January 23, 2008

One body, one Lord, one faith…

Posted in Christian culture, Commentary at 10:11 pm by Matt Porter

In part one, I stated that Christians have needlessly divided the Church and have used Christ’s authority to support these divisions. In part two, I want to look at what all Christians have in common. Part three will deal with how to handle our differences, and part four will deal with issues specific to my Baptist background.

Things have gone pretty far when many churches would balk at the Apostles’ Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived of the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead.

He ascended into heaven
and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty,
whence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

Amen, indeed. Yet many Christians would hesitate to endorse that statement, considering it either too Catholic (translation: too hoity-toity high church) or not distinctive enough. It isn’t Catholic; it’s catholic, universal! Christians of all cultures and varieties should be able to heartily affirm the Apostles’ Creed, as they have since half a century after the time of the apostles.

Emphasizing distinction between varieties of Christians is something the Gospels and Epistles seem completely unconcerned about. We see ways to be distinct from the world, but not from each other. In fact, several passages speak of just the opposite: the unity that we do have as Christians. Consider Ephesians 4:

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in 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 you all.

(I like the use of the word “endeavor” in verse 3. Apparently maintaining unity is hard!) What does Paul say we have in common?

  1. One body—all believers are part of Christ.
  2. One Spirit—all believers have received the Holy Spirit.
  3. One hope—all believers have the hope of the resurrection, with the redemption of the body from sin. (See Romans 8.)
  4. One Lord—Christ is the Head of the entire body.
  5. One faith—all believers are saved by faith in Christ.
  6. One baptism—all believers are baptized by the Holy Spirit and sealed by Him.
  7. One God and Father of all—all believers belong to God, who transcends any earthly categorization or organization.

That list seems to contain some pretty major categories. If we were to write that passage today, it might read,

There is one denominational body, and one systematic theology, even as ye are called at one extended altar call; One understanding of God’s sovereignty, one Lord’s Supper for one congregation, one baptism upon joining the denomination, One God and Father of those who believe correctly, who is in us.

Rather than enjoy the fellowship and unity that we can have with other Christians, we usually seek to protect and promote our belief system. We seek to make disciples of the tradition (fill in the blank with your favorite denomination) who are led by our system rather than disciples of Christ who are led by the Spirit.

That’s the heart of the matter. It is not that everyone thinks their beliefs are correct; if we didn’t agree with our own beliefs, we wouldn’t believe them. That’s called “changing your mind.” The problem is that we can’t imagine that we could be wrong, or that anyone else could honestly and openly read the Bible and come to a different conclusion than we do.

We need to work harder to acknowledge the unity we have with the entire Body of Christ, a unity that covers a wide array of crucial issues. Although differences will exist, we are still on the same team. Focusing on the differences is like the pitcher criticizing the catcher for throwing from his knees or the right fielder for throwing on the run. In part three, I’ll look at how to deal with these differences without neglecting the unity we enjoy with Christ as our Head.

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