August 07, 2004

"You say one love, one life...

...when it's one need in the night."

Been reading a little Ephesians 4, Bono? Seems like you and Paul were thinking some of the same stuff.
There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called--one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
The Christian faith is a faith built around one-ness. We claim there is only one God--we are monotheists. There is one baptism because there is one faith, and one faith because there is one Lord. Taking the words of Scripture at face value would seem to imply that these are non-negotiables; take away this one-ness and you have changed something fundamental. What you have left is something other than Christianity.

One of the real, empirical, tangible results of this one-ness is that here on earth there is "one body" of Christ. "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and thoug all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink . . . We are all members of one body" (1 Corinthians 12:12-13; Ephesians 4:25). The simplest meaning of the word unity is "one-ness."

But to the average person without the Spirit, it sure doesn't look like there's much unity, much one-ness to the Church. It looks a lot more like a spiritual shopping mall--fifty stores, each with their own slick marketing scheme, each trying to attract customers away from the others with flashy window displays and matching mood music audible from the corridor, each feigning concern for the customer but in reality more concerned with the bottom-line. And each one offering something that's basically empty, something that satisfies about as long as it takes to get it home and out of the shopping bag. Right or wrong (and I'm afraid it's more right than wrong), that's the impression most people have of the "unity" of the Christian Church.

I've been taught to believe that this kind of "unity" is okay, that it's sufficient, that it is in fact what God intends for the Church. "We have a spiritual unity," my teachers have told me, "a unity that transcends the physical. That's what's really important."

I think they're wrong. Remember Jesus' prayer for our unity? Here it comes again.
I pray . . . for those who will believe in me through [the Apostles'] message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one; I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
(John 17:20-23 NIV, emphasis mine.) If I'm reading Jesus right here, our unity, our one-ness is supposed to have revelatory value, it's supposed to teach the world something about God. It's supposed to communicate the Gospel message, that God sent his son because he loves the world.

So here's my question: If the unity God intends for Christ's Church is a "spiritual" unity, one that's not really visible to the uninitiated, then how can it reveal anything to them? How can something that cannot be sensed physically have revelatory value to people who are spiritually blind?

That's right. It can't. God, have mercy on us.


At 5:57 AM, Blogger Beth said...

I was brought up an atheist, and the fact that there were so many different denominations always seemed to me to be one of the most telling arguments against Christianity. On the other hand, the fractured nature of almost all specific earthly efforts at one-ness (and even if the church is the body of Christ, it's still very, very earthly too) is obvious. The song "One" goes there too - it certainly isn't all Eph 4, even tho your reference is apt. It's more about not being one, about failing to incarnate the ideal of unity, than it is about succeeding at it.

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Karl Thienes said...


Once in a while we find ourselves on the same page. Great if only I could get you to see the conclusion of what you see so far! :)

At 4:47 PM, Blogger DesertPastor said...

Yes. I agree with Karl -- great post.

I suppose that there were unbelieving folks living in first-century Palestine who marveled at how Hebrew-Jewish Christians, Helenized-Jewish Christian, and Greek Christians seemed to love each other. On the other hand, there were likely others who shook their heads in disgust as Hebrew-Jewish Christians and Greek Christians struggled (at times)at getting along.

Our responsibility to "live out" in tangible ways the "spiritual" unity we've been given in Christ has always been with us. One of the greatest mysteries of our faith is that we have become in Christ what we are still becoming! Believer may "claim" unity well enough -- but if we stop there... the world around us will likely never see or catch wind of what we are becoming -- and what we are becoming is a beautiful thing... the [unified] Bride of Christ!

I'm glad you've raised this issue, Daniel. We cannot afford to "claim" unity, while failing to live it out. So I'm echoing your final words: God, have mercy on us.

At 2:16 AM, Blogger Tony said...

My reservation about this is something to do with the way The World would indeed be impressed by institutional unity - Megachurch Inc., the One Church that rules the whole roost - while that would seem to me (and it's confirmed by the whole of Christian history, just about) to be the nearest thing to the Church of the Great Satan we could possibly come up with. In fact, you can hardly imagine why some bright spark hasn't succeeded in doing so. If this is true, then our institutional disunity may be one of the greatest miracles of God's grace to bless the Church, and prevent us from doing all the harm we would otherwise be capable of.

Only part of this is tongue in cheek. The serious bit is the extent to which the church's institutional disunity but spiritual unity (ah, there's the rub!) would be the most powerful witness to God's many-coloured grace of diversity in unity. If only Christians within the same institution (I speak only of the Church of England!) would love and speak to one another.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Anna said...

Tis true, tis true, and a pity tis, tis true (to use another of my favorite Shakepeare quotes since Tony stole my other one ;-) ) How indeed are they to know us by our love if what we really exhibit is competition with eachother. Is it possible to look at the one love, one faith, one baptism elements and say that as long as we've got those in common, we can embrace eachother as true believers whether we use wine or grape juice, wear robes or don't, sit on the floor with pillows or sit in pews, burn candles or not, and so one and forth ad infinitum? We do spend WAY too much time arguing over things that don't really matter as much in the eternal perspective and wasting much needed time and kingdom-energy on races that don't need to be one. We need to, as a body of Christ, figure out what hills we are willing to die on, and if it's not one of those hills that we're disagreeing about, we can probably agree to disagree. Great post, Daniel.

At 6:28 AM, Blogger Tony said...

What I didn't mention in my earlier comment, was the trouble I have with one Christian hymn in particular - so much so, I can hardly even remember the first line. 'The Church's one foundation', is it? Yes, I think so. So when we get to the rousing final line, which everyone in the pews around me seems to be lapping up and singing with the greatest possible gusto: One Church! One faith! One Lord! I can never completely avoid hearing the sub-text in my mind (thanks, sadly, to having studied German, I guess) Ein Volk! ein Reich! ein Fuhrer!

It kind of spoils the thing for you. With this going through your mind, you're bound to be a tad suspicious of grandiose longings for Christian unity and thousand-year empires.

At 7:19 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Wow! Now there's a subtext I never even imagined! But after thinking about it a moment, it shouldn't surprise. Satan is a copycat; he has a counterfeit for practically every facet of the kingdom of God. If I read Revelation 20 correctly, the thousand-year-kingdom idea originated with God.

I think we sometimes make assumptions about what empirical Christian unity would look like that are unwarranted. In other words, we assume that it would look like one big denomination, call it the "International Unified Christian Church," with one doctrine, one liturgy, one hymnody, etcetera. But I'm not sure such a thing is even possible, given the diversity of cultures in our world. So what would this observable unity look like then? I don't know; I'm making this up as I go along. =)

At 11:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hmmm, I think the ancient words of the creed echo, holy, catholic, apostolic. If you loose an aspect, it seems to me you loose them all. if there is not one, it cannot be universal, if it is not universal, it cannot be catholic, it cannot be catholic if it is not holy--(it would be rejected), and if it is not holy-or have the capacity to bring about true holiness in its members, it cannot be Christ's Church... find the church that is all 4 you have found the unifying principle.


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