Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Sevenfold Elements of Christian Unity


“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

~Ephesians 4:4-6 (NRSV).

Unity is the church. The church has very little without the cogent sense of unity, in and under Christ—who is Lord of all.

There is a threefold triadic structure eminent in this passage: 1) body, Spirit, hope; 2) Lord, faith, baptism; 3) one God and Father of all—over, through and in all.[1]

What this sense of unity is about is simple. It’s characterised by way of seven key elements, unifying the whole in completeness in identification through Christ to the Father in heaven:

  1. One Body

I am covering this element of Christian unity in an upcoming article to be titled, Church Essence – Body Fellowship. However, it is via identification in Christ that universally qualifies the Body—a universal ‘machine’ and a force for Christ in this world. ‘One Body’ is an entirely new concept heralded in the New Testament—it is a tradition not seen so much in Old Testament times under ‘the Elect.’[2]

  1. One Spirit

This verse could be read that the Body (above) is solemnised in one Spirit. Indeed, as John Stott puts it, “Thus, it is our common possession of the one Holy Spirit that integrates us into one body.”[3]

It is clear to all of us, I hope, that the one common Spirit resides in all of us, activated by belief in Christ—belief in his death and resurrection to the purpose of redemption.

  1. One Hope

Here, for Paul, there is a quick departure. He hearkens the reader back to verse 1. Our hope is centred onto the calling we’ve received; that to follow Christ heavenward for the prize of eternal life, both here and to come.

This same hope we share with all others in fellowship and keeping with God. Because we’re called according to this one hope, we find that, “hope has its origin in [the] call.”[4] The call, likewise, is punctuated via this one singular hope: Christ.

  1. One Lord

The third person of the Trinity or Godhead has already been discussed—we’re one in Spirit. Now Paul turns to the second person of the Trinity. There is a linkage now between the terms “faith” and “baptism” that immediately follow and the second person of the Godhead—God the Son—Jesus himself.

  1. One Faith

There are few sweeter gospel summaries than Paul’s in Ephesians 2:1-10. He succinctly roadmaps faith for all believers in this section; ‘one faith’ is the one, singular gospel of Jesus Christ.[5]

  1. One Baptism

Notwithstanding a previous article I wrote recently, What Must I Do to Be Saved?, we’re called to a higher calling, to enter the church, through baptism.

Now, this one subject—of all subjects—has often caused more disunity than unity over the present age, from Christ’s resurrection, than most others. There are a variety of different takes on the theology of baptism.

Some believe it means water baptism, others, the fire of Spiritual Baptism (baptism of the Holy Spirit), and others again, the believer’s baptism, which is simply faith per Romans 10:8-9 (which is covered in the abovementioned article) by way of identification in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Hoehner, in Paul’s context, favours the lattermost.[6] Snodgrass agrees by highlighting that “Paul was not speaking about the mode or timing of a ceremony; he was saying no other baptism exists except baptism into Christ.”[7]

Whatever theology we hold to we should ensure it’s inclusive in nature, for unity is the real prize for which we’re all called heavenward.

  1. One God

Everything truly begins and ends with God the Father himself—all else in the whole of creation, with literally no exception, waits on the Father. The key feature of this theology is the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4—Yahweh is One. This, at last, calls us to be unified to the first person of the Godhead, having already considered unification with the Spirit, initially, and the Son.

He is forever above us, through every part of us, and in us. Nothing can separate us—in these terms—from the Father in heaven.

Summary

The clearest purpose we can reach in reading Paul’s passage with most clarity is that we’re called to theological oneness—a seemingly impossible invocation to the divisible church nowadays, or in any day for that matter, especially where our common, encroachable humanity—the flesh—descends, spoils and rots.

We’re to be marked for our unity and inclusiveness—under Christ.

This means stamping out divisive elements by tolerance and reason, not counterattack. Where tolerance and reason do not cut the theological custard we can but accept it and move on as we were, loving the divisive element all the very same.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.




[1] Klyne Snodgrass, The NIV Application Commentary – Ephesians (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1996), p. 198.

[2] Harold W. Hoehner, Ephesians – An Exegetical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2002), p. 514.

[3] Harry Uprichard, Ephesians – An EP Study Commentary (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2004), p. 200.

[4] Hoehner, Op cit, p. 516. Italics added for emphasis.

[5] Snodgrass, Op cit, p. 199.

[6] Hoehner, Op cit, p. 518.

[7] Snodgrass, Op cit, p. 211.

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