Friday, August 12, 2016

There is one - Ephesians 4:4-6

"There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all." (Ephesians 4:4-6)
Our faith was not meant to divide us but to unite us as one in Christ. It is a shame that, through the centuries, we have allowed our varying beliefs, practices, and loyalties to divide us into competing camps of Christianity. Oftentimes, the very things that Paul enumerates here as being the source of our oneness, are the mountains upon which we stake our claim as being different and which we use as weapons to separate ourselves from one another. Paul reminds us that love "is the perfect bond of unity." (Colossians 3:14) When we choose division over unity, we are choosing to walk in something other than love. We may feel ourselves justified in asserting our superiority over other believers, but our claims of superiority come not from love but from other more carnal motives. When we use the things of God to divide the Body of Christ then we do harm both to Christ and His body and, ultimately, to ourselves.

Of the things that testify to our oneness, there are three that deserve special notice. First is our oneness of faith. Faith is not a creed or a statement of belief printed on the back of a church bulletin. Faith is our belief and trust in Jesus, His life and substitutionary death on the Cross, and the promise of everlasting life which He has declared towards us. Polycarp, a disciple of John's, wrote to the Philippian church, exhorting them in studying the letters of Paul, saying, "And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, 'is the mother of us all.'" (Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, Chapter III) Polycarp describes faith as the mother of us all, and this before there were any creeds or formulas to test one's faith. Jesus told us that, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15) Our faith in the Gospel is far different than our faith in theology. One unites and one tends to divide. While we may differ in theology, if we hold a common faith and hope in the Gospel, then we ought to find common ground to unite us as one around our common savior who is the "the author and perfecter of faith." (Hebrews 12:2)

The second thing that unites us as one is our one baptism in Christ. I grew up in a church whose roots went back to the Anabaptists of the sixteenth century. While there is much to admire about the Anabaptists, their five hundred year history is one of division after division, often centering around the mode and means of baptism. In our church you were baptized by immersion three times forward, once in the name of the Father, once in the name of the Son, and once in the name of the Holy Spirit. Other offshoots of the Anabaptists require you to be baptized in flowing water. In our town they would even break the ice on the river in order to baptize people in flowing water. When considering what Paul wrote here, I'm not sure that Paul is speaking of the physical act of baptism. Consider what the writer of Hebrews wrote considering the foundations of Christian faith, "the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment." (Hebrews 6:1-2 NKJV) Notice he enumerates here "baptisms" in the plural, not baptism in the singular. Speaking of baptism, Jesus said, "John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 11:16) Describing a baptism that was not by water but in the Holy Spirit. When Paul went to Ephesus for the first time, he asked the believers there, "'Into what then were you baptized?' And they said, 'Into John's baptism.' Paul said, 'John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying." (Acts 19:3-6) Here there were three baptisms, the baptism of repentance, the baptism in the name of Jesus, and the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Three baptisms in which only two involved water. Finally, Paul writes the Corinthians reminding them that, "by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit." (1 Corinthians 12:13) Here their baptism was by, or through, the one Spirit of God, not by water. The point here is that, while we may think our doctrine and practices of baptism are so important, I'm not sure they are that important to God. Its not the physical act of baptism that yields salvation and grace to the one being baptized, but the Spirit that is at work during the act. The form and formula of the physical act is not as important as the grace imparted to the believe through faith during the act of baptism. I firmly believe, that when it comes to baptism, we need to look beyond our petty differences in the act itself to the reality of the Spirit who works His grace in our live and unites us as one in Himself.

Finally, while not mentioned here, is the issue of communion or the Eucharist of Christ. Paul writes, "Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread." (1 Corinthians 10:17) One of the greatest shames in the progress of Christianity is that we have allowed the common table of the Lord, that one table that was meant to unite us, to be a point of division; separating us from our common fellowship as believers. With arrogance, we approach the Lord's table, claiming unity, while we bar other believers from joining us in partaking of the bread and wine simply because we find disagreement with them in their doctrine and their failure to submit to our rules and creeds. Where we ought to be "one Body", we find ourselves in hostile opposition towards one another, rejecting dissenting believers in Christ, and forbidding them to commune with us at the table of the Lord. In writing to the Corinthians, Paul rebukes them concerning the Lord's supper saying, "For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly. For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep." (1 Corinthians 11:29-30) What does it mean to judge the body right? In part, it means understanding and acknowledging that, though we may differ in some of our beliefs and practices, we are all still all one in the Body of Christ. When we deny the table of the Lord to others whom we judge less worthy of it than ourselves, then we are not judging the body rightly and we eat and drink to our own judgment. We must return to the ancient and apostolic belief that it is especially at the table of the Lord that we declare our oneness in Christ and not use it as a weapon of division and a claim to superiority over other believers. We need to start honoring that which makes us one instead of using it to divide us into many. He who divides the Body of Christ cannot love the body which he seeks to divide. Let us learn again to live in love with one another and honor our oneness over our differences.

David Robison

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