One Body in Christ

Wednesday: One Church

Romans 12:4-5 In this week’s studies we see what the Church is, and are reminded of the unity we have with fellow believers.
One Church

There is a second important truth about the Church taught by Paul’s image of it as Christ’s body. Not only does that image define the Church as the community of those who have been joined to Christ. It also teaches that there is but one Church. That is, there are not multiple churches, even less mutually competing churches. There is but one Church, because Jesus has but one body. 

In the fourth chapter of Ephesians there is a section of Paul’s writing that parallels the ideas we find in Romans 12, only with greater elaboration since Ephesians is basically a book about the Church. Significantly, this passage occurs at the same point in Ephesians as our passage in Romans does, that is, at the point where Paul begins to apply the earlier doctrine of salvation to Christian living. He talks about believers being “humble and gentle,” for example. Then he talks about the unity of the Church, saying, “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” (Eph. 4:4-6). 

There are seven important unities in this passage. 

One Body. This is an important image for the Church, because it pictures it as an organic whole rather than as a machine that is made up of independent parts. The Church is not an airplane, a train or an automobile. It is an organism in which the parts are alive and both support and depend on one another. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes, “God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor. 12:24-26). 

One Spirit. The word “Spirit” is capitalized in this phrase and rightly so, because Paul is not thinking here that Christians share the same spirit in the sense that they are one in their enthusiasms and goals. That might be desirable in itself, but it is not what he is thinking about. He is thinking of the work of the Holy Spirit in drawing us to Christ. We are all different. We have come to Christ along different roads. However, the reason we have come along those roads at all is that the same Holy Spirit has been drawing us, so that at the theological level our conversion experiences are the same. We have all been awakened to our need. We have all been made alive in Christ. We have all believed on Him. Moreover, the Holy Spirit is performing a work of sanctification in each of us, so that we are all working for Christ and are beginning to produce the fruit of the Holy Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23), if we are truly Christians. 

One Hope. Today the word “hope” usually means something that is uncertain. In the New Testament it refers to what is “sure and certain” but for which we wait. Paul calls this “one hope” because it embraces a unifying set of beliefs among Christians, namely, the return of Jesus Christ, the Resurrection and the Final Judgment. Another way of thinking about the Christian’s hope is to say that when Jesus returns we are going to be with Him, all of us. People from all races and nations and economic backgrounds will be together with Jesus, and the many things that divide us now will be forgotten. If that is so, shouldn’t there be ways in which we reach across denominational, racial and other barriers and work together now. Shouldn’t we be able to demonstrate our unity better than we do? 

One Lord. To hear some Christians talk, you would think that there are many Lords. “I know a Jesus who causes me to do this, which excludes you,” some say. Or, “Your Jesus isn’t the Jesus I know.” Well, there is such a thing as believing in or proclaiming a false Christ, who is not the Lord. We are not to have fellowship with unbelief. But usually that is not our problem. Our real problem is that we distrust Christians who are not made precisely in our mold. We need to realize that if others really believe in Christ, then the fact that we have this same Lord should draw us together. 

One Faith. This is not the subjective “faith” which we must have to be Christians. Here the word is being used objectively to refer to the content of faith or the Gospel, and it is teaching that there is only one body of genuine Christian doctrine, whatever our own limited understandings of it may be. Indeed, if we are really Christians, our differences must be in minor areas since by definition we all believe the major doctrines. As a rule, it would be helpful for us to explore the areas in which we agree with other Christians before we explore the points at which we differ. 

One Baptism. It is interesting that Paul should include baptism in a list of things that unite us since, as we know, a diverse understanding of baptism is one of the things that has divided denominations most severely. The explanation, of course, is that Paul is not thinking of modes of baptism or even whether or not infants should be baptized. He is thinking of baptism as the sacrament in which we are publicly identified with Christ. Have you been identified with Jesus Christ by baptism? If so, then you are also identified with all others who have likewise been baptized in His name. 

One God. The final point of unity is “one God.” We notice here that the first three of these points are grouped around the Holy Spirit: one body, one Spirit, one hope. The next three are grouped around the Lord Jesus Christ: one Lord, one faith, one baptism. This last item concerns the third person of the Godhead only. 

Why is this the order? Probably because Paul is thinking from the effect to the cause. He begins with our being part of the Church, and he asks, in effect, “How did we get to be part of the Church?” The answer is, by the Holy Spirit joining us to Christ. The Holy Spirit made us part of one body and gave us one hope. Next question: “What, then, is the Church?” Answer: Those who have Jesus Christ as Lord, who have believed on Him and His work, and who have been identified with Him publicly by baptism. The final questions are: “But why did Jesus do this? And where did the idea of the Church come from anyway?” The answer is: Because it was God the Father’s plan. The idea of the Church comes from God the “Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (v. 6). 

John Stott talks about the Trinity as the essential basis for church unity and sums it up like this: 

There can be only one Christian family, only one Christian faith, hope and baptism, and only one Christian body, because there is only One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You can no more multiply churches than you can multiply Gods. Is there only one God? Then He has only one church. Is the unity of God inviolable? Then so is the unity of the church…. It is no more possible to split the church than it is possible to split the Godhead.1

1John R.W. Stott, God’s New Society: The Message of Ephesians (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1979), 151. 

Study Questions
  1. What is the second important truth about the Church?
  2. Read Ephesians 4:4-6. List and describe the seven important unities in this passage?

Application:  How can you and your church display a greater degree of Christian unity with other Christians from different churches and denominations? 

Key Point: People from all races and nations and economic backgrounds will be together with Jesus, and the many things that divide us now will be forgotten. If that is so, shouldn’t there be ways in which we reach across denominational, racial and other barriers and work together now. Shouldn’t we be able to demonstrate our unity better than we do?

For Further Study: Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “The Fifth Mark of the Church: Unity.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

For Further Study: James Boice’s sermons on Romans 12:1-2 are available in paperback, and would be a profitable study for a Sunday school series or other group setting. Order your copy of Renewing Your Mind in a Mindless World, and receive 20% off the regular price.

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