By Mike Willis
(In this article, we continue to study the important Bible texts on the subject of unity in Christ. Ephesians 4:1-6 is one of the most important texts on the subject.)
4. Ephesians 4:1-6. Paul revealed the platform for unity in Ephesians 4 when he wrote,
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in 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 you all.
From this text, we learn several essentials for unity.
a. Attitudes essential for unity. Unity cannot exist unless the proper attitudes towards each other are present. Here are the essential attitudes for unity: (1) Lowliness: lowly thinking; humility; esteeming ourselves small. Arrogant men bent on having their own way destroy the unity of the saints. (2) Meekness: patient submissiveness to offense; meek; gentle. When men are unyielding and vengeful, the unity of the church is destroyed. (3) Longsuffering: slowness in avenging wrongs, the opposite of quick tempered. The Greek word makrothumia is a compound word made up of makros (long) and thumos (temper); we speak of being short tempered but have no corresponding English word for long tempered. (4) Forbearing: having patience with someone until the provocation is past. Injuries and insults will come to Christians; forbearance enables one to endure the insults and injuries without quitting, dividing the church or retaliating in any form. Many divisions are caused by sinful attitudes that manifest themselves in sinful actions.
b. Platform for unity. The seven ones lay down a platform for Bible unity. On these we must be agreed:
(1) One body. The body is the church (Eph. 1:22-23). So long as men think that there are many churches, they will not have the unity for which Christ prayed. Paul taught that both Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God in one body (Eph. 2:16). If two bodies (churches) one for the Jew and one for the Gentile were not tolerated in the first century, why should we conclude that more than one church is acceptable today?
The “one body” refers to the church universal. Men have different concepts of what the “one body” is. Some have the idea that the one body is composed of men of all denominations. The church is not composed of saved people from all denominations. One reason that we know that this is true is because the denominations founded by men do not teach men correctly how to be saved. The Catholic Church teaches salvation through meritorious works and the Protestant churches teach salvation by faith only. Neither teaches the conditions for salvation revealed in the Bible. Since those who compose these churches have not been born of the water and the Spirit (John 3:3,5), they are not citizens of the kingdom of heaven.
Furthermore, the one body is not composed of factions teaching conflicting doctrines, as would be the case if the church universal were composed of the Baptist Church, Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Catholic Church, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists, etc.
The platform of unity for the body of Christ must begin with the recognition that there is but one church. The one body of Christ has no intercongregational governing body. There are no synods, councils, or popes that have governing authority over local congregations. The universal church has Christ as its head and the inspired writings of the apostles and prophets which compose the New Testament are its only creed.
The saints who compose the universal church organize themselves into local congregations. Members of the universal church are commanded to band themselves together into local congregations for worship and to carry on the work of the Lord. The Lord has revealed a pattern for the work, worship, organization, terms of membership, etc. of the local church. In order for unity to exist, this pattern must be respected and adhered to by Christians. Consider these aspects of the pattern for the local church:
(1) The worship of the local church. The worship of the local church consists of five acts: (a) The observance of the Lord’s supper. The Lord’s supper is observed on the first day of every week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20; 16:1-2) and consists of the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine (1 Cor. 11:23-26). (b) Teaching the revealed word of God (cf. 1 Cor. 14:23-26; Acts 20:7). (c) Congregational singing (1 Con 14:15; Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). (d) Prayer (1 Cor. 14:15; Acts 2:42). (e) Giving (1 Cor. 16:1-2). The unity for which Christ prayed demands that only scriptural worship be offered to God. Departures from the pattern for congregational worship, whether they be through a perversion of the Lord’s supper (e.g. changing the day on which it is observed, the frequency with which it is observed, or the items used), prayer (praying through the name of Mary), singing (introducing mechanical instruments of music, choirs, quartets and other special singing groups), preaching (changing the content or using women preachers), or giving (taking collections on days other than the first day of the week, demanding tithing, using business enterprises to raise funds, etc.) will destroy the unity of the church.
(2) The conditions for membership. The conditions for membership in the local church begin with a recognition that a person has been saved from sin (Acts 2:47; 9:26-27). The local church has no right to extend fellowship to those who have not obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. There can be no fellowship with those outside of Christ (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). The conditions for salvation are as follows: belief of the gospel of Christ, repentance of sins, confession of faith in Christ, and baptism (immersion) in water for the remission of sins. The church has no authority to extend fellowship to anyone who has not done these things.
