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Ephesians 4:1-6: A Call of Christian Unity, Part 2

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February 7, 2011 Tags: Christian Unity
Ephesians 4:1-6: A Call of Christian Unity, Part 2

Today's entry was written by Ross Hastings. Please note the views expressed here are those of the author, not necessarily of BioLogos. You can read more about what we believe here.

This series is based on Ross Hastings’ presentation at the Vibrant Dance of Science and Faith Symposium in Austin, TX., October 26, 2010. In this post, Dr. Hastings explores Ephesians 4:1-6, which lays out the model for Christian unity that should form the foundations for our dialogue.

The complete essay can be found here.

In what follows, I want to give a basis for the preservation of the unity of the church as it comes at the issues of science and faith, and in particular as it dialogues over the more controversial areas in this arena. I would suspect this first point is not groundbreaking, new information for most of us, but it is necessary exhortation nevertheless, especially given the disparate opinions of the kind that characterize the Christian church on matters of science and faith. Consider Ephesians 4:1-6:

1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Let me offer brief comments on this text and its relevance to believers in this dialogue (or any other, for that matter):

(i) The priority of unity

I am always struck by what comes first in Paul’s exhortational or paraenetical section of this epistle. There are five exhortations towards “walking” (peripateõ) and most of us would perhaps assume the first should be about holiness or right living or ethics. But the first is about unity. This reflects the weight Paul places on it, and it is in keeping with the primary theme of the theological section, which is the creation by the reconciling God of a new humanity in Christ.

It is one new humanity, it is one body, it is one temple. In making unity first, Paul is faithfully reflecting the heart desire of his Great High Priest Jesus as that is reflected in John 17. We Evangelicals and Protestants in particular seem to worry least about what Jesus and Paul worry most—unity and catholicity. We readily use our aversion towards organizational oneness and our theology of eschatological oneness in the future to justify our ever-growing multiplicity of unconnected churches, and also the potshots we take at each other in areas such as this one.

(ii) The urgency of unity

This urgency in Paul here is further accentuated by the forcefulness of the exhortation in verse 3: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” This phrase can be rendered “take pains to keep the unity!”

Markus Barth expresses this very potently:

It is hardly possible to render exactly the urgency contained in the underlying Greek verb. Not only haste and passion, but a full effort of the whole man is meant, involving his will, sentiment, reason, physical strength, and total attitude. The imperative mood of the participle found in the Greek text excludes passivity, quietism, a wait-and-see attitude, or a diligence tempered by all deliberate speed. Yours is the initiative! Do it now! Mean it! You are to do it! I mean it! Such are the overtones in verse 3. Those given the “vocation” to walk worthily (4:1) appear to be urged to race ahead, to meet the deadline, or to receive a “prize.”1

We should not naively imagine that the preservation in earthly practice of the heavenly and organic unity that is Christological and more real will be easy. But pursue it we must. It is inimical to who we really are and it is crucial to our witness that a new humanity has been formed in Christ, and into which all are invited.

But how will this unity be preserved? Preachers are good at the “why” and not often at the “how.” There are two aspects to this “how.” The first relates to personal formation of character. The second relates to the framework for unity—a communal theological basis for unity—one that is asserted positively in an essentialist creed, which is remarkable both for its affirmations and its absences. I will take each of these in turn.

(iii) The personal character required for unity

Verse 2 reads, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” It has often been noticed that the first two of these relate to how we affect others and the last two how we are affected by others. Humble and gentle people can express their opinions and disagree agreeably without offending others. Patient and forbearing people don’t quickly react angrily when others are less than humble and gentle, and they forgive.

You don’t need me to remind you how passions run high around the issues surrounding origins, nor of the arrogance that can just very occasionally (stated ironically) be evident in very bright scientists and even more so in very bright scientists who hold theological convictions. We need a dose of humility especially to admit when we are wrong. We also need humility to ascertain when we have sufficient evidence and when we don’t. And when we don’t, we need humility to expose that our prejudices have taken over. We need humility even about our approach to knowledge given that we are all influenced by presuppositions that influence our reason.

Scientists especially need humility to know that the existence of pure reason or objectivity does not exist! Furthermore, on this pilgrim journey in which the kingdom has come but has not yet fully come, we must have the humility to know that there are some things we may not know until we reach the celestial-terrestrial city! Paul wraps all four of these traits under the head of love. He reminds us of what he says on other occasions, that there is something more important even than knowledge in the economy of God and what he wishes for us… this is love.

The Eastern Orthodox monasteries, which privilege love over knowledge, and silence over noisy thought, can teach us Western theologians a great deal about this. The words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:2 seem timely: “If I … can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.”

