By Kenneth E. Thomas
When you see the three letter word “one,” what comes to your mind? Do you immediately think of multiple choices or do you think in the singular? If you are of sound and sane mind it is obvious that you think in the “singular.” One means one! It doesn’t mean two, three, four, five, or thirteen hundred and one! In the spiritual realm unless there is reason to interpret it otherwise, words are to be taken as literally meaning exactly what they say. Paul writing by divine inspiration in Ephesians 4:1-6, says there is “one body” (v. 4). This agrees perfectly with what Jesus stated to the Jews of his day, when he said, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this (Jewish, ket) fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear My voice; and there shall be one fold, and one Shepherd” (John 10:16). There are as many shepherds as there are folds or bodies. How many is that? “One.”
God’s Platform For Unity
The passages in our text for this study have been referred to as “God’s seven plank platform for religious unity.” Look at it again. (1) One body, (2) One Spirit, (3) One hope, (4) One Lord, (5) One faith, (6) One baptism, and (7) One God and Father. We shall develop this article based on this particular context. We will use others in the process of developing this study but always come back here for the source of our thoughts.
Christ’s Prayer for Unity
Who is so insensitive, as to disregard the prayer of Jesus Christ as it were in the very shadow of the cross, who prayed fervently for his apostles and then for all of those who would believe in him through their word, “. . . that they all may be one; as you, Father, are in Me, and I in You, that they also may be one in Us: that the world may believe that You have sent Me” (John 17:17, 20-21)? I find it difficult to believe that a true lover of Jesus Christ would disregard that which meant so much to him, and for which he fervently prayed to his Father and ours, the unity of his followers on the word of the Apostles! In spite of this prayer there are religious folks who will thank God for the many churches (thereby approving of the opposite to Christ’s prayer) so they can find the one that suits them! How about the one that suits the Lord? The church of our Lord was planned by God from eternity (Eph. 3:8-11). Christ is called the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 5:6). The blood that he shed as the Lamb of God is the purchase price for the saved, his church (1 Pet. 1:18-19; Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:25).
One Body — The Church
As we speak of the church is this vein of thought, we speak of a relationship, not an organization per se. It is the “house of God” (1 Tim. 3:15). We should notice only briefly that there is organization in the New Testament church, but it is the local congregation (Phil. 1:1-2; Acts 14:23; 1 Pet. 5:1-5). In this lesson we are speaking of the church in its “universal” sense, the rule of Christ in the hearts of men and women, boys and girls. There is no earthly head or headquarters for this relationship. It is the kingdom of God under Christ the king (1 Tim. 6:16; Rev. 1:9; 17:14). Reconciliation unto God can be found nowhere else but “in one body by the cross” (Eph. 2:11-17). God is glorified through Christ in no other relationship but his church (Eph. 3:21). Christ himself is the founder of this one body, his church (Matt. 16:13-19).
“. . . No Differing Denominations Existed . . .”
The above is a partial quote from page 22 of the Standard Manual for Baptist Churches by Edward T. Hiscox, D.D. Here Mr. Hiscox acknowledges the fact stated already in this lesson concerning the one body or church that Jesus built, then makes the fatal admission to follow which is a death blow to human denominations of any and every type or name.
It is most likely that in the Apostolic age when there was but “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism,” and no differing denominations existed, the baptism of a convert by that very act constituted him a member of the church, and at once endowed him with all rights and privileges of full membership. In that sense, “baptism was the door into the church.” Now, it is different; and while the churches (Southern Baptist, ket) are desirous of receiving members, they are wary and cautious that they do not receive unworthy persons. The churches (local Southern Baptist Churches, ket) therefore have candidates come before them, make their statement, give their “experience,” and then their reception is decided by a vote of the members. And while they cannot become members without baptism, yet it is the vote of the body which admits them to its fellowship on receiving baptism.
We take issue with some of this quote, but for the most part it properly represents how it was before man changed things. We do not believe that a “convert” is to be baptized. This suggests that one is first converted and then baptized. This has the “cart before the horse” as we will show in greater detail as we progress to that part of Ephesians 4:1-6 which speaks of the “one baptism.”
