The Lord's Parting Prayer for His Disciples—the True Church
Vincent Yeung—Cambridge, UK
Churches are carrying too much baggage of outdated ideas, say the
critics. They believe that the church has to change to survive. To this
end, these critics recommend that the modern church be all-encompassing
and accept all views unconditionally, even if these views contradict the
basic tenets of Christian beliefs. Although not new, such comments came
to the fore again when the UK government proposed to legalize gay
marriages, and the Church of England stated its opposition to these
Besides societal issues, the True Jesus Church (TJC) also has had to
counter attacks on its views on Christian ecumenism. Fellow Christians
have long been critical of the TJC stance that the gospel of salvation
can only be found in the true church. To them, TJC should join the one
big happy Christian family and become more tolerant and accepting of the
teachings of other denominations.
These quick snapshots reflect prevailing human expectations of the
church. But as Christians – followers of Christ – that
should be the least of our concerns. The Greek word ekklesia for church
means that which is called out. Just as God called the Israelites out of
many nations, Jesus has called Christians to follow Him in His ministry.
Hence, our main consideration, in fact the only consideration, should be what Jesus expectations of His church are.
Although the Lord Himself only mentions the term church twice in the
Gospels (Mt 16:18, 18:17), in His parting prayer during the last supper
(Jn 17:6–26), Jesus clearly spelled out His expectations regarding
the nature, purpose, and characteristics of His believers, which
collectively constitute the church.
The True Church is of God
"I pray for them for they are Yours. (Jn 17:9)
The theme of belonging to God runs throughout the entire prayer: They
are Yours (Jn 17:6,9), all mine are Yours (Jn 17:10), keep them in Your
name (Jn 17:11,12), keep them from the evil one (Jn 17:15). Believers
who constitute the church belong to God for they have been purchased by
the blood of God. This is why the church is called the church of God
The believers do not belong to the world (Jn 17:14) and they have been
kept from the evil one in Jesus name (Jn 17:11,12,15). Only Gods power
enables the church to free herself from the influence of this world and
the control of the evil one.
However, God is not an object on which humans can lay claim at their own
whim and fancy. We may say that God is mine and we are Gods children,
but it is God who ultimately decides who belongs to Him. We did not
choose Jesus. Instead, He chose us (Jn 15:16). The fundamental
relationship between God and the believers is built entirely on Gods
calling and our unconditional submission to Gods word. Jesus said, If
you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love (Jn 15:10, cf.
14:20). Keeping the commandments is certainly not a mere intellectual
pursuit where the word of God is painstakingly studied, analyzed,
theorized and rationalized. While serious and dedicated study is
essential, just as critically, we need to carry out these commandments.
Moreover, the church is not a social organization compelled to accept
all the diverse and divergent views of modern society. Instead, the
church belongs to God and must therefore practice Gods unchanging word.
Any view of society that conflicts with the word of God must be robustly
and steadfastly rejected, no matter how great the pressure we face from
society (Jn 15:18-19).
The True Church must have the truth and practiCe it
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. (Jn 17:17)
Man cannot discover God through his own initiative or effort. We know
Him only because of His gracious self-revelation. The adoption, the
covenant, and the giving of the Law were completely Gods own initiative.
Similarly, Gods name could only be revealed through His own volition.
Hence, when Moses asked for Gods name, God told him to tell His people
that He was I AM. In the New Testament, God revealed Himself and His
name through Jesus: I have manifested Your name (Jn 17:6) and I have
declared to them Your name (Jn 17:26).
Today, those who believe in God have been given the word of God (Jn
17:8,14). On their parts, they have received, believed (Jn 17:8), and
kept it (Jn 17:6). Such commitment to Gods word forms the basis of our
relationship with Him. We need to receive wholeheartedly,
unconditionally, and trustingly. Accepting Gods word entails keeping
Gods commandments—which encompasses everything from accepting the
gospel of salvation to practicing His word in our daily lives. What we
believe and practice must be the complete word of God. The church is not
a cafeteria, a place where we can pick and choose what we like; hearing
and applying what appeals to us and blithely ignoring what we do not
The true church of the living God is the foundation and pillar of the
truth (1 Tim 3:15). A church can only be called a true church when it
encompasses and embraces all the teachings in the Bible, presents the
gospel of salvation in its fullness, and is able to bring people
completely before God.
