The Mark of the Spirit
“I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:34, 35.
1. (a) Why is it only logical to expect Christian unity to be seen in the world today? (b) Of what use would it be to us to find that unity?
TO Jesus the unity and love among his true followers was something unique, something that would set them apart from everybody else, something that should be a special sign to the whole world to prove that he had been sent by the Father and that they had been sent by him. Because Jesus prayed for his future followers to be part of the Christian unity and promised that “Hades will not overpower” his congregation and that he is with it “all the days until the consummation of the system of things,” it is only logical to expect that particular sign should be visible to the world today, and that it can serve as one of the means of identifying his congregation or church. This so much the more as the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches and an ecumenical Protestant world conference all agree that the church of the Greek Scriptures is one visible church. Thus we will look around among church systems calling themselves Christians to see what unity we can find.—John 13:35; 17:23; Matt. 16:18; 28:20.
THE PROTESTANT CHURCHES
2. Why do none of the Protestant churches claim to be the true church?
2 As is common knowledge, there is nothing in the Protestant world that can be compared with the unity of the early Christian church. Neither the Protestant churches as a whole nor any single one of them can claim to be international or universal and still a unity in faith and organization. It is so obvious, that for this and other reasons none of the Protestant churches claim to be the true ecclesia or church of the Greek Scriptures.
3. Considering the evident separation, how do Protestants explain their belief in one church?
3 With the acceptance of the Nicene Creed, the Protestant churches all confess belief in “one, holy, catholic, apostolic” church, but as in all other matters of belief, there is a vast number of theological speculations and theories about the unity of the church. Some say unity is not required at all and is even a disadvantage. From the days of the Reformation many have believed in a so-called “invisible” and “visible” church, the invisible consisting of all sincere Christians in all denominations who are dedicated to God and have been accepted by him. The body of these cannot be discerned by human eyes, wherefore it is called invisible in contrast to the ordinary number of members of the churches, the visible part, which it was found hard to identify as true followers of Christ. In America the so-called “branch theory” is common. The various churches are compared to branches of the vine in Jesus’ illustration in John, chapter fifteen, and are supposed to make a unity by being joined in Christ, the vine. Others think that the unity must not be in organization, but in spirit only; and others again believe in a kind of mystic, supernatural, already existing unity in Christ in spite of all evidences of disunity. Thus, paradoxically, in the reports from the ecumenical conferences of the World Council of Churches, repeated mention is made of the member churches’ “unity in Christ,” although no serious attempt is ever made to explain wherein this unity actually consists.
4. What did the world conference of Faith and Order in Lund declare about the church?
4 Inter-confessional discussions between the various parties seldom lead to a common view of matters. However, on the subject of the body of Christ, the world conference in Lund, Sweden, in 1952, of the ecumenical movement called Faith and Order has declared in its official report as the majority opinion: “The Pauline image of the Church as the Body of Christ is no mere metaphor, but expresses a living reality.” And furthermore: “We are agreed that there are not two Churches, one visible and the other invisible, but one Church, which must find visible expression on earth.”
5. What does Bishop Giertz conclude from the division of Christendom?
5 Realizing the need for the Christian congregation to be one, few things grieve the Protestant churches as much as the fact that they are not one. Says Swedish Bishop Bo Giertz about the division of Christendom: “It is simply a sin, and it is a sin of the most fatal kind, a sin against the very body of Christ. . . . The terrifying conclusion which we are forced to draw is that a divided church is no longer a true church. . . . As long as we are divided, the body of Christ is bleeding, and we do not know which day it will bleed to death.”
6. (a) What is the World Council of Churches? (b) What makes it impossible to recognize the early Christian church in the Protestant world?
6 In their plight, many Protestants have set their hope on the ecumenical or interconfessional discussions that began especially with our century and resulted in the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948, an international organization including most Protestant churches and the Eastern Orthodox, but not the Roman Catholic Church. However, the World Council of Churches is not a church, and it does not claim to be so. It declares itself to be neither a “Super-Church” nor an “Una Sancta” or the “one, holy” church, but considers its purpose to be “to bring the churches into living contact with each other.” As for its capability to fulfill this purpose, opinions differ among theologians. Danish professor Dr. Regin Prenter says: “At any rate, one thing is certain: This world council of Christian churches represents by no means a real reunion of the separated churches. The World Council of Churches is still only a federation of mutually independent church communities. . . . It might just as well mean that the new contact which the churches within the World Council of Churches have obtained with one another will lead to a more severe mutual condemnation between certain of the church communities than before, since they simply did not know each other well enough to be able to condemn each other.” Some of the things that hinder dedicated Christians from recognizing the church of Jesus Christ and the apostles among the Protestant churches is lack of unity in teachings and organization, nationally and internationally.
