A Unified Church
Surely, every person here would agree that unity in the Church is very important. What I hope to demonstrate from the Scriptures this morning, is the nature of the unity we are called to.
For the Christian Church is not called to a superficial kind of unity, it is not called to a handholding kind of unity, but it is called to a unity that mirrors the unity of the Trinity. This is what Jesus prayed for in John 17, praying that, "(the Church) may be one, as (He and the Father) are one"(Jn. 17:22).
Looking to Ephesians, chapter 4, to learn about the nature of Christian unity, we should first look to the end of chapter 3 to see our motivation for Christian unity.
Ephesians chapter 3 ends with a doxology, reminding the church of its ultimate purpose, when Paul writes in verse 21, "to God be the glory in the church".
This, my friends, is the reason for our unity. If we are to be the instrument by which God's glory is to become evident to the world, then it follows that we must be united. This is the reason Jesus prayed for unity in the Church, "that the world may know that Thou didst send Me"(Jn. 17:23).
Since unity is vital to our Christian witness, we should ask ourselves, "How can we nurture unity within our church?". The apostle Paul answers this question in Ephesians, chapter 4, when he entreats us to "walk in a manner worthy of (our) calling"(v.1).
And, in the verses that follow, Paul describes for us the manner in which we are to walk, exhorting us walk "with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all".
First of all, Paul says that the worthy walk of the Christian must be done with "all humility". It takes a humble person to admit that they don't have all the answers. It takes a humble person to admit that their theology is a work in progress. It takes a humble person to refrain from insisting on their own way.
The second virtue Paul calls us to is "gentleness". Gentleness comes from the Greek word, praoteôs (prah-ot'-ace ), which is often translated as "meekness". The best definition I've heard for meekness is "strength under control".
Meekness, like humility, is also necessary for the preservation of unity. We sometimes refer to certain people in the church as having "strong personalities". Strong personalities are OK so long as they are under control. Where there are strong personalities, but no humility; where there are strong personalities, but no meekness, there can be no unity. If the first step to unity is humility, the second step is meekness.
The third and fourth virtues that Paul calls us to are very similar in meaning. Paul calls us to have "patience", and to show "forbearance" towards one another. The instruction to be patient has to do with how we respond to the faults of others. The reference to forbearance reminds us that tolerating the faults of others is not a onetime act, but an ongoing practice that is only possible where there is patience.
It has been written of the Reformer, Martin Luther, that he had such a bad temper that he once called John Calvin "a pig" and "a devil". And Calvin, understanding the need to patiently forbear in order to preserve Christian unity, replied, "Luther may call me what he will, but I will always call him a dear servant of Christ."
And, of course, we must not forget "love". Paul says that we are to exercise all of these virtues--humility, meekness, patience, and forbearance--"in love". This makes perfect sense. It is love that makes all of the other virtues possible.
The reality is that the church is made up of people with different temperaments, different tastes, and different habits. And these differences aren't necessarily bad. Unity does not require that we try to become identical to one another.
The late A.W. Tozer would often argue that, while the Church was to pursue unity, it was to do so by endeavouring to become like Christ. And, to articulate his understanding of unity, Tozer would employ the analogy of tuning pianos. If a hundred pianos were merely tuned to each other, their pitch would not be very accurate. But if they were all tuned to one tuning fork, they would automatically be tuned to each other.
Similarly, unity in the church isn't trying to be the same as everyone else. Rather, it is becoming like Jesus Christ.
It is our union with Christ that provides the basis for our union with one another. And our union with Christ is something He establishes. This is why Paul writes, "be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit "(v.3). Because of what Christ has done, we do not need to manufacture unity--it is something that already exists. Our responsibility is to preserve unity, our responsibility is to guard unity, not to manufacture it.
Our unity is based on the fact that Christians share the same Holy Spirit, they share the same Lord Jesus, and the same God and Father of all. Paul also tells us that there is a common hope, a common faith, and a common baptism that should unite us.
Unity, as you can see, is much more than just getting along. There is more to unity than holding a service and inviting Anglicans, Baptists, and United Church members to attend. Unity requires that we remain tuned to the tuning fork. Unity requires that we hold the same beliefs about who God is--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And unity requires that we hold to the same faith--that we hold to the same gospel.
Unity breaks down when, instead of "one faith", several are entertained. Unity breaks down when we fail to comprehend that we belong to God and we exist for His glory.
It is interesting to note, that before Paul admonishes the Ephesians to be an effective church, he exhorts them to be united. Paul understands that unity is necessary before lasting progress in the church can be realized.
As I think about the connection between unity and progress in the church, I am reminded of my days as a competitive rower. In the late 1980s, I was on a rowing crew that was favoured to win the Canadian championship in the division of lightweight 8s. For one of our "tune-up" races, we entered the Southern Ontario Rowing Championship. Since we were expecting to win easily, we were extremely disappointed when we finished 2nd.
Our coach was so disappointed that he decided to punish us by making us race again as a late entry in the heavyweight division. Now, I need to tell you, that the heavyweights and the lightweights are in different divisions for good reason. These heavyweights were monstrous! I mean, these guys were the strongest of the strong. Because our crew was quite good, however, we expected to beat some of the crews in the race. But winning the race would be very difficult because we would be racing against our own heavyweight crew. You see, if any of the boys in my crew were better than any of the heavyweights we would have been in that crew .
As it turns out, our group of eight, 150-pound teenagers, won the race. We beat all the heavyweight crews that day, including our own.
How did we do it? We rowed together. We were all in sync. Individually, there was not a member of my crew who could out-pull an individual from the heavyweight crew. It did not matter that the heavyweights worked harder and pulled harder than us. They did not pull in unison and so they could not win the race.
As I think about our two congregations, there is no doubting how hard we work. There is no doubting how much effort is being put in by a multitude of individuals . . . But let me ask you this morning: If our congregation was a rowing crew, how would we fair in a race?
I learned from rowing that working hard does not always guarantee that a group of people will succeed. In order to maximize success, I learned a group must work hard, and work together, in order to succeed.
Working together is not as easy as it might sound. My rowing crew was made up of a diverse group of individuals. But the key to our success was that we shared common beliefs about how to win a race, and we shared a common goal.
The apostle Paul, at times, describes the Christian journey as a race. If we are to finish the race successfully, it is imperative that we guard the "one faith" which has been entrusted to us. It is imperative that we hold common beliefs and strive towards a common goal.
Many motivational talks use phrases like "we need everyone on board" and "we need everyone to pull their weight". The apostle Paul challenges us to do more--he challenges us to pull in unison. To God be the glory in this church. Amen.