The Following is a section taken from the Annual Address by the General Overseer of The Church of God which was presented at the 111th International Assembly.
Contending For Unity
The only way we will accomplish and achieve perfection is to go back to unity with no divisions. Since unity has already been achieved in heaven (the Holy Trinity), the Church must make every effort to get back to this accomplishment here on earth.
She must be continually making Herself ready.
Remember, He will not present it (the Church) unto Himself, until He sees a reflection of the unity that is in heaven.
The degree of unity that is purposed by God for His children is far greater than many Christians seem willing to embrace. The majority of Christianity appears to be content with denominational divisions. They apparently regard this type of division as some¬thing that must be tolerated. But God’s Word makes no allowance for an indefinite toleration of divisions among brothers and sisters in Christ.
To the contrary, Paul’s vision of Christian unity as expressed to the Church at Corinth was, “…that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
In giving us the record of Christ’s prayer on the eve of His betrayal, John quoted Jesus as follows: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:21-23).
To view conditions as they now exist has caused Christendom in general to adopt views concerning Christian unity that only their minds can conceive as being possible to achieve. However, this type of unity, which their concepts allow, belittles the Word of God.
We must know that God’s purposes cannot be altered by conditions, however dominant and unchangeable these conditions may appear to be. He has done and will do whatever is necessary to carry out His will to its perfection.
Sending His Son into this world to be sacrificed upon a cross by crucifixion was not a trivial or unappreciable act. The gravity of such an act should speak to us of the seriousness with which God has approached the reconciliation of all things unto Himself.
Paul wrote, “For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled. In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight:” (Colossians 1:19-22).
God shall have perfection in His creation. Anything less would be forever in disharmony with His own infinite perfection.
When we sense His ways for bringing to pass the reconciliation of all things unto Himself, we can only stand in awe. The perfection He demanded could not be brought to pass through anyone or by anything that was imperfect. This left God no other choice but to enter Himself into the world that needed change. He did this through the miraculous incarnation of His Son. The Word of God, which John said “was God,” was made flesh (John 1:1).
We do not know what void may have been formed in heaven, or what needs may have been created by Lucifer’s uprising there. Whatever the case may be, we can only know that it is through Jesus that all things will be reconciled to God.
As Paul wrote to the Colossians, “…whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven” (Colossians 1:20). To the Ephesians he wrote, “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him:” (Ephesians 1:10). These Scriptures speak of a total and complete reconciliation.
Inasmuch as the earth is our present habitation, we would probably do well to concentrate upon that unity God will create here. As was pointed out earlier, Christ’s prayer was that His believers would be one, so that the world might believe that He is the Messiah.
The oneness of which He spoke, if its purpose is to convince the world, must be a visible unity. Otherwise, how could it cause the world to believe?
How will this unity occur? Let me share with you just how I feel this visible unity can and will occur. When we as individual Church members can bring under subjection our personal convictions and give way to “Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) then and only then will we see these contentious spirits give way to the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.
The words of former General Overseer Robert J. Pruitt concerning this matter are recorded as follows:
“The Bible allows for us as individuals to have personal standards of life that do not violate His holy standards and which do not ignore the rulings of the Church or that which is specifically embraced by the General Assembly.
Paul was speaking of this personal nature of faith when he wrote in Romans 14:22, ‘Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth.’ Our personal faith, that is, those actions and beliefs which we have attained from learning and experiences of the past, become a part of our consciences, and to us they may become strong convictions that they should be observed by everyone. But what does Paul say about them? Have it to thyself. In other words, go ahead and do it yourself, but don’t impose it upon everyone else. That’s what the Bible says to do.
‘But what about my conscience,’ someone will say? Well, let us take a look at our conscience. In the simplest terms the conscience is an innate ability to distinguish right from wrong. Our conscience prompts us to do what we believe is right and warns us against doing what we believe is wrong. When we violate our conscience, it condemns us. But conscience is not always right according to the Word of God. It is a human faculty that judges our actions by the light of the highest standards we perceive. It may be right or it may be wrong, unless it is fully and correctly framed in the Spirit of Christ and energized by the Holy Ghost. Our background, teachings, experiences, and other influences all help to frame the conscience. If these have all been right in the sight of God, then we will have a reliable conscience, but if one or all of them have failed it could have a negative effect upon the conscience.
It is possible to destroy the reliability of the conscience through constant abuse; it can be defiled, and the defiled conscience can be so overridden that it ceases to make a distinction between right and wrong.
The conscience is influenced by custom and tradition as well as by truth, so the standards are not necessarily biblical ones (1 Corinthians 8:6-9). The conscience can be needlessly condemning where there is no biblical issue. To operate correctly and in accord with true holiness, the conscience must be firmly set in the Word of God. A regular diet of Scripture will strengthen a weak conscience or restrain an overactive one. That is why Paul emphasized the importance of a clear conscience (1 Timothy 3:9) and warned against anything that would defile or disturb the conscience (1 Corinthians 8:7; Titus 1:15).
Having said that about the conscience, we need to take heed to what standards we embrace and what we may attempt to impose upon others. Paul said that personal faith is just that—personal. If God has called you to a fast or to make some sacrifice to Him, that does not mean that He is necessarily requiring everyone else to make that same personal commitment. It may be that He is requiring that of you individually for your own personal refinement, and that gives you no right to look upon others with scorn who do not observe and do what God requires of you so that you might have an unbroken fellowship and communion with Him.
As an example, the Bible has no universal standard for clothing and hairstyles, which applies to all people of the earth other than, that which applies to modesty and decency. These are already stated and expressed in our Advice to Members. That should be enough. To belabor that point is to perpetuate a needlessly divisive subject which has plagued the Church for decades, yet no acceptable solution has been arrived at other than what has already been stated. If there was a universal answer other than what we have, it is fairly certain that the Holy Ghost would have revealed it to us. Since He has not yet done that, it would seem wise and edifying to leave it alone.”
(90th General Assembly Minutes, General Overseer Bishop Robert J. Pruitt Annual Address, pp 24, 25)
Paul wrote, “To wit, that God was in Christ…” (2 Corinthians 5:19). Jesus prayed, “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us…” (John 17:21). Our uniting must be in Him. The closer two objects approach unto the same object, the closer they will be to each other. The closer all believers approach unto Jesus Christ, the closer they will be to one another.
He alone is the unchanging focal point for Christian unity. His¬tory has demonstrated that Christians do not attain unity by just discussing doctrines or even our personal convictions. Our unity will be attained only as we find a place in Him wherein truth lives in us, to the point where we will be completely reconciled to God.
A beautiful scripture attesting to Christ’s immu¬table nature is familiar to us all: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Since immutability may be ascribed only to God (in this case, God in Christ), then the changing that will be required for our becoming one in Him is on our part. The Church is not immutable; it must be continually changing from glory to glory