Grow Up: The Faith That Leads to Unity and GrowthDaily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
In yesterday's reflection, we observed that the body of Christ is to grow up "until we all reach unity in the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God" (4:13). Today, I want to focus on faith at it appears in this verse. What kind of faith leads to the unity and maturity of the people of God?
These days, if people ask you, "Do you have faith in God?" they almost always mean, "Do you believe that God exists?" Faith is essentially a matter of belief. Faith encompasses the assertions we affirm even when reason can't prove them to be true. In biblical language, however, faith is generally much more personal and volitional than belief, though it includes belief. In the writings of Paul, for example, the Greek word pistis, which is usually translated as "faith," could often be translated as "trust." So, in Ephesians 2:8 we read, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith." The faith that allows us to receive God's grace is more than mere belief. Yes, we must believe that God will save us by his grace offered in Jesus Christ. But, saving faith goes beyond this affirmation to a decision to trust Christ as our Savior and Lord. We are saved by God's grace as we put our trust in Jesus Christ.
When Paul writes that the body of Christ should grow "until we all reach unity in the faith," the notion of faith as trust surely colors his thinking. But, in this particular case, "the faith" points more in the direction of the core truths of Christian faith. The context of Ephesians 4 makes this reading clear. In verse 5, Paul mentions "one faith" as related to "the unity of the Spirit." Using "one" to qualify "faith" suggests that the shared content of belief is intended. Then, in verse 14, Paul explains that when we grow to maturity in Christ, "we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching . . ." Moreover, we will grow out of our infancy when we speak "the truth in love" (4:15). Thus, in a chapter where Paul mentions "one faith," infancy exploited by "teaching," and "speaking the truth," "the faith" in verse 13 means something like "the core truth" revealed by God and affirmed by the earliest Christians. "The faith" includes the basic affirmations of the Gospel, what second-century Christians called regula fidei or "the rule of faith."
The unity of the body of Christ, therefore, is essentially connected to the core truth of Christian faith. While this may be intuitive to some, many Christians today and many churches would disagree. They view unity as a matter of getting along with others, of accepting all people no matter what they might believe or do, of working together to make the world a better place in spite of our core theological differences. The biblical command to "speak the truth in love" has been replaced by "affirm all people no matter what truth they might believe in love." Some would even argue that church unity is hampered when we put too much emphasis on "the faith," on core beliefs.
Now, to be sure, we can engage in a spirited debate over what exactly belongs to the essential faith of Christianity. (Personally, I'd be satisfied if we all agreed to affirm the first three chapters of Ephesians.) But, if we want our unity to be consistent with biblical revelation, then we will affirm that it must be grounded in and nurtured by "the faith" centered in Jesus Christ and expressed in the Gospel. Therefore, if we seek to grow in Christ and if we seek to contribute to growth and unity of Christ's church, then we will seek as well to be people of God's truth.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you understand the relationship between Christian unity and Christian truth? If a shared embrace of "the faith" is essential to unity, why do doctrinal debates so often lead to disunity? In what ways are you growing in your understanding of "the faith," that is, the core truths of Christianity?
PRAYER: Gracious God, help me, I pray, to be someone who is continually seeking your truth. May I invest my time and energy in knowing you and your Word more fully and deeply.
Help my church, I pray, to be a church unified and growing in "the faith." I pray especially for my pastor, who clearly and boldly proclaims biblical truth each week. Give him wisdom and insight. Give him confidence and humility. Help him to shape our community so that we might be people of "the faith," thus growing in unity and in you. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge Youth Camp, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.