I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we continued our preaching series entitled “Living the Creed: Connecting Life and Faith in the Apostles’ Creed.” This series walks through the Apostles Creed as a basic summary of our faith but also as a way to live our faith out with God in the world. Each weekend of this series will explore the biblical and theological roots of the Apostles Creed, while also providing specific spiritual practices and approaches to living out what we know as we ‘proclaim and embody’ the Creed in our daily lives.

This weekend I continued preaching on the third article of the creed: “I believe in the holy Christian church, the communion of saints.” This automatically raises the important question for today: can I really still believe in the church?

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Do We Really Believe in the Church?

The challenge of the church

The challenge within us

Considering what it means to believe in the church

A Church Worth Believing In

The church is holy

  • Made holy in Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:2; 1 Peter 2:9)
  • Becoming holy through the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)

The church is universal/catholic/Christian

  • What “catholic” means and doesn’t mean
  • The universal mission of the church (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)
  • The multi-everything nature of the church (Revelation 7:9-10; Galatians 3:26-29)

The church is a communion of saints

  • “Communion” as community unified by Christ for Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
  • What are “saints”? (Ephesians 2:19-22)

Living Out Our Belief in the Church

Seeing the church through the eyes of Jesus

Expanding our vision through the global church

Being the church through the power of the Holy Spirit


Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper in one or more of the following ways:

What is All Saints Day?: a brief summary

Today, November 1, we celebrate All Saints Day. All Saints Day is a feast day in the church year that follows All Hallow’s Eve (October 31). All Saints Day offers an opportunity to remember all those saints who have gone before us in the faith and to celebrate the reality that we stand amidst a great cloud of witnesses.

The epistle to the Hebrews offers one of the most comprehensive examples of this in chapter 11, which traces the history of great people of faith who have gone before us. As the writer holds before us example after example of faith, he helps us see how their lives with God are examples to us in our daily living but also encouragement to keep going in the way of faith. Closing that great passage out, the author writes:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Not only does All Saints Day hold before us the people of faith from past times, it also offers an annual reminder of our connectedness as Christians today. In times of fracture or disunity, as well as in times of peace, All Saints Day reminds us that all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation are brought together as one new community by faith in Him. It is in light of this that the Apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians:

Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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 4:3-6)

Not only does All Saints Day lead us to look back to believers who have gone before us and around us to the believers we share communion with in Christ, but it also points us forward to the reality that we will one day gather around the throne of God. While we live here on earth, believers are spread throughout many times and places, but there will come a day when we will all be brought together into the eternal presence of the Lord. All Saints Day reminds us of that reality described in Revelation 7:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10)

Here is a traditional prayer often used for All Saints Day:

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical Body of your Son: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

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.

Putting on the Character of Christ in Divided Days

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.” (Ephesians 4:1)

In Ephesians 4:1, Paul urges the Ephesians—and us, through them—to live a life worthy of the calling we have received. The unity of the church in divided times is tied into putting on the character of Christ. The verb here is “to walk.” We need to walk worthy. We’re to walk it out. Live it out daily. What does that look like? Well, Paul tells us in verses 2-3.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:2-3)

We are to put on the character of Christ. What is that character? Well, let’s just walk through it slowly with some application to our current moment.

“Be completely humble”

Paul urges the believers toward complete humility and this is a very challenging word. Who has arrived at that? None of us. The sense of the phrase is that believers are to have a wholly humble opinion of themselves. And when we think about the way we live together in the church, we must remember that if we are quick toward a high opinion of ourselves and lack humility, unity will be destroyed.

“and gentle”

Gentleness is a strange word to us today. Who has ever heard a political leader or a CEO start their campaign or new job by saying their agenda would be gentleness? It would not usually be well received. Now there is a related word to gentleness, which we encounter in the Beatitudes, and that is “meekness.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Our experience tells us that is not true, but Jesus shows a different way. In fact, this first phrase of Paul in Ephesians 4:2, “Be completely humble and gentle,” may remind us of Jesus’ own description of Himself when He said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…” (Matthew 11:28-29) If we forsake gentleness and meekness, we do not look like Jesus. If we forsake gentleness, the unity of Christ’s people will be destroyed.

“Be patient”

If the first two words didn’t get you, this one will. Patience means long-suffering. One additional shade of meaning on this word is that such a person is slow to take vengeance. This is good because the Lord has said that vengeance is His, not ours. But if you didn’t notice, we live in a vengeful culture. Be careful of what you say or what you do. It may come back to haunt you. In fact, you may be crucified by those who accuse you. But don’t worry, the accusers usually become the accused in a culture cycling through vengeance. But the body of Christ is to exhibit a different way. We are to be patient. If we forsake patience, if we are quick to anger and swift to revenge, then unity will be destroyed.

“Bearing with one another in love”

The image here is to hold something up as one stands erect, sustaining something or, here, sustaining one another. Believers are, in a sense, to stand shoulder to shoulder, upholding one another. How do we uphold one another? In love. I really appreciate how the New Living Translation renders this: “making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.” Have you ever seen another person’s faults in the church? Have you ever seen your own? Make space…bear with one another. When we do, unity is sustained and upheld.

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

And to cap it all off, Paul says that we have to exert ourselves to keep unity. Here is an important idea: unity does not happen by accident. The natural tendency of human existence is toward disunity and disorder. Just look at your apartment or house over the course of a week. It does not become cleaner on its own, but it does become dirtier. In like manner, the gravitational pull in human relationships is toward disunity and disorder. Unity happens only through focused exertion toward that end. But also notice how Paul emphasizes the exertion is partnered with the Holy Spirit. This is not merely a human work; it is a spiritual work of God within humanity. If we do not work at it, relying upon the Holy Spirit, unity will be destroyed

These days have been hard for everyone. Churches are feeling the tension during these days. But the church is supposed to be a diverse community, with young and old, local and international, rich and poor, many professions, many ethnicities, and many opinions. We must make space for one another around Jesus and the Cross, but also choose to put on the character of Christ in our relationships.

Please pause and consider some personal reflection questions about this in the midst of the divided days:

  • how does our character match up with Paul’s exhortation here?
  • how is our humility, gentleness, patience?
  • how well are we bearing with one another in love?
  • are we exerting ourselves toward unity…or are we hoping someone else will sustain it if we speak or act impatiently, live with pride, open our mouths in gossip, and generally lean into our flesh?

May God help us to walk with Christ and in Christ as one.

A Unified Church in Divided Days

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we took a pause from our current series, “The Messiah’s Mission,” in order to talk about what it means to live as a unified church in divided days. The grounding text for this message was Ephesians 4:1-6.

You can find the message video and outline below. You can also view our current series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3)

A Prisoner for the Lord (Ephesians 4:1)

  • The situation and calling of Paul the Apostle
  • The calling of every Christian
  • It’s all about Jesus

Learning to Uphold Unity in Love (Ephesians 4:2-3)

  • Putting on the character of Christ
  • Learning love
  • Making every effort for unity

Keeping First Things First (Ephesians 4:4-6)

  • The oneness of the Triune God in the life of the church
  • “In necessary things unity; in uncertain things liberty; in all things charity.”

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into unity as the church in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize part or all of Ephesians 4:1-6
  • In your daily time with God, ask the Holy Spirit to search your heart and reveal any ways that you have gotten off track with God during this season. If there is anger, frustration, fear, or anything else, lay it down before Jesus and ask Him to renew your heart.
  • Have an extended season of intercessory prayer for the unity of the church, using John 17 as a model for what you pray for.
  • Re-engage with our series from November 2020, “One: The Being of God in the Life of the Church”