THE EASTERN ORTHODOX CHURCHES
7. What makes it evident that unity is lacking in the Eastern Orthodox Church?
7 The Eastern Orthodox churches are not one church but a number of national churches mainly in East Europe and the Balkan Peninsula, which fought for and gained their independence from the patriarchate at Istanbul. Nominally, some of them recognize the patriarch of Istanbul as head of their church, others the patriarch of Moscow, but none of the patriarchs have any say in the internal affairs of the other churches. A constant struggle is going on between the two patriarchates about jurisdiction over the churches in Finland, Poland and the Russian colony of emigrants in Paris. Since the church of God and Christ was one international church, and not a number of national churches, we can see no traces in the Eastern Orthodox Church of the unity of the first Christian church.
THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
8-11. What proves that the Roman church is not one body? Which crucial test of true unity can the Roman church and others not pass successfully?
8 Is not the Roman Catholic Church a big international church with unity in teachings and organization? Whereas it may have a uniform set of dogmas for the whole international church, the religious beliefs of Roman Catholics are not the same everywhere. The imagination of God and Christ Jesus and what they do for mankind is hardly the same to an Italian Roman Catholic as it is to a Haitian native Roman Catholic still practicing his pagan Voodoo religion on the side.
9 Neither is the organization unity so firm as many think. If the Roman Catholic Church is actually one body with the pope as a visible head, why do not all Catholics then obey the head? Says Roman Catholic priest and author Peter Schindler in defending the Catholic church against the charge of intolerance toward Protestants in Spain and Colombia: “Why does the pope not intervene? Who says that he does not ‘intervene’? After all, we who are sitting in Rome have a bit more of an idea of his impotence. The pope is not dictator in Spain or president in Colombia, and if the local Catholics (headed by their church leaders) ignore their own church law as they in many places ignore papal instructions (for example, the social encyclicals) then the very pope is powerless.” If the members do not obey the head, can there be one live body?
10 If the Roman church is just one body, why are the different orders, like the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Jesuits, and so forth, acting like separate bodies? Why do such orders fight each other like political parties to get the deciding influence on the pope and church policy?
11 Is the church really a unity when its members, like the Catholics in Italy, are found in all political parties from the extreme right all the way across the political color spectrum to the extreme Communist left? Could they ever make up one true church body; one, as Jehovah and Christ Jesus are one? Could they internationally be one when some of them are headed by cardinals who, for nationalistic reasons, are not even on speaking terms? And in the case of war, does the Roman church, and other denominations for that matter, preserve the unity they claim to possess? Everybody knows they do not. They all give in under that crucial test of their unity as a church and prove that the ties uniting them to worldly unities are stronger than those binding them to their church unity and to their god. All this makes it impossible to see the unity of the Christian church in the Roman Catholic international church organization.
A SIGN TO THE WORLD
12. (a) What do Jehovah’s witnesses have to back up their claim of true unity? (b) With what right do they join Paul in using Romans 8:35-39?
12 In contrast to all this discouraging division, it is heart-cheering to find one international body of Christians on earth today that is a true unity, a true international brotherhood, united in faith and organization by the bonds of love. It is a fact of which everybody is invited to convince himself, and we are not immodest in pointing to it, that Jehovah’s witnesses, though international, are “one heart and soul,” of the “same mind” and the “same line of thought,” and have ‘one body, one spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.’ They are Christians who are bound into a unity with Jehovah God and Christ Jesus and their brothers with bonds of love so strong that nothing, including wars, can disrupt it. Their international church organization comprising witnesses in many countries is made up of the remnant of the bride class of Christ Jesus; and united with it into “one flock” under “one shepherd” is a great crowd of “other sheep.” (John 3:28-30; 10:16) The modern history of these witnesses shows that they have experience enough to join the apostle Paul in saying: “Who will separate us from the love of the Christ? Will tribulation or distress or persecution or hunger or nakedness or danger or sword? Just as it is written: ‘For your sake we are being put to death all day long, we have been counted as sheep for slaughter.’ To the contrary, in all these things we are coming off completely victorious through him that loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor governments nor things here nor things to come nor powers nor height nor depth nor any other creation will be able to separate us from God’s love that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”—Rom. 8:35-39.
