Ephesians 4:1-6: A Call of Christian Unity, Part 1
Note: This essay was originally posted February 3, 2011.
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Vandel.
This series is based on Ross Hastings’ presentation at the Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX., October 26, 2010. The overall intent is to provide a biblical and theological basis for healthy and fruitful dialogue on the theology and science of origins. In today’s post, Dr. Hastings points out that unity among believers, especially in discussing potentially divisive issues, is a foundational theological truth.
The complete essay can be found here.
Christians are One as Jesus and the Father are One
Let us begin with some profound words about truth seeking written by Thomas Merton:
We make ourselves real by telling the truth. … To destroy truth with truth under the pretext of being sincere is a very insincere way of telling a lie … A man of sincerity is less interested in defending the truth than in stating it clearly, for he thinks that if the truth can be clearly seen it can very well take care of itself. Fear is perhaps the greatest enemy of candor.1
My own interest in theology and science arises out of a curiosity to know the truth that takes care of itself in every realm of reality, and that sets us free. It is motivated by the presupposition that all truth is God’s and that all truth concerning the creation of the universe and its reconciliation is centered in the God-Man Jesus who said, “I am the truth” (John 14:6).
My interest in science and faith and their integration comes also out of two vocations in which disbelief that this is possible has often been expressed by people I have met, some who are people of faith, and many who are not. I have found, over the years of playing the occasional golf game with people I don’t know, that when, during the round, my vocation as a pastor comes out, they are often terribly embarrassed about the expletives they have been uttering in the round up to that point. When I tell them that I played a lot of rugby and am used to this kind of language, and it’s between them and God anyway, they are not always put at ease.
When I tell them that I have a PhD in chemistry, they are utterly bewildered, and usually say, “How do you put those two things together?” Their reactions epitomize the Enlightenment dichotomization of fact (the realm of science) and faith (the realm of religion), and have energized me towards this science-faith dialogue, and in recent years, back to the question of origins.
The dictum of Augustine and Anslem that the pursuit of truth is always a “faith seeking understanding” prospect has for me been the basis on which I have sought to debunk the scientism of the secularist on the one hand, and on the other hand, to encourage Christians to become aware of science and to embolden fledgling young scientists to pursue truth fearlessly in careers in science.
My interest in Christian unity in the dialogue on origins comes out of having served churches in which all shades of opinion were present and how I, with fellow leaders, have sought to manage this. I want therefore to bring my reflections on the foundations of unity and forward motion towards unity in the context of an exposition of Ephesians 4. I write as a pastor or pastoral theologian and so I shall seek to do so in the manner in which a pastor should, through exposition of the Word of God.
Before looking at this passage however, I want to charge it with the elements of the prayer of Jesus on unity, John 17:20-23. I suspect that Paul may have been conscious of this prayer as he wrote this section of his epistle.
20 My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
As we eavesdrop here on the inner communion of the Trinity, we get to hear what’s on the heart of the Son as he pours it out to his Father. And what we hear is his deepest desire for the church—its unity.
Jesus defines it as a unity grounded in two unions—that between the Father and the Son (Trinitarian union) and that between believers who are in the Father and the Son (participatory union). The former is brought about by the incarnation or hypostatic union of God with humanity, and the latter in the indwelling of the Spirit, which brings about the regeneration and incorporation of saints into Christ as His church.
There can be no more profound aspect of the gospel than this, one which does not negate the forensic aspect of the gospel, but which precedes it in God’s intention for humanity, and surpasses it. These words about our organic unity in the triune God need to pervade our deliberations.
With this in mind, my next post will look closely at Ephesians 4:1-6 and what that passage has to say to us about Christian unity.
Ross Hastings is an associate professor of Pastoral Theology at Regent College, Vancouver British Columbia. Hastings teaches in the areas of the theology and spirituality of mission, pastoral theology and ethics. He has served as a pastor in Kingston, ON, Burnaby, BC, and Montreal, QC, and for eleven years as the senior pastor of Peace Portal Alliance Church in White Rock, BC. He has earned two PhDs, one in organo-metallic chemistry at Queen’s University (ON), and the other in theology at St. Andrew’s University, in his native Scotland. His theological dissertation is a comparative study of the Trinitarian theology of Jonathan Edwards and Karl Barth and is in the publication process.