by J. Randal Matheny, editor
With seven words the apostle Paul sums up the elements that unite the followers of Christ. The unity given by the Holy Spirit is preserved when Christians make these a part of their faith and practice in the form in which they were given by the Lord (Ephesians 4:1-3).
The seven items of Ephesians 4:4-6 are arranged so that the first item corresponds to the seventh, the second to the sixth, the third to the fifth. In this way, there is a match between the body and God, the Spirit and immersion, hope and faith. The central element, the Lord Jesus Christ, receives the emphasis.
It’s likely that Paul begins his list with the body, because the church is his theme in the Ephesian letter.
But how can all these elements serve as the basis for unity, when there are so many churches (denominations), different teachings about hope (premillienialism, for example), so many beliefs and diverse forms and purposes of baptism? Just as one author considered baptism in water as an “unsafe basis of unity.”
For this reason there are so many ecumenical efforts to reach unity without these elements. (It’s the religious equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.)
The solution is to speak and teach only what the Lord Jesus Christ teaches about them.
So we must return to being the one body of Christ, the only church of the Lord (Ephesians 1:22-23), without human names, creeds or doctrines. The very concept of denominations (divisions) is against the teaching of the Bible (John 17; 1 Corinthians 1-4).
We must submit ourselves to the revelation of the Holy Spirit (the Bible), without giving space to human opinions and conclusions about our faith. We must “hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7). And we must understand that the power for transforming lives is in him, beginning at immersion (John 3:3, 5; Romans 8:13; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 3:16).
We must make Jesus Christ the only Lord in the church. He retains all authority (Matthew 28:18) and on that basis commands that all his commandments be taught and kept. No one can impose something or practice in the church what he has not commanded. As he spoke only what the Father gave him to speak (John 12:49-50), so we say only what he has given us to say.
We must profess and preach the same faith. As Alexander Campbell wrote, “The faith is public property; opinions are, and always have been private property.” By this he meant that the divine revelation, the gospel of Christ, is what we have in common. The pair faith-hope almost certainly refer to the objects of our faith and hope, and not the subjective exercise of them. It is this single faith once for all entrusted to the church and codified as Scripture that Jude insisted upon (Jude 3).
We must unite upon the practice of immersion in water of a repentant person, in order to receive forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:1-4; 1 Peter 3:21). Other religious rituals, though they are called baptism, diverge from the teaching of Scripture and cause division.
God is Father of all the members of the body of Christ. He is not Father of those who follow their own path, who hold to human traditions or fulfill selfish desires. To welcome such is to bring the world’s confusion into the church. Unity sometimes means closing the door to those who lack the Spirit, rebel against the Lord and refuse the rule of God.
Jesus prayed for unity. Paul insisted upon it. And God has given us the means for unity. The divine mathematics: seven is equal to one.
by J. Randal Matheny, editor