One Church

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I just got back from a trip to China.  In my devotional today, they asked us to consider the four characteristics of the church as stated in the Nicene Creed:  “We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.”  

The Nicene Creed suggests that “We believe in the one church…”  In the face of the multitude of denominations we have in the US, and the various conflicts that we have even within a denomination, then how can we honestly proclaim, “We believe in one church”?   The body of Christ seems ever more divided.  Yet, there is a unity of church that is spiritual and substantial despite the apparent divisions in the body of Christ.

In Ephesians 4:3-6, speaking to the church, Paul says, “Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.  For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope in the future.  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, in all, and living through all.

Paul’s emphasis on God’s acceptance of both Jews and Gentiles (2:11-3:6) is now applied ethically.  In the church,  we are to accept one another.  We are to have unity in the body of Christ.  Paul’s exhortation to unity is based on the fact that there is one body of Christ.

I think we exaggerate the unity of expression in the New Testament, as if there was only one way that church was done.  So we have churches today that think they can recapture the way that church was done in the book of Acts.  But instead, I think the picture we get in the epistles and the book of Acts is that there was a variety of expressions of the church.  There were distinctions even in the churches founded by Paul, between the church in Ephesus and the church in Corinth.  There were churches that seemed to have a more Jewish character as opposed to the Greek culture of the Gentile churches.

The same is true today.  I attended a church in Beijing that was founded by American Methodists in the 1870’s.  Asbury Church in the Chongwenmen District felt as comfortable to me as any Methodist Church in the US.  Although they have their own unique worship expressions, music and hymnal, yet many of the songs are the same as in the United Methodist Hymnal.

And the other thing that I observed, the church was full.  They have some 6,000 in regular attendance, with over 40 home groups.  And they are baptizing 600 Christians a year.  The Church is alive and going strong in China.

Paul’s exhortation that there is one body and one Spirit is as true today as it was when he wrote it almost 2,000 years ago.  The same Spirit in the church in Bowie, Texas is the same Spirit who is leading the revival in China.

Whatever the differences there may be between our expressions of faith, whether Chinese or American, Baptist or Methodist, etc., we all share one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all.  The same God who is in me is also in each and every believer.  This is the source of our unity, and one day, we will all come to maturity and unity.  This is our prayer, as it was Paul’s prayer:

Ephesians 4:13–15 (NLT) This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.  14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.

Wesley is reported to have quoted this saying, “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”  We should have this same attitude today.

As you are one, O God, make the people of your new covenant one.  Help us to distinguish between what you deem to be essential and what we find to be merely convenient and comfortable.  Strengthen us for the hard work of overcoming differences we have wrongly held and cherished for generations, disagreements that undermind our efforts to share the Gospel message of reconciliation.  Bind up the wounds of your church and make it truly one body, through Christ who is its head.  Amen.

 

 

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