We often treat the church as a sort of civic organization or a club. We join or leave that club based on whether or not it meets our needs and expectations. We join the Elks Club or the Moose Lodge because we agree or align with their mission statement. If that status changes, we leave.
In the context of church, we reason that for as long as the services meet our needs, and so long as the teaching and musical offerings are to our liking, we will continue to affiliate with that group. When these things are no longer true, we tend to exit that fellowship and find another gathering with which to align ourselves.
As common as this practice is in western Christianity, it is a concept foreign to scripture. Biblically speaking, when one transitions out of the world and into Christ, individualism is surrendered, and one becomes part of the single body of Christ. We are a part of the [singular] family of God, the [singular] community of faith.
Take note in this passage – seven ones:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call — one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:1-6, ESV
What is the basis for that oneness, that unity? Are we to make compromises in order to achieve “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace?” Do we pursue peace at any price?
I don’t believe so.
Pursue peace, yes, but not at any price.
The apostle Paul invested the first three chapters of his letter to the church at Ephesus establishing a doctrinal foundation from which he could now say, “Live in this way.” This is the same Paul who told the evangelist, Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16, NIV-1978).
Attempting to achieve unity of the Spirit without a foundation of truth and sound doctrine sets us up for a perilous ride. To that end, Paul presents seven realities that unite all believers.
One Body Every Christ-follower is a member of the one body, the body of Christ. We were placed there by the one Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:12-13). Though we are many members, we are one body, one community in Christ.
One Spirit The Holy Spirit of God indwells every believer, and also the body as a whole (that’s a study for another blog posting). Through this indwelling of God’s Spirit, each member of the body belongs to the other members (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
One Hope Jesus is coming back to collect his own, those who are “marked” or “sealed” with the Holy Spirit of God (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13-14; 4:30). The one hope we share not to be taken as a “Gee, I hope so,” but a sure promise of God, a promise with a guarantee, the seal of the Spirit within us.
Thus far, we see the unity of Christ-followers recognizing one body, sealed with the Spirit, looking for the return of our Lord and Savior.
One Lord Contemporary society has so little understanding of the concept of “Lord.” Lord is an appellation describing one in a position of absolute authority. The Lord has all control, all power, all authority. The Lord is absolute ruler. We are but servants.
To grasp even a hint of this relationship between Lords and servants, indulge yourself a bit by watching the acclaimed ITV (and later PBS Masterpiece Classics) television series Downton Abbey. As you do so, watch closely the relationship between the Lords/Ladies and the servants. Multiply that exponentially, and you’ll have an idea of the believer’s relationship to the one Lord.”
One Faith Though we often hear of differing “varieties” of faith, this is completely unbiblical. There is but one faith, established in Christ, for his church. The apostle Jude refers to it as “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3). This faith is to be “contended for” and taught to others who will likewise contend for the faith (2 Timothy 2:2).
One Baptism Here we refer again to the one Spirit since by that one Spirit we are “baptized into” the one body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13). In contrast to Judiasm wherein devotees were constantly baptizing and engaging in various ritual washings, for the Christ-follower, there is one baptism into Christ (Romans 6:3), and once you’re in, you’re in. There is no need for repeated baptisms.
One God and Father Throughout the letter to the Ephesians, Paul makes reference to the Father.
- (1:3) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- (1:17) The God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory.
- (2:18) Through him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.
- (3:14) I bow my knees before the Father.
- (5:20) In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father.
The final driver of our unity in the Spirit is the fact that not only are we one body, we are also one family. We are children, spiritual offspring in the same family. The same family dynamics of patience, tolerance, forgiveness that are necessary for our physical family also bind us in unity in our spiritual family.
Next week we will look at the mindset of one who embraces the concept of unity in the Spirit. What sort of attitudes do we need to facilitate such unity? Until then . . .