As God is holy, the true church must also be holy (Lev 11:44-45). We are
sanctified by practicing Gods word, because His word is the truth (Jn
17:17,19). Keeping His word will also lead us away from the world (Jn
17:16,14). As believers, we should be acutely aware of Jesus
uncompromising stance and the importance of demarcating ourselves from
the influence of the world (Jas 4:4).
The True Church must preach the gospel and glorify God
I also have sent them into the world. (Jn 17:18)
Separate from the world does not mean that the true church has been
called to self-satisfied isolation. The church has been chosen for a
reason—to glorify God. Jesus said, I am glorified in them (Jn
17:10). As a separate people, we are in the world, but we are not
influenced by the evil one (Jn 17:14–15). So we do not live as
passive hermits but as messengers sent into the world (Jn 17:18). We
live to glorify God just as Jesus did by completing the work that God
entrusted to Him (Jn 17:4). Jesus has given the church the word of God
(Jn 17:8) that she may know God. In turn, the church must spread the
same word, so that others can come to believe in Jesus (Jn 17:20) and
receive eternal life through knowing God (Jn 17:3).
God has been glorified through Jesus (Jn 17:4); Jesus is glorified
because of the task He accomplished on earth (Jn 17:5; cf.
13:31–32). In the same way, the church has been given the glory
that Jesus had received (Jn 17:22). Therefore, the church will and
should do greater work than Jesus did (Jn 14:12). Today, the church has
truly grown and spread to every corner in this world, reaching out to
different nations, tongues, and races. The once close-knit circle of the
Lord Jesus has now become spatially and culturally diverse.
The True Church must be united
That they may be one just as We are one. (Jn 17:22)
The multiplicity of todays environment far exceeds the divisions noted
by Paul between Greek, Jews, and the barbarians, yet the diversity in
the church should not be a barrier for true fellowship in Jesus. As
members of the true church – the one body of Christ – we
should be vigilant against consciously or unconsciously dividing our
churches on the basis of location, nationality, and ethnicity. The
oneness of God and Jesus is inextricably linked to the expectation that
the church be one (Jn 17:11,21,22). A closer look into the church in the
apostolic time, however, reveals that she was plagued by divisions. The
Epistles of Paul, Peter, John and James clearly evinced that conflicts
in the church were inevitable, ranging from high profile divisions in
Corinth to lower level discord between individual workers in Philippi
No wonder Jesus kept on reminding us of the need for unity in His
parting prayer! We are easily influenced by our personal prejudices,
strong will, jealousy, pride, and self-interest. These drive huge wedges
among brethren, resulting in a lack of unity, which stunts church growth
and hinders her from achieving perfection and from fully glorifying God
(Jn 17:23). The world will not believe that a church in disarray and
riven by in-fighting is the true church sent by God (Jn 17:21). Without
unity, the church is not able to manifest Gods love (Jn 17:23). And
without Gods love amongst the members, the church cannot spread His love
to the world (Jn 17:26). If the truth is not complemented by love, it is
empty—like sound bites with little substance.
Jesus parting prayer is our source of consolation as well as a last
reminder to live up to Gods expectations. We were born again through the
washing of His blood and of the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:5). This fundamental
relationship makes us special because we are separated from the world.
However, this status comes with obligations—we need to glorify Him
by following His commandments.
The church is the body of Christ (Eph 1:22–23); there is only one
Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and
Father of all (Eph 4:3–6). The true church cannot have diverse and
opposing views on her basic beliefs. Just as Christ can only have one
body, there can only be one true church that is called by God,
sanctified by practicing His word that He has given to her. As members
of the church, we do not belong to the world, and therefore we need to
glorify Him through unity, loving one another and preaching His word.
Through this, the world can see that God is in us, we are of God, and
that His love is perfected in our unity.