13. For what reflections does the unity of Jehovah’s witnesses give cause, of what is it a sign, and for whom?
13 The world-wide unity of Jehovah’s witnesses gives cause for various reflections. If the international brotherhood of the early church of the first century was a true wonder and admittedly a product of the holy spirit alone, and if God in his church did what others have tried to do for centuries to no avail, certainly an identical international brotherhood in the chaotic twentieth century is no less a wonder and proves no less the unique manifestation of God’s spirit or invisible active force. According to Jesus, such a unity is no incident, but a sign to the world that Jehovah loves the united ones just as he loves Jesus, and that they are his disciples: “I am giving you a new commandment, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love among yourselves.”—John 13:34, 35; 17:23.
14. Why was it not improper for the first Christians to point to their church as the only true one?
14 The first Christians were convinced they belonged to the only true church, the “congregation of God.” It would have been sinning against the holy spirit to doubt it. A sign of the mark of the spirit was on them, and a sign is of no value if it is not seen. Was it then improper for the first Christians to point to their church as the only one having that sign? In relation to the Jewish church of Judaism, was it out of harmony with true humility for Christians to call attention to this mark of the spirit even though thereby revealing the glaring absence of God’s spirit on the divided house of Israel? On the contrary, they were under obligation not to put their light under a basket, but to let it “shine before mankind, that they may see your right works and give glory to your Father who is in the heavens.”—Matt. 5:14-16.
15. Is it a lack of Christian virtue for Jehovah’s witnesses to point to the New World society, of which the anointed Christian congregation is a part, as the only one that truly is of God?
15 So obviously bearing the mark of the spirit, the world-wide loving unity of Jehovah’s witnesses is one of the reasons why those witnesses who are anointed members of the body of Christ are convinced they belong to the only true church, and since those of the “other sheep” are associated with these anointed ones in the united New World society, they are convinced that this indeed is God’s organization, where true worship is carried on. Would it not be sinning against the spirit to doubt it? Is it immodest for them to call the world’s attention to the fact that this organization is singular in showing the mark of the spirit? On the contrary, to the benefit of all honest-hearted people longing for the visible congregation of God’s united people, and to the glory of God and Christ Jesus, they must not put their light under a basket even at the cost of being considered self-righteous.
1. Dogmatik, (Danish) 2nd edition, section “The Religious Community,” par. 54, page 208. Author: Prof. Dr. Niels Munk Plum. Publishers: G. E. C. Gad, Copenhagen 1941.
2. Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon, (German) Kirchlich-theoligisches Handwoerterbuch under ‘’Kirche,” section IV. “Reformatorischer Kirchenbegriff und dessen Fortbildung,” par. 10; and section VII. “Gegenwaertiges oekomenisches Gespraech,” part B. “Die das oekumenische Gespraech bestimmende Fragen,” par. 5. Publishers: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Goettingen 1958.
3. Faith and Order, The Report of the Third World Conference at Lund, Sweden: August 15-28, 1952 (English). Published in behalf of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches by the SCM Press Ltd., London, Chapter III, section II, page 13; and section IV, page 21.
4. Kristi Kirke, (Danish) page 32. Author: Bishop Bo Giertz. Publishers: Nyt Nordisk Forlag Arnold Busck, Copenhagen 1945.
5. Evangelisches Kirchenlexikon under “Oekumenische Bewegung,” section “World Council of Churches,” par. 2a. The Church, the Churches, and the World Council of Churches, (English) pages 2 and 3. Author: Central Committee of the World Council of Churches at its meeting in Toronto in July, 1950. Publishers: The British Council of Churches, London, 1952.
6. Protestantismen i vor Tid, (Danish) pages 121 and 122. Author: Prof. Dr. Regin Prenter. Publishers: H. Hirschsprungs Forlag, Copenhagen 1958.
7. Salmonsen Leksikon-Tidsskrift 1953 og 1954, (Danish). Article: Kirken hvis centrer ligger i Istanbul of Moskva, page 995. Publishers: J. H. Schultz, Copenhagen 1955.
8. Katolicismen i vor Tid, (Danish) page 137. Author: Peter Schindler, Catholic priest and author. Publishers: H. Hirschsprungs Forlag, Copenhagen 1957.
9. L’Espresso, (Italian paper). Article: “Behind the Throne of Pius XII – The Attack of the Jesuits and the Surrender of the Dominicans.” Author: Dr. Carlo Falconi, Religious Editor.
10. Katolicismen i vor Tid, page 130.