(iv) The communal union with Christ, which is the ground of unity:

Communal unity with Christ is expressed by Paul here in the phrase “keep the unity of the Spirit” (v. 3). This is a reality that sits over every exhortation here. It is the reality that we are one. Paul is building on all he has said in the first three chapters, and late scholarship has suggested particularly the opening paragraph which functions in this lyrical epistle like a refrain in a symphony.

What is its emphasis? That all believers in Christ are just that: in Christ. They are that by the pre-mundane electing covenant of God the Father in the Son who is both the electing God and the elect human for us (1:4; 3-6a); they are that by the redemptive reconciling work of the Son (1:6b-12); they are that by the regenerating and sealing and earnest and incorporating work of the Spirit (1:13, 14). These ontological realities are crucial to Paul’s and to my exhortation towards unity of all who profess to be believers in Christ.

Pertinent to the theology/science interface, then, we are:

  1. United in the Christ of creation and redemption. We are united by the desire to honor that Christ who is the Alpha and the Omega of creation: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty'” (Revelation 1:8);

  2. Fearless in our pursuit of truth in all aspects of science, for nothing can ever transcend the One who is the Alpha and the Omega of creation;

  3. United in the desire to participate in the redemption and reconciliation of creation (Colossians 1:15-20):

    15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

We are also united, irrespective of our positions—Creation Science, Progressive Creation, Intelligent Design, or Evolutionary Creation—in the endeavor of rescuing the church from latent dualisms, helping them affirm a theology and praxis of creation, helping them to see that Christian salvation is not salvation out of creation but of and for creation.

(v) The communal confession that is the framework for unity

We read in Ephesians 4:4-5:

4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

This seems to have been an early creed of the Christian church, either one before Paul or perhaps written especially for this letter. It is remarkable for what it contains and for what it does not contain. It is Trinitarian in structure. It is minimalist in terms of content. It is salvifically oriented or kerygmatic in its intent.

It does two things: first it unites us around the core essentials of the faith and thereby minimizes and relativizes our differences with respect to secondary issues. For example, it speaks of baptism but says nothing of its mode or timing. It defines our Christian hope without specifying whether it is premillennial, amillennial, postmillennial or pan-millennial (it’s all going to pan out in the end).

But secondly, it also provides some limits to unity. We cannot be in Christian unity with those who cannot affirm the Trinity and these essentials of triune, Christian faith. This early creedal statement, and creeds which developed from it in response to clarification of heresies and new cultures which the gospel encountered, is the guideline for our unity. In particular, the Apostles', Niceno-Constantinopolitan, and Chalcedonian creeds are sui generis in that there is nothing else like them as widely-agreed narrative and/or propositional summaries of key points of Christian doctrine.


1. Markus Barth, The Broken Wall: A Study of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1959), 428.

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.

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Roger A. Sawtelle - #50213

February 5th 2011

What I like most about this presentation is its Trinitarian form.  In some sense natural theology can be portrayed as pitting the Father/Creator against the Son/Savior.  The best corrective to this IMHO is the Logos theology of John reinforced by Paul’s statement in Colossians 1 and the statement found in Hebrews 1:1-3 that puts the Second Person into the heart of the Creation and makes it impossible to argue an antithesis between mind and matter, or the physical and the spiritual.

Again until we Christians are willing and able to take our Biblical theology seriously we are not properly answering our calling to follow Jesus, the Logos, and we are letting down the Holy Spirit, Church and our Creator.  This is our responsibility as faithful Christians to move forward in a creative manner, not anyone else’s.

Unapologetic Catholic - #50319

February 7th 2011

“Scientists especially need humility to know that the existence of pure reason or objectivity does not exist! “

I cringe when I read such vapid comments from Christian apologists.  When you are attempting to make a point about Christian unity I wonder why you cross the street to kick this dog?

Can you describe an example where this mindset led to inaccurate scientific results?

Frankly, this arrogant statement, completely unnecessary to your central point, ends up undermining it.

Darrel Falk - #50332

February 7th 2011

Hi Unapologetic Catholic,

Have you read Thomas Kuhn’s “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions?”  I think that Dr. Hastings is just stating mainstream philosophy of science here.

unapologetic catholic - #50370

February 7th 2011

I have read Kuhn, and also C.P. Snow, who had something to say about this isue as well.  I don’t think Kuhn did anything to establish that science was not self-correcting nor did he argue that those who insisted on retaining outdated ideas would not soon fade to irrelevance—but that is an enirely different discussion.  I disagree that mainstream philosphy of science is concerned at all with the lack of humility on the part of indivdiual scientists.

