Can Unity Save the Churches?
TOGETHERNESS has been viewed as something highly desirable. Particularly has this condition of unity been considered beneficial on the family level. And the Bible says regarding harmony among those having a common spiritual background: “Look! How good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!”—Ps. 133:1.
Well, then, would it not be good to promote unity of religions? Many people think so. For instance, on January 20, 1974, Pope Paul VI requested prayers for union of all “Christian” faiths in the Roman Catholic Church, and this reconciliation has become the theme of the current Catholic “Holy Year.” Also, the 1975 meeting of the World Council of Churches was to focus on bridge-building among countries and faiths. In fact, during February 1975 St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Temple Emanu-El of New York city announced plans for a year-long discussion of problems that are straining relations between members of their respective faiths. And then, for the first time, a Jewish rabbi spoke from that Catholic cathedral’s high pulpit.
Most people know that many religious organizations now are beset by difficulties such as membership loss and financial woes. Of course, these problems may not exist in your community, but they are rampant elsewhere. So, unity of religions is being promoted by many clergymen who undoubtedly feel that this would further the interests of their respective denominations. But is it Scripturally proper to unite various religions? And, if achieved, would such unity save the churches?
Does Doctrine Make Any Difference?
Working out doctrinal compromises would no doubt help to promote unity of religions. How do people feel about that? Well, summing up a survey in one metropolitan area of the United States, the Milwaukee Journal of October 28, 1974, bore the headline “‘One True Faith’ Idea Is Losing Its Hold.” Of the 1,323 persons questioned, nearly eight in ten were in favor of interfaith moves. One Catholic man held that “how you believe is not as important as believing in something.” And a Lutheran woman remarked: “We all believe in basically the same things. I don’t think the interpretation of doctrine is that important.”
Nevertheless, trying to attain religious unity through doctrinal compromises has no favorable precedent in the Bible. When the prophet Moses was atop Mount Sinai receiving instruction from God, the Israelites sought to fuse the worship of Jehovah God with Egyptian religious practice. Aaron made a golden calf, and it was said: “This is your God, O Israel, who led you up out of the land of Egypt.” Aaron went about building an altar before the calf and then called out: “There is a festival to Jehovah tomorrow.” On the next day, burnt offerings and communion sacrifices were made. Thereafter, the people ate and drank, then arose “to have a good time.” How did Jehovah God feel about this? He was greatly displeased. Trying to mix true worship with false religion surely did not have God’s approval.—Ex. 31:18–32:10.
Far from encouraging religious unity with others, through Moses God told His people of old: “You are not to conclude a covenant with them or their gods.” “One who sacrifices to any gods but Jehovah alone is to be devoted to destruction.” (Ex. 23:32; 22:20) Also, God’s Son Jesus Christ never compromised with those holding improper religious views. For example, Christ declared: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because you shut up the kingdom of the heavens before men; for you yourselves do not go in, neither do you permit those on their way in to go in.”—Matt. 23:13.
What Does God Require?
Obviously, religious unity ‘at any price’ does not have divine favor. What, then, does Jehovah God require of persons desiring his approval? “Those worshiping him must worship with spirit and truth,” declared Jesus Christ. (John 4:24) Clearly, religious unity that ignores Scriptural truth is unacceptable to Jehovah God.
Another essential of true worship is acceptance of God’s Son Jesus Christ. “I am the way and the truth and the life,” said Jesus. “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Yet, even if the divided sects of Christendom attained supposed unity in Christ’s name, it could not be assumed that this would ever please Jehovah God or Jesus. Why not? Christ declared: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and expel demons in your name, and perform many powerful works in your name?’ And yet then I will confess to them: I never knew you! Get away from me, you workers of lawlessness.”—Matt. 7:21-23.
Another point that merits thought is that the religions of Christendom, as well as other faiths, have made themselves a part of this world. For instance, one Catholic cleric advocates ecumenism that goes as far as “agreement and action on life issues like war and peace, ethnicity and nationalism, the rights of minorities, human development, and poverty.” But should Christianity get involved in worldly matters like war and nationalism? Not according to its founder, Jesus Christ. He said of his followers: “They are no part of the world, just as I am no part of the world.”—John 17:16; compare James 1:27; 4:4.
Toward the end of his earthly life, Jesus Christ could say in prayer to God: “I have made your name known . . . and will make it known.” (John 17:26) Jesus freely used the Divine Name, Jehovah, but today’s nominal Christians in general refuse to do so in their Bible translations or otherwise. On the other hand, true Christians take to heart the words, “‘You are my witnesses,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘and I am God.’” (Isa. 43:12) It is Jehovah God’s will that his name be declared throughout the earth, and Jehovah’s witnesses are the only ones doing this work, even as Jesus made his Father’s name known.—Ex. 9:16.
Closely linked with the Divine Name is Jehovah’s purpose in connection with his kingdom. When on earth, Jesus Christ went from place to place preaching the Kingdom message and said on one occasion: “Also to other cities I must declare the good news of the kingdom of God, because for this I was sent forth.” (Luke 4:43; 8:1) Similarly, today only Jehovah’s witnesses are declaring the good news of God’s established kingdom with the King Jesus Christ ruling on a heavenly throne. They alone are fulfilling Jesus’ prophecy: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.”—Matt. 24:14.
No religious organization other than Jehovah’s witnesses is declaring God’s name and witnessing about his established heavenly kingdom. Hence, even on this basis Jehovah’s witnesses have nothing in common with other religious groups and can never seek any affiliation with them. These organizations simply do not stand for the same things for which Jehovah’s witnesses stand.
What to Expect in the Near Future
But there is another significant reason to shun unity with these other faiths. The Bible shows that something very dramatic and completely irreversible is going to happen to these religions during this very generation. Unity of religions cannot save the churches from destruction. Consider:
The Bible book of Revelation mentions the symbolic woman Babylon the Great, “with whom the kings of the earth [the political element of this world] committed fornication.” (Rev. 17:1, 2, 5) Revelation also refers to the political element when speaking of a figurative “wild beast” as well as of “ten horns.” We are told: “These will hate the harlot [Babylon the Great] and will make her devastated and naked, and will eat up her fleshy parts and will completely burn her with fire.” (Rev. 17:12, 16) The commercial element also features in the prophecy, for “the traveling merchants of the earth” are described as “weeping and mourning” due to the destruction of Babylon the Great. (Rev. 18:11) Since both the commercial and the political elements are easily identified in this prophecy, it becomes quite obvious that Babylon the Great represents the world empire of false religion.
What, then, does this mean? This: That the world empire of false religion is going to be destroyed. Bible prophecy indicates that this will happen in our day. (Matt. 24:34) Therefore, individuals who believe the Bible are not concerned about ecumenical movements, church mergers and the unity of various religions. Such concern would be futile indeed.
Rather, honest-hearted ones are responding with appropriate action to a commanding voice from heaven. It says regarding doomed Babylon the Great: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.”—Rev. 18:4.
Growing apathy toward religion makes it easy to see that many people will not be particularly troubled when the world’s false religious empire is destroyed. Certainly, that destruction of Babylon the Great is inevitable, “because Jehovah God, who judged her, is strong.” (Rev. 18:8) So, religious unity cannot save the churches. But we encourage you to practice true worship and enjoy the approval of Jehovah, the “God of saving acts.”—Ps. 68:20.