An oft quoted prayer by Jesus is the one in John chapter 17. Our teacher expresses a desire that his disciples become united, and God knows his disciples tried to fulfill this wish ever since. How is it best fulfilled? What does unity mean in this case?
Let us look at his words in John 17:20-23:
Ου περι τουτων δε ερωτω μονον,
Not only concerning them do I ask however,
αλλα και περι των πιστευοντων δια του λογου αυτων εις εμε,
but also concerning those committing to me through their words,
ἱνα παντες ἑν ωσιν, καθως συ, Πατερ, εν εμοι καγω εν σοι,
that they may all be one, like you Father are with me and I am with you,
ἱνα και αυτοι ἑν ἡμιν ωσιν,
that so may they be one with us,
ἱνα ὁ κοσμος πιστευη ὁτι συ με απεστειλας.
so the establishment may accept that you sent me.
καγω την δοξαν ἡν δεδωκας μοι δεδωκα αυτοις,
And I, whatever authority you gave me have I given them,
ἱνα ωσιν ἑν καθως ἡμεις ἑν · εγω εν αυτοις και συ εν εμοι,
so they may be one like we are one – I with them and you with me –
και ωσιν τετελειωμενοι εις ἑν,
and they may be perfected into one,
ἱνα γινωσκη ὁ κοσμος ὁτι συ με απεστειλας και ηγαπησας αυτους καθως εμε ηγαπησας.
so the establishment may know that you sent me and cared for them like you cared for me.
ἑν may be a translation of echad where the English above says one, for both the Gothic bible, the Latin vulgate and Aramaic peshitta use two different words where the Greek has εν, corresponding to English one and with above. Where this translation has one, the Gothic has ain and peshitta has chad.
Echad and the components of worship
The word echad figures in the Jewish declaration of faith – the Shema.
We find it Deuteronomy 6:4.
שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד
Hear Israel: Yehovah [is] our god – Yehovah alone.
Here echad (the leftmost and last word in the hebrew sentence which is the cardinal number one) was translated into “alone”, which is one common interpretation in Judaism, or “only” explaining that Yehovah is the only god of Israel or the lone divine leader. The first verse of the Shema is followed by a few verses stressing this exclusive relationship, saying that Israel may not worship the gods in the country they are moving to. This relates to the first commandment in Exodus 20:3. Look at the septuagint version!
Ουκ εσονται σοι θεοι ἑτεροι πλην εμου
Let not become for you other gods except mine
This hints to one possible meaning of echad, that of being a part of the one permitted god of Judaism, Christianity and by extension Islam.
In Acts 14:11-18 is a story of an incident when Paul and Barnabbas could barely convince a crowd that the crowd should not sacrifice cattle to them. If Paul and Barnabbas were in deed one with God and Messiah, the crowd’s worship did not constitute any transgression or problem, even though Paul and Barnabbas rightly advised against it.
Worship consists of these: faith, commitment, service/sacrifice and obedience.
To put faith in a faithful Jew or Christian will not be harmful.
To commit oneself to someone who remains commited to Yehovah is not harmful.
To service someone who service God will translate into doing service for God.
To obey someone who obeys Yehovah will mean to obey Yehovah.
Therefore in theory, worshipping someone who is one with God is all right, but in practice we should not, because who knows what kind of person a man is? As the scalds among us say: “some of them want to abuse you.”
Being one with God then means to be such that any component of worship directed at you translates into worship of God.
Unity across denominations
All denominations contain serious worshippers who are one with God, and people who are less serious, abusing the good features of their brothers and sisters. Are we supposed to be united with both the true and the false Christians in our congregation?
Clearly this is a unity between God’s children regardless of denomination and does not require unity with God’s adversaries. As long as the righteous are in power, unity in a congregation will be upheld in the manner described in 1 Corintians 1:10, but when the abusers gain power, the true Christians should be united in leaving that denomination and setting up a new one in the manner that Jesus and Paul broke with the Pharisees in the first century. This is why there are so many Christian denominations as they get hijacked one after the other.
There are certain things you can do to prevent your denomination from falling into wrong hands. If it is not too rich, it will not attract greedy people. If you do not stress humility, obedience or submissiveness too much, it will not attract people who lust for power. And so on.
A Christian denomination with faithful and loyal leadership is a valuable asset to the member, one to be tended carefully. This too is fundamental to Christian unity.
Worship consists of faith, commitment, service and obedience. Being one with God then means to be such that any component of worship directed at you translates into worship of God. Being one with our brothers and sisters means to unite with faithful Christians regardless of denomination against those who abuse.