The point of this article is a good one—Christian unity.  I’ll suggest that THE main stumbling block to the desired unity is a lack of humility on the part of certain Christians.  I’ll name names—Dr. Mohler and Fazale Rana, just two recent examples discussed here at Biologos.

I think entirely unnecesary and unjustified calls for scientific humility distract from the very important point and invoke a valid plank-beam response that ultimately distracts from the intended message.

Darrel Falk - #50431

February 8th 2011

Dear Unapologetic Catholic,

I appreciate your point, but we at BioLogos have made mistakes.  As we enter into discussion with people who we think are sorely mistaken themselves, then we need to enter into that discussion with an attitude of humility.

With regard to *scientific* humility,  I would like to refer you to John Wright’s reviews of the work of Connor Cunningham.  It is difficult and perhaps impossible to lay out scientific facts bare.  All we have is metaphors as we seek to understand the world around us.  So scientific facts come packaged in wrappings that are deeply steeped in the culture from which we get our metaphors.  It is good for us to admit that and to try to open the packages as best as we can, but even at that we must do so humbly.

This is what Dr. Hastings is telling us here.  Even though I suspect we (you and I) think similarly about the scientific issues associated with this matter, isn’t it prudent for us to be humble about the packaging that colors our understanding of the science?

freetoken - #50424

February 8th 2011

I’ll suggest that THE main stumbling block to the desired unity is a lack of humility on the part of certain Christians.  I’ll name names—Dr. Mohler and Fazale Rana, just two recent examples discussed here at Biologos.

Good point.

I’ll go even further.  The “cross the street to kick the dog” elements, as you’ve colorfully labeled them, echo the spirit found in some other recent BioLogos essays that have explicitly targeted Dawkins (who usually tends to be quite polite and gentile in his interactions with religious people) and Coyne and Harris (who admittedly is more hostile).

Specifically, it’s all beginning to sound like… well, like desperation.  As if certain BioLogos writers are saying to Mohler and other creationists: “Hey, look at us - we don’t get along with Dawkins and Harris either, so will you now accept us?”

The entire premise of this essay is misdirected - the importance of the issues involving believing creationism and rejecting evolution don’t primarily touch upon Christian unity, but upon whether those fleeing reality and escaping into fantasy can be encouraged to face reality, and how to accomplish that without totally shattering their worldview.

Darrel Falk - #50437

February 8th 2011

Oh my goodness, Freetoken,

Have you read Drs. Wilkinson and Alexander’s engagement of the issues raised by new atheists?  Surely you are not telling us that it is inappropriate to point out where we differ and to show why we think they are wrong?  I doubt that we ever do so in ways that are disrespectful.  Karl Giberson, for example,  is playfully labelled as “Uncle Karl” by Jerry Coyne.

We believe that the new atheists are trying to use scientific data to advance their own philosophical agenda.  They want to rid the world of a relic from our past—religion.  Science has been used as their weapon and they have wielded it quite effectively, even as they reshape it to fit their agenda.

Many Christians have been deceived by this.  They have come to view science as the enemy because of the caricature painted of it by the likes of Dawkins et al.  We have much work to do as we try to erase the caricature and replace it with science as it really is.  Science is a friend of faith (not a foe), because it is an extremely effective way of gaining understanding about God’s world.  Our task is to reestablish this friendship so that we can proceed to live lives which bring glory to our Creator in a more informed and worshipful manner.

freetoken - #50557

February 9th 2011

I have been reading Drs. Wilkinson and Alexander’s essays here, though if they are writing elsewhere I have not been following it.

Surely you are not telling us that it is inappropriate to point out where we differ and to show why we think they are wrong?

I did not mean to imply it is inappropriate for BioLogos to defend itself if other authors attack writings here or to comment on other “voices” discussing evolution/creationism.

BUT, my point is that the Gnu Atheists really are not the problem when it comes to what is important in dealing with creationists who want to deny the reality of our world/universe, as modernity has come to understand via science.

And, those same atheists are not the problem when it comes to “Christian Unity”, either.

unapologetic catholic - #50825

February 11th 2011

“They have come to view science as the enemy because of the caricature painted of it by the likes of Dawkins et al. “

I’ve taken time over the past few days to review the comments made by some of the more prominent atheists regarding Christians and Christianity.  First, they themselves recognize they are not making scientific arguments and are instead arguing in the philosophical realm when arguing against religion. 

Second, the caricatures of Christians are in fact ridicule of Christians who advocate YEC and OEC positions in rejecting sound science, as distinguished from any attacks on atheism.  It is our fellow Christians who wrongly link the two.

If the response to Christain-based rejection of science is deserved ridicule, we should not kill the messenger.  It is our fellow Christians that have created the stumbling block, not those atheists who merely have the bad manners to point out the stumbling block.

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