Even as the extending of fellowship to a person is conditioned upon the recognition that he is in fellowship with Christ, fellowship can be maintained only so long as the local congregation perceives that fellowship with Christ is maintained. Sin breaks one’s fellowship with Christ; it also leads to the breaking of one’s fellowship with the local church when the sinner refuses to repent of his sins. (The local church must work with the erring to bring him to repentance. When efforts to restore the erring fail, the sin which broke the fellowship with Christ will eventually lead to the breaking of fellowship with those who are following Christ. See 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3:6,14; 2 John 9-11; Matt. 18:15-17.)
The unity of the church is limited to fellowshipping those who are perceived to be in fellowship with Christ. Bible unity cannot be attained and maintained unless these conditions for membership in the local church are respected.
(3) The work of the local church. Unity in the local church depends upon members respecting the pattern for the work of the church. The Bible authorizes the church to be involved in the works of evangelism (1 Tim. 3:15; Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16), relieving the benevolent needs of its members (Acts 2:45; 4:32-37; 6:1-6; 1 Tim. 5:1-16), and edifying the church (Acts 20:32; Eph. 4:12-13). When the local church becomes involved in programs of work not authorized by the Bible it undermines the basis for unity.
(4) The organization of the local church. The Lord revealed a pattern for the government of the local church. First of all, the Lord retained all legislative authority for himself (Matt. 28:18; Jas. 4:12). Second, he authorized elders (also known as bishops, overseers, pastors, shepherds) to oversee the local church (Acts 20:28). Their qualifications are revealed in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. Third, elders’ authority is limited to the local church (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3). Fourth, the Lord revealed that deacons should be appointed to serve in the local church (1 Tim. 3:8-13). The unity for which Christ prayed is destroyed by the creation of offices not authorized in the Scriptures.
The unity for which Christ prayed can be found in adherence to the one body. To the degree that men depart from the revealed pattern for the church they create division. By restoring the pattern of New Testament Christianity, we are laying the platform for unity with every other saint who is loyal to King Jesus.
(2) One Spirit. The one Spirit is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s work was to reveal to man the word of God (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:8-13). In 1 Corinthians 12:3, Paul wrote, “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy “Ghost.” Those who follow the one Spirit follow the one revelation given by the Holy Spirit. He will recognize that the things written by the apostles and prophets “are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37).
The modern concept of Pentecostalism destroys the unity of the church by making men believe that any strong inclination they may have is the leading of the Holy Spirit. Those who have accepted this concept of the leading of the Spirit preach conflicting doctrines and practice different kinds of religious worship. The Lord commands that we “try the spirits” to see if they are of God (1 John 4:1). Isaiah wrote, “To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (8:20). To the degree that we abide within the revelation given by the one Spirit, we promote the unity of the church. When we depart from the revelation of the one Spirit, we create division.
(3) One hope. The one hope of the Christian is the hope for abiding in the presence of the Lord in heaven through-out all eternity. It is the hope of our calling. This living hope is grounded in the resurrection of Christ from the dead; it promises an “inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:4,5).
As modernism undermined the faith of the mainline denominations, they gave up the hope for heaven. They scoffed at the one hope, calling it “the pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye.” Having rejected the biblical hope, they created their own hope. They turned to create a brave, new world. The mainline Protestant denominations joined forces with various social movements in the United States to create their “heaven on earth.” They tried to create better labor conditions, rid cities of the ghetto, remove racial tensions, protest the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and other such social movements. The modern Pentecostals preach a “health and wealth” gospel, making health and wealth the goals or the hope of Christianity. Many Fundamentalists preach a thousand year reign of Christ on earth as the hope for Christians. Others focus their hope on the rapture.
To the degree that we remove the focus from the one hope of the gospel, we create movements which lead us in different directions and to division. You can understand the difference in the mission of the church which would exist between those who are working to attain heaven at the resurrection of the dead and those who work for homosexual rights. How can these two walk together when they have no common goal?
(4) One Lord. The one Lord of this verse is the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter said, “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:37). The principle of recognizing Jesus as Lord is taught in several verses. Consider the following: “And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46) “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Yet cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24). Recognizing Jesus as the one Lord obligates us to put obedience to him as our foremost obligation.
When the denominational synod meets together and decides that women can be ordained as bishops and homosexuals can be appointed preachers, the Christian is obligated to ignore those who usurp the throne of Christ and render allegiance to the one Lord. To the degree that men depart from obedience to the one Lord, they create division. We promote the unity of the church by recognizing and following the one Lord.