For the first few hundred years after Christ’s church/kingdom was established one was either a Christian, and as such a member of Christ’s church or a citizen in his kingdom, or one was yet lost and a citizen of Satan’s kingdom. Through a process of departures from “the faith” once delivered, there grew out of Christ’s one true church what, when fully organized in A.D. 606, became known as the Roman Catholic church. This was the first human denomination. Then following this in 1054 a division in the Roman church led to the formation of what we know today as the Greek Orthodox church. Later after many more departures from God’s New Testament teachings causing such good men as Martin Luther and others to rebel against Roman Catholicism, the “Protestant Reformation” was born in about 1530. All Protestant churches are less than five hundred years old. Like the Catholic church, they came into being hundreds of years after Jesus had established his church exactly as he wanted it to be regarding its name, organization, worship, mission, etc. Uninspired men cannot improve on God’s plan for humanity. Any attempt to do so results in the formation of doctrines and organizations unknown to the New Testament and those who so act stand condemned before God for departures from the ancient faith of Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:6-11; 2 John 9-11; Rom. 16:16-18; Rev. 22:18-19; Ps. 127:1; Matt. 15:13).
To have unity of revelation, we must have a common source from which to drink spiritually speaking. That one source is the Holy Spirit. Both Peter and Paul affirmed to speak or write as they were “guided by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:12-21; 1 Cor. 2:1-16; Gal. 1:11). Jesus promised that he would send the Spirit to guide those whom he chose into “all truth” (John 16:12-13). We believe He did exactly as he promised. This means that “all spiritual truth” is found solely in the New Testament for those who desire to follow and to please our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 1:3; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; Jas. 1:25). For one today to depart from New Testament authority is to depart from Christ and to stand condemned for so doing (Gal. 1:6-9; Rom. 16:17-18). Peter quoted from Moses’ promise to Israel (and the world) concerning “another prophet like unto Moses to whom men must submit or be destroyed from among the people.” (See Deut. 18:18-19; Acts 3:22-23.) Add to the thoughts found in those two contexts the scene on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-4). God speaks to man today only through Jesus Christ, his Son (Heb. 1:1-2). His Son chose the people to whom he sent the Holy Spirit and as we have seen they were “guided into all truth.” If Christ is guiding your beliefs and practices today, he is doing it as you follow “the apostle’s teaching” (Acts 2:42; 15:24b). Jesus said to his apostles, “He that heareth you heareth Me; and he that despiseth you despiseth Me; and he that despises Me despiseth Him that sent Me” (Luke 10:16).
It is an “all or nothing at all” proposition. You have not the right with God’s approval to choose to accept some things Christ through his apostles has bound on mankind and reject something else. To reject anything taught in the apostle’s doctrine is to reject both the Father and the Son. Hence we read in 2 John 9, “Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.”
When men write creeds, articles of faith, catechisms, disciplines, etc. to which they appeal for their beliefs and practices in religion, since they all differ one with the other, and since every one of them disagrees with plain New Testament teaching, you can readily see why it is impossible to obey the prayer of Christ for unity, or the teaching of inspired men that we should “all speak the same things . . . and that there be no divisions among you”(John 17:17, 20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10-13). Just as long as these uninspired barriers exist, that’s how long religious division will be perpetuated. Men must learn to “speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). Men must learn that they must not “think of men above that which is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).
Many people differ as regards that for which they hope at the end of this age or the end of their life here on earth. The New Testament holds out only “one hope” to mankind. What is that hope? Christ said it was to inhabit the mansions he has even now gone to prepare and will give to those who love and obey him (John 14:1-6). Peter spoke of a “living hope” in 1 Peter 1:3, and said this hope is “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you” (v. 4). Some take what Peter wrote in his second epistle and make it contradict what he plainly said here which agrees with the hope Christ himself offered to sorrowing disciples in the passage above. Great numbers of would be followers of Christ are taught that the “new heavens and the new earth” (2 Pet. 3:13) are here on this planet which has been cleansed by fire. No, no! Peter would not say in the first epistle it was incorruptible and reserved in heaven if it was a physical worldly habitation on this earth thereby totally contradicting himself! If man’s rewards are on this earth then they aren’t in heaven as Jesus said.
