One Faith for One Body: Theological aspects of unity and diversity

Yesterday, I explored how Paul urges the believers in the area of Ephesus to focus on Jesus and to put on the character of Christ. But Paul doesn’t stop there. Now he addresses our theology, urging the believers—and us—to keep first things first.

“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.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

There is a Trinitarian theme within these verses that reminds us that our unity—our oneness—is based first on the life of the Triune God in the life of the church. For more on that, you may want to return to a series I preached at Eastbrook in November 2020 entitled “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church.”

Paul shows us here that, along with character, theological unity also upholds our unity as a church.

We hold together around the unity of our faith. Our understanding of God and right doctrine for the Christian is vitally important for the unity of the church. This is why when we approach the Lord’s table, we recount the essence of our faith in the Apostles Creed.

It is because of who God is and what He has done that the fundamental unity to the church can be described as “one body.”

Of course, there is a diversity within that body. So, let me tell you something that is going to be shocking. Brace yourself. “Not everyone in the church views life the same way you or I do.” I know. This is a groundbreaking insight here.

In all seriousness, as we walk in humility and gentleness, as we walk in love and patience, as we exert ourselves to uphold unity, we need to make space for others who are different than us. Unity does not mean uniformity.

There is a well-worn phrase in Christian theology that dates back at least to the 17th century that says:“In necessary things unity; in uncertain things liberty; in all things charity.”

This phrase came to particular strength during the political and theological crises of the 30 Years’ War in Europe from 1618 to 1648. Theological differences led to political strife, resulting in one of the most destructive conflicts in European history. Estimates of military and civilian deaths range from 4.5 to 8 million.[1]  This does not mean that truth does not matter. But it does mean we should be wise about what is necessary belief and where there is space for diversity of belief. This requires discernment about what it means to keep first things first and second things second. It also means that we need to pay attention to when second things are trying to become first. Each local church or denomination has specific distinctives about them, such as baptismal practice, and that is just fine. But if we start to make baptismal practice necessary for salvation, then we may be getting off track. Let me put it another way. If we start to make certain approaches to health issues or certain political parties or agenda points first things, you can be assured that we are moving off course.

Theology is important. The Trinity and Unity are first things. But we need to give permission for people to be in a different place from us as we gather around Jesus. Our view on masks can be different, but loving our brothers and sisters is not optional. There is space for diversity on politics, but we cannot be diverse about our faith in the Triune God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can hold loosely to our understanding of the causes and best ways to deal with the pandemic, but we must hold firmly to the Holy Spirit and humility, gentleness, love, and patience if we want the unity of Christ’s church to be upheld.

And so, let’s pause here to consider a few questions about theological unity amidst our diversity:

  • are we holding to good theology rooted in the Holy Trinity or have we let that go?
  • is there any way in this past year or more that we have allowed secondary things to become primary things?
  • are we asking people to not only stand with us but be just like us to be our friends, our family, or part of our church community?

[1] “Thirty Years’ War,” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years%27_War.

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