John 17:20, 21
In the High Priestly prayer recorded in John 17, the Lord Jesus prays, “I do not pray for these alone [the eleven disciples in the Upper Room with Him], but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (17:20, 21 NKJV, see also verses 22,23).
Francis Schaeffer identified these verses as the “final apologetics” in reaching the world with the gospel. If the world sees that Christians are unified and display the oneness of the Body of Christ, it will compel them to believe.
In the early 20th century, Captain Bertram Dickson, the British military consul in Asia Minor, visited the region of Kurdistan in what is now southeastern Turkey and northern Iraq. He described the history, geography, geology, flora and fauna of the region, as well as the people in an article. He relates an interesting story that is a commentary on the words of the Lord Jesus.
There were those in the region that identified themselves as Assyrians, being remnants of the mighty Assyrian Empire that fled Nineveh after the city was conquered and the empire collapsed in 612 BC (cf. Nahum 3:15b-18). In the course of time, these people converted to Christianity. The Moslem invasion of the area in a much later period caused them to flee to the mountains of Kurdistan for refuge.
When Captain Dickson visited this mountainous region he encountered three groups of Christians: the Nestorians, the Jacobites and the Chaldeans (Church of Rome). He observed that their “internecine jealousies are stronger than the Christian-Moslem hate.” In other words, the Christians may have gotten along with their Moslem neighbors at times, but they could not stand each other!
The captain relates a story that allegedly happened the year before his visit. A Kurdish man approached the important and powerful Moslem sheikh of Shemsdinan with a dilemma. As the story goes, the man told the sheikh that he had a rooster that spoke to him and said on three separate occasions, “Christ’s religion is the only faith.” The man inquired of the sheikh as to what he should do: convert to Christianity or kill the rooster as an infidel?! The sheikh thought long and hard about this matter and finally decided that the rooster should be kept until it could identify which of the three Christian sects was the real one. “Meanwhile”, he said, “we will continue to be Moslems!”
This is a sad statement on how the world might views the sectarian divisions within Christendom. It seems that Jesus’ words in John 17 are more than a helpful suggestion … we need to love one another.