The premillennial doctrine contradicts not only these passages, but makes Jesus’ statement “My kingdom is not of this world . . .” (John 18:36) meaningless and contradictory also to what he promised just before leaving his apostles and disciples to return to the Father in heaven. He said that he would come again, and “receive you (which would include the rest who are faithful) unto Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3; 1 Thess. 4:13-18). The reward is where he now is. Where is he? Stephen saw him “standing at God’s right hand” in heaven (Acts 7:55). Peter placed Jesus “on David’s throne at God’s right hand” on Pentecost (Acts 2:30-36). Premillennialism would take Christ off David’s throne in heaven and place him on the footstool earth! What a demotion of the Son of God! The Premillennial “hope” is a vain hope. It will never be realized by anyone. The doctrine of only 144,000 inheriting heaven is likewise a perversion of the Bible’s teaching, created by the Jehovah’s Witnesses, not by a proper interpretation of the word of God.
The Bible rather teaches “whosoever will let him take of the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:17; 7:9). No inspired writer ever held to the doctrine limiting the number who are offered heaven as a reward. The number who will inherit heaven is limited to the obedient (Rev. 14:13; 22:14). It is those who “do His will.” It is those who “die in the Lord.” Do you have this biblical hope? You do only if you have obeyed the gospel and have been reconciled unto God in one body by the cross (1 Cor. 15:1-4; 1 Pet. 1:22-25; 2 Thess. 1:6-9; Eph. 2:13-16).
Who would deny that Jesus Christ is the “one Lord” in the above text? Surely no Bible believer. This being true, there is one who has the authority to command us and from whom we must have leave or authority before we may act in a manner pleasing to him. Paul said this in Colossians 3:17. Jesus himself said, “All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18; Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23). This promotes unity of authority. All who abide in his teaching, as we have seen, have “both the Father and the Son.” Those who do not act by his authority, sin (1 John 3:4; Matt. 7:13-28). Many desire to have Jesus as their Savior, but refuse his authority over their lives! This can’t be! He asked some of his day, “And why do you call Me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46, see also John 14:15, 21, 23). Why some folks think they can be pleasing to God while rejecting the teachings, hence the authority, of Christ over their lives is a mystery to anyone who knows anything about the teaching of the New Testament.
This leads to unity of doctrine. There are “many faiths” on the religious scene even among those who profess belief in Jesus as “the Christ.” Each of these many “faiths” is found inscribed in some creed, catechism, discipline, manual, etc. We said something about this under the heading of “unity of revelation” given by the Holy Spirit. We will simply reinforce this idea that there is “one faith” found in the New Testament. This faith is called by several things. It is called “the faith” (Acts 6:7; Jude 3). It is called simply “faith” in (Gal. 3:23). It is called “the gospel.” It is called the “word of truth.” In other words there is only one body of divine truth and it is found in the entire New Testament (John 16:12-13; Jas. 1:25; 2 Pet. 1:3; John 12:48). When rightly divided and applied it will save all mankind who submit in love to Christ’s teachings. This doesn’t mean that the Old Testament is without use for the follower of Christ. No, not at all! It is to be used as examples for those of us living this side of the cross of Christ (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:6-13). Some religious folks are as apt to attempt to find “authority” for their beliefs and practices (if they seek authority at all) from the writings of Moses and the other prophets of the Old Testament as they are what Christ caused to be written! To seek justification by the law says Paul, is to “fall from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Again let me remind you that on the mount of transfiguration God said of Christ, “hear ye Him” (Matt. 17:5).
If folks understand and practice the “one baptism” mentioned here, there would be unity of action as well as design in this matter. Actually one cannot be baptized by sprinkling or having water poured or dabbed on them. No, baptize is a verb denoting only one action. The action denoted is a “burial,” a “planting,” a “resurrection.” It involves going to the water and going “down into and coming up out of the water” (Rom. 6:3-4; Col. 2:12; Acts 8:38-39). It would be as silly to say that one is baptized by sprinkling or pouring as it would be for me to say that I walked by flying! Those are two different verbs denoting different actions. If you have been baptized, you have been immersed! The Greek word baptizo, translated properly means only one thing, to immerse!
What About The Design of Baptism?
The “design” means the “purpose.” For what purpose were believers baptized in the biblical record? Was it said to be “an outward sign of an inward grace”? Was it said to be “the way you confess to the world that you have received Christ”? Was it simply something that was “symbolic”? Were they “baptized” to “join the local church”? Were they baptized “because they were saved”? All of the above and other reasons are often said to be the “design” for baptism. What do the Scriptures say?
That, after all is what really matters, isn’t it? Yes it is! Paul said, “Yea, let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). What did Paul