The Theological Foundation of Christian Unity
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.
As we have seen in recent reflections, one way we live out our calling as God's people is by being zealous to preserve "the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (4:3). Unity matters so much because the oneness of the church figures centrally in God's plan to unite all things in Christ (1:10; 3:10).
Yet unity among Christians is more than just a means by which God will heal the cosmos. It is also a reflection of the very nature of God, the church, and the faith of those who know God. Immediately after urging us to make every effort to preserve unity, Paul writes, "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 original Greek of this passage makes the connection between church unity and core theology even more obvious. The word translated as unity in verse 3 is henotes. The word translated as "one" in "one body and one Spirit" is hen (the neuter version of the Greek word for "one"). So, the oneness (henotes) of the church, that which we are to pursue eagerly, is a reflection of the one (hen) body and the one (hen) Spirit, not to mention the one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father.
My mind wants to jump quickly to the obvious inconsistency between this vision of oneness and the reality of the church today. Yes, we are a divided body. It often seems that we who call ourselves Christians do not even share the same hope and faith. This is indeed a problem, one I can't begin to address here, except to offer two closing reflections.
First, no matter how much we Christians might differ on matters of theology, ethics, and church order, we still have the same God: the one Spirit, the one Lord, and the one Father. Even if we don't see it or experience it, the one God and Father is "over all and through all and in all." This fundamental truth cannot be changed by our confusion.
Second, no matter how confusing our actual situation might be, no matter how much church unity seems to be lost, we should, nevertheless, be zealous for the oneness of God's people because this oneness reflects, among other things, the very nature of God. I'm not suggesting this is easy or that it's always clear what this means in practice. But the very nature of God, not to mention the clear exhortation of our text, urges us to make every effort to keep the unity of our Christian communities as a reflection of God's own unity.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: How do you respond to the list of "ones" in Ephesians 4:4-6? Given the diversity of Christian theological beliefs throughout the world today, does it still make sense to speak of "one hope" or "one faith"? How might you contribute to the unity of God's people today?
PRAYER: All praise be to you, O God, because you are one. In the mystery of your nature, you are one Father, one Son, and one Spirit. Yet you are profoundly one, three-in-one. My mind cannot fully comprehend this. Yet I acknowledge it with wonder and worship.
O Lord, may your unity be reflected in your church. May we be united in hope and faith, in ministry and mission. Where there is division in your church, we pray for the unity that you alone can forge through the Spirit.
Lord, my ability to make a difference in your larger church is quite limited. But I can work for unity in my own church, in my fellowship with other believers, in my small group, my family, my choir, my mission team. Help me to live so as to reflect your unity in all that I do and say, so that your church might be drawn together as one. Amen.
Image courtesy of Laity Lodge, one of our sister programs in the Foundations for Laity Renewal.