Friday, August 23, 2013

5 things necessary for Christian unity

Ephesians 4:4-5 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.


Yesterday we explored Jesus' prayer for the unity of His saints and attempted to unpack what he meant through other passages of scripture.  We discovered that the unity desired by Jesus is a compound unity that is comparable to what is seen by analogy in the Trinity, by illustration of marriage and by comparison with the human body.  All three are used by scripture to convey the notion that Christian unity is compound unity endorsing the glory of God, God's love and healthy strength.  Such theological concepts are necessary for unpacking Jesus' prayer.  In today's post we are interested in wanting to know how to practically carry out Jesus' desire for Christian unity.  Ephesians 4:1-13 gives the five step process for carrying out Jesus prayer of John 17.

1. Hard work is required for unity. Ephesians 4:1-3 

It is interesting that the Apostle Paul begins this section on Christian unity with the responsibility of the Christian, with the remaining segments dedicated to God's provided graces for such unity.  Plainly put - Christian unity takes hard work and reliance upon God's grace.  For example in Ephesians 4:1-3 we see the following commands that indicate the diligence required for Christian unity:
a. "walk in a manner worthy of the calling" 4:1
b. "showing tolerance for one another" 4:2
c. "being diligent to preserve the unity" 4:3

We as Christians err in thinking that unity will just simply happen.  Much like sanctification on the individual level, Christian unity is both a "God-thing" and an "us thing".  Most churches and Christian people desire unity, however very few are willing to put the work necessary. Thanks be to God though Christian unity's achievement is not left totally up to willpower alone.  The remainder of Paul's instructions on Christian unity derive from God-given graces that we must rely upon to achieve it.

2. God's grace is required for unity. Ephesians 4:4-6

God's grace is when God does for you what you could never for yourself.  The key word "one" is interlinked with the Triune God of grace and the seven-fold grace of unity:
a. "One body" - The church and its converted members was planned by the Father as a love gift for His Son

b. "One Spirit" - Without the Person of the Holy Spirit, no unity can take place

c. "One hope" - Without the hope of the Gospel, no one could hear the Spirit's voice calling them unto salvation.

d. "One Lord" - Without the Person and work of Jesus Christ, there would be no church nor unity to speak of in this passage

e. "One faith" - Without saving faith as the gift of God, no one would believe and be justified before God

f. "One baptism" - baptism here speaks of the ministry of the Spirit in joining the believer to Jesus Christ at saving faith, with the subsequent administration of water baptism acting as the sign and the obedient public declaration by the convert pointing back to the experience. (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)1   Much like the American flag is a sign of the previously agreed upon formation of the United States by the founding fathers, water baptism is a sign of the previously founded salvation granted by God the Father through faith to the believer who was united by the Spirit to Christ in spirit baptism. (Ephesians 2:8-9; 1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Romans 6:4-5) In water baptism the Christian is publically professing in obedience the wonderful salvation that was prior to the water baptism and privately received by faith in the heart. 

g. "One God and Father" - The First Person of the Trinity who planned the church.  Without the Person of the Father, there would be no church to speak of needing unity.  

3. Pastor Leadership is required for unity. Ephesians 4:7-13

We see here the five-fold ministry given by the Lord Jesus Christ.  The main focus of interest concerns the pastoral office, being that it is the most discussed of the the five offices.  Passages such as 1 Timothy 3 and Titus deal with the qualities of the Pastor while 1 Peter 5:1-3 deals more so with the purpose.  A Pastor functions to preach the Word, love the people and lead.  Only by the grace of the Lord can a pastor be a catalyst for unity. A church without pastoral leadership cannot expect to be equipped to unify together for the cause of Christ.  Jesus Christ has so given the office of Pastor to His flock to function as an "undershepherd" that is delegated authority to equip the saints to unify around the mission and majesty of Jesus Christ.  Insofar as the Pastor loves His Lord, His family, his people and the scriptures will determine how well He is able to be used of God to be a catalyst for unity.  

4. Sound Doctrine is required for unity. Ephesians 4:14-15

Doctrine is the vocabulary of faith and is the handmaiden of sound preaching, Christian conversation and Christ-honoring worship.  Just as Jesus spoke His words over the sea of Galilee to bring forth calm and still waters, the church needs to hear the voice of Christ preached by the scriptures and taught through sound Biblical doctrine to calm the periodic restless waves in the church.  What happens when the church abandons the grace of sound doctrine? The church forgets who she is and becomes a turbulent sea.  She forgets who she is and Whose she is and soon starts looking more like the world.  Contrary to what many may teach, when doctrine is abandoned in the name of unity, confusion and disharmony results. 

5. Body Life is required for unity. Ephesians 4:16

The final grace necessary for Christian unity is the Spirit given gifts of believers.  Christian unity does not mean union - where everyone is the same.  Unity rather implies diversity orbiting around and connected to a common point. Christians should be working toward the common goal of God's glory in Jesus Christ.  The pastor by himself cannot do it all, nor the deacons, nor only a handful in the church.  The call of "all hands on deck" is issued by the Captain of our salvation as He steers the mighty ship of the church militant through the sea of history.  The church is a living organism, a body, with Jesus Christ as the head. (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Colossians 1:18)  When the members of the church are functioning together as a body, "body-life" emerges, with the local church functioning as one person.  Soon the sweet aroma of Jesus Christ's love and truth is released and the community around takes notice. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)   

These are the five things necessary for Christian unity.

1. Much confusion abounds over the issue of baptism and can only be cleared up once we understand the scripture's teachings on "spirit baptism" and "water baptism", and how both constitute the "one baptism" spoken of by Paul.  Causally and subsequently connected to the Spirit's act of "spiritually baptizing" the believing sinner into Christ at salvation is the obedient re-enactment of that by means of one's public profession of faith in water baptism.  Water baptism is the symbol that is prescribed by Christ to point back to the Spirit baptism.  In scripture, a symbol or sign serves to signify a prior spiritual reality or experience of grace.  Therefore when the scripture says "One Baptism", there literally is only "one" in the sense that the water baptism is causally connected to the prior experience of saving faith, wherein the Spirit joins the believing sinner to Christ by Spirit baptism.  Water baptism does not impart saving faith nor the gift of the Spirit.  The Spirit Himself comes to the sinner in grace and in the gifting of faith the sinner responds by believing and repenting of their sins.  Water baptism is a subsequent, public declaration of prior saving faith. The Spirit joins me to Christ in His ministry of Spirit baptism, with the water baptism simply declaring that prior spiritual experience. 

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