church age, we don’t need those same signs and wonders going on. The Word of God is complete, once for all delivered to the saints.
So in verse 6, Jesus is praying for His disciples who become His Apostles when the Holy Spirit moves on them. After His resurrection, Jesus walked, talked, and fellowshipped with His Apostles for a period of time, and then He ascended into heaven. Then the Holy Spirit came and moved on the Apostles. Among other great acts, God moved on them as they wrote His Word, the New Testament.
After setting up His prayer for the disciples, Jesus clarifies in verse 9 that He prays for His disciples, not the unsaved. This is key because it tells us that Jesus is not praying for the Church of Rome. They are not His children any more than those who follow the Jesus and gospel of Mormonism or those who follow the Jesus and gospel of the Word of Faith. As I said earlier, they have a different Jesus and a different gospel.
In John 17:17-19, Jesus prays that His disciples will be set apart for God’s purpose, and, of course, they were. Now you and I today are the recipients of their ministry as they were empowered by the Holy Spirit to write the Word of God. By this, you and I still benefit from the ministry of the Apostles.
Then, in verse 20, Jesus shifts direction regarding those for whom He’s praying. Here’s where He begins praying for us. He’s praying for you, for me, and for all those who become believers through the ministry of the Apostles.
This is what sets up the proper understanding of John 7:21, the next verse. At this point, Jesus prays for the unity of all believers. Jesus has shifted from praying for the disciples, to us, to the unity of all who are true believers. He prays that we—His Church, His Bride—will be united through the Holy Spirit.
Paul echoes this truth in 1 Corinthians 6:17 where he says, “But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” One Spirit. We’re one Church, not multiple churches. There’s one Church, and that’s who He’s praying for. He wasn’t praying, “Oh, we have the Protestant church over here; we have the Catholic church over there; now let’s bring them together.” Jesus would not have been praying to merge truth and error, light and darkness. He would not pray for a merging of those who follow God and those who follow Belial or Satan. Second Corinthians 6:14-17 is clear about that:
Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said:
“I will dwell in them
And walk among them.
I will be their God,
And they shall be My people.”
Therefore “Come out from among them
And be separate, says the Lord.
Do not touch what is unclean,
And I will receive you.”
“I will receive you,” is better translated, “and I will bless you” or “I will have fellowship with you.” It says to Christians, “Don’t unite in spiritual enterprises with unbelievers such as Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Church of Rome, New Agers—anybody who is not a believer; do not enter into a spiritual enterprise with them!”
Scripture confirms Scripture, and there’s no way the “real” Lord’s Prayer could be Jesus praying for Protestants and Catholics to unite. Rather, Scripture tells us several places not to be involved in spiritual enterprises with unbelievers. In Romans 16:17, for instance, Paul says, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions” (doctrinal divisions) “and offenses, contrary to doctrine.” Doctrine means teaching or instruction, and believers are to avoid those who cause divisions because they are teaching contrary to biblical doctrine. So, if someone creates division through teaching what is contrary to God’s Word, we should mark them, note them, and avoid them—not unite with them!
Consider, too, Revelation 18. We are reminded here to have nothing to do with the ecumencial & commerical Babylon, which came about through the ecumencial and religious Babylon in Revelation 17. You’ll recall that this is the one-world religious system based in Rome—the Catholic Church with all the world’s religions coming together in ecumenicalism.
When I point out such obvious biblical truths, people often accuse me of being divisive. They say things like, “Howse, you’re divisive. You divide people. We should just all get along.” Yet we can only have fellowship through biblical truth. These days, people misuse the term fellowship. “Let’s have fellowship,” they say. Or “let’s go to the fellowship hall.” But real fellowship isn’t to be had in a fellowship hall, per se, around punch and cookies. Real fellowship takes place through the study of God’s Word. You can only have unity and fellowship through agreeing on who is Jesus as determined by God’s Word. Jesus Himself allowed that there would be divisions among people for His sake:
Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10: 21-22)
Jesus also said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth” (Matthew 10: 34-36). In fact, Jesus came “to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household’” (Matthew 10: 35-36).
According to 1 Corinthians 11:19, the divisions have a godly purpose: “There must be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (emphasis mine). That’s also why we’re warned about deviant men who will rise from within, “men who have crept in unnoticed” (Jude 3). Factions are necessary when false teaching, ecumenicalism, another Jesus, or another gospel intrude upon the church. Jesus had in mind to warn us against exactly the situation we face—and must combat—today in the growing false global church.
Copyright 2015 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative.