I have a little book, a reprint of the 1946 100th-year anniversary edition, of a short history of the World Evangelical Alliance. One of the goals of the WEA was to promote the John 17:21 unity of the Church. This was considered one of the keys to the return of the Lord. It remains so today for the WEA as it networks hundreds of millions. Instead of competition, they seek cooperation in every city and region of the world. They believe that the prayer of Yeshua will be answered before He returns. “That they may be one that the world will believe.” This was the heart of the great Zinzendorf and the Moravians in Herrnhut in the first half of the 18th century.
However, in many Dispensational circles, the quest for unity is feared as something that will lead to deception and perhaps the great falling away or apostasy. When classical Dispensationalists looked at John 17, they often interpreted as for the local church. Nott all hold this view. As one leader told us last year in a gathering of leaders here, John 17:21 is only saying that a local congregation in unity will be more successful. As an example, he described a congregational picnic in a public park. If the people show a lot of love to one another, the unbelievers in the park will be drawn to this love. It is about the world around the local people of God. In addition to the hope for unity, they do not see Acts 2 pointing to a great last days revival before the return of the Lord.
Dispensational eschatology, or last days teaching, noted the Bible’s warning of a coming last days apostasy (II Thes.2:3). That apostasy or rebellion, they believe, had already begun as mainline denominations compromised with evolution, critical approaches to the Bible, and denials of Biblical truth. The Ecumenical Movement also quoted John 17 in their question of unity in the World Council of Churches and other efforts. Many of these churches have departed from biblical truth. This, they believe, is all leading to the false world religion that will be part of the one world government of the Antichrist.
They see other efforts for unity, Evangelical, charismatic, or Pentecostal all leading to the same danger. What is the answer to this? First, one cannot get around John 17. Anyone who reads this honestly has to conclude that unity will characterize a revived worldwide Church before the return of the Lord. This Church will complete the task of world Evangelism and making Israel jealous. Secondly, this unity is based on a solid biblical confession of faith. For example, the WEA has maintained its doctrinal standards from 1846 until today. However, to do so, they have to eschew the narrower fundamentalism that finds fault and criticism for all kinds of non-essentials and separated them from others on that basis. The unity is maintained by the Reformers’ dictum. “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things love.” We cannot merely evaluate from an American perspective. From a World perspective, we are closer to the fulfillment of the prayer of Yeshua than ever before except for biblical times.
What are the consequences of one’s view of John 17? If one agrees that the prayer of Yeshua will be answered then we are to give ourselves to cooperative unity locally, regionally, nationally, and internationally. This will greatly strengthen the Church. However, if we do not believe this it will lead to independence, lack of mutual accountability, competition, and local churches that just build their little fiefdoms.