I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, ‘When he ascended on high He made captivity itself a captive; He gave gifts to His people.’ (When it says, ‘He ascended’, what does it mean but that He had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from Whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
The prevailing thoughts here unmistakably have to do with love and unity. Just about everything else can be subsumed under one or both of these headings. If our relationships were to be characterized by love and unity rather than dissention, disunity and contentiousness, then it would not be at all difficult to find humility, patience, forbearance, grace and truthfulness in our interpersonal relationships. Seriously!
Let me emphasize that the central point in Paul’s teaching here is absolutely not about our personal piety in relation to God. He may simply be assuming personal piety as an inevitable underlying reality. But everything he has to say here is horizontally relational: it is all about how we get along in unity and love. We’re not even to “speak the truth” apart from love! This may very well be one of the places where we are most prone to fall down. The more confident we are that we have the TRUTH in any area, the less likely we are to convey our convictions to one another in love!
Do you see how totally upside down this is? “Speaking the truth in love” does not mean digging in and demanding that others see things precisely the same way that we see them. As soon as we do that, we are damaging the unity of the faith that is supposed to characterize us. If we dig in deeply enough, we are likely to decide that we must form a whole new denomination in a Church that already has quite enough divisions.
We shared recently the remarkable story of Pope Francis speaking to a gathering of Lutherans and Catholics at which a Lutheran woman asked him whether she might ever be allowed to share in the Holy Eucharist with her Catholic husband. To this Pope Francis could only reply with the words of Paul in our passage from Ephesians: “One Lord, One Faith, One baptism.”
I spent some time on Friday pondering some possible itinerary modifications in the upcoming Chicago Master Singers tour. I thought about a possible lunch stop in a small but characterful and characteristic Belgian town by the name of Mechelen, also known as Malines. Gayle and I visited there last summer and I noticed a rather large plaque in the cathedral identifying Malines as the location for a 7-year long dialogue between Catholics and Anglicans known as the Malines Conversations (1921-1927). The entire agenda for the 7 years had but a single item: the possibility of forging a corporate reunion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. The conversations ended without anything resembling a substantive resolution of any major issues.
Many similar conversations, if less extensive, have occurred between Anglicans and Lutherans, Anglicans and Orthodox, Catholics and Orthodox, Catholics and Lutherans, etc. Notable was a gathering of Catholics and Lutherans in 1999 in Augsburg, Germany. It was there that the Augsburg Confession was drafted in 1530, a document that became the normative doctrinal statement for all Lutherans. The result of the 1999 gathering was the “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification,” and it was hailed as something of “momentous significance” and “poignant symbolism.” Unfortunately, both parties went away and separately elaborated on how it was that they could cleverly craft language on which they could agree while simultaneously retaining the very theological positions that separated them in the first place. Meetings this past week in Canterbury that were hoped to heal the deep divisions within the Anglican Communion worldwide resulted only in the sharper drawing of lines in the sand and the causing of further splintering within a single branch of the Church of Jesus Christ.
We have made very little progress towards unity and love in our relationships, whether denominational and corporate or individual. And this is nothing new. Morning Prayer in the past week has been in I Corinthians, where Paul bitterly laments the divisions of the Corinthian believers into those who were of Paul, those who were of Apollos and those who were of Cephas. The Church got a very early start on failing to focus lovingly on the things they held in common. Our earliest creeds were not written for the purpose of articulating our common faith as much as for the purpose of combating heresy. Today we still cannot come to the Eucharist as one holy catholic and apostolic Church, because there are too many bones of bitter contention that keep us apart.
The heart of Paul, the heart that we see so clearly in Ephesians, would be deeply grieved by the state of the Church today. My own heart is deeply grieved by it, though I find immense consolation in the fact that Grace Fellowship brings together persons from such diverse faith backgrounds without dissention in our study of Scripture, our fellowship and our worship. But even this small gathering of persons in Jesus’ Name could go off the rails so easily were we to drift from our loving unity as we seek to discover, affirm and speak God’s truth.
We are not talking about minor matters here. Paul started this out by exhorting, even begging us “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” He says that “each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” And he says that the whole point of God having given us His various gifts is that ultimately “all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” Then he adds, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.”
How easy it is for us to drift off into chasing the latest “wind of doctrine,” being more intrigued by its novelty than warned by its departure from the faith. You recall Paul’s lament over his flock in Galatians: “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him Who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel.” He asks, “You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?”
One Lord, one faith, one baptism: One Lord, Who was made flesh and crucified for us; One faith, by which, in the Holy Spirit, we are enabled to say simply, “Jesus is Lord;” One baptism, through which we are united with Christ in His death and resurrection.
Summarizing his teaching, Paul writes: “Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ, from Whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.”
What would the Church look like if it were “joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped?” What force might it exert in the world if it pulled together instead of pulling apart, if it were to quit playing spiritual tug-of-war? The world would take notice. They would have no choice. What a difference we could make!
This is not a matter on the same level as which candidate we like. How do we like Jesus Christ? Do we take as passionate a stand for Him as we do for our favorite candidates? Do we even mention Jesus Christ nearly as frequently as we mention political candidates? What if we had a meter that clicked each time we said a name? How would the Name of Jesus fare? Not just in our conversations “out there” in the world, but even in our conversations among ourselves.
Whoever it is that may be leading, it’s Jesus Who clearly is losing by a wide margin. Let us all take care that for us, “speaking the truth in love” means speaking His truth, openly, clearly and frequently, in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.