(5) One faith. The word pistis can be used in a number of senses. It can refer to one’s personal faith, faithfulness in discharging responsibility, or what is believed, the contents of belief. In this verse the one faith is the contents of belief. This is the one faith spoken of in Jude 3
.. ye should contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” There is but one body of doctrine to be preached and believed by saints.
The modem concept of denominationalism which teaches that there are many faiths undermines the unity of the church. Ecumenists have divided the New Testament into two sections: gospel and doctrine. Under gospel, they arbitrarily listed those things which men must believe in common to have unity (inspiration of the Scriptures, the virgin birth, bodily resurrection of Christ, the miracles of the Bible, and a few other things); under doctrine they listed the peculiar dogmas of each denomination. The ecumenical denominations maintained unity-in-diversity based on common belief in the doctrines labeled “gospel.” As the years passed, the number of items included in “gospel” diminished. Now a person can believe anything and hold membership in such denominations as the Episcopal Church.
Other experiments in unity-in-diversity, such as that followed by the Evangelicals, ultimately lead to an acceptance of those who have departed from the one faith in doctrine and/or practice. The Evangelicals are perfectly willing to extend fellowship to those who use women preachers, have loose views on divorce and remarriage, have different practices regarding water baptism, etc. They simply categorize these matters as “doctrine” and agree to disagree regardless of what the one faith reveals on the subject.
To the degree that we abide in the doctrine of Christ, walking by faith in the faith once for all delivered unto the saints, we promote the unity of the church. To the degree that we depart from that faith, we create and perpetrate division.
(6) One Baptism. The one baptism of this text is the baptism of the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:15-16; cf. Matt. 28:18-20). The apostle Peter told those on the day of Pentecost to “repent and be baptized” for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38; cf. 22:16). The baptism of the gospel is water baptism (cf. Acts 8:36). It is an immersion (see any standard Greek lexicon for the definition of baptizo; cf. Rom. 6:3,4; Acts 8:37-38). New Testament baptism was administered to penitent believers (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38) who had confessed their faith in Christ (Acts 8:37-38). Penitent believers in Jesus Christ were baptized in order to be saved (Mark 16:16), for the remission of their sins (Acts 2:38), to wash away their sins (Acts 22:16).
Those who depart from the one baptism of the gospel to practice a different baptism create division. Those who teach Holy Ghost baptism rather than water baptism preach another baptism. Those who administer baptism to impenitent unbelievers, such as infants, have departed from the one baptism. Those who sprinkle or pour water on those desiring to be baptized have turned aside from the one baptism. Those who are baptized as “an outward sign of an inward grace,” “to testify to the world of their faith in Christ,” or to become a member of particular denomination have departed from the one baptism of the gospel. Those who practice “baptism for the dead” preach another baptism.
To the degree that men teach another baptism and receive into their fellowship those who have received another baptism, they create division. We promote unity by teaching and practicing one baptism.
(7) One God. The one God of Ephesians 4 is Jehovah, the God who created the heavens and the earth, revealed himself to Moses, inspired the prophets, and sent his Son to die on the cross. “There is none other God but one” (1 Cor. 8:4). The platform of unity laid down by Paul is not so broad as to include the worship of many different gods (the many gods of Hinduism, Allah, etc.). There is but one God. The revelation God gave to Moses is reaffirmed by this verse: “I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Exod. 20:2-4).
Some ecumenists have become so broad-minded that they are willing to extend fellowship to those who worship other gods. Whatever unity they create is not the unity of the Bible. The unity for which Christ prayed is a unity based on the platform that there is but one God. To the degree that we call men away from the worship and service of other gods, we promote Bible unity. To the degree that we tolerate, accept, and receive those who worship other gods, we promote division.
These sevens ones form the platform for unity. There can be no true Bible unity where these seven ones are not preached and promoted. Benjamin Franklin summarized Paul’s argument for unity on Ephesians 4:1-6 saying:
As there is but one body of Church; but one Spirit to dwell in that one body; but one hope set before that one body; but one Lord, the head of that one body; but one faith in that one body; but one immersion, the initiatory rite of that one body; and but one God and Father of all, above all, through all, and in your all, the author of it all, we should endeavor to maintain the unity of the Spirit, in the bond of peace, in that one body (“Union of Christians,” Gospel Preacher I:313-314).
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 15, p. 2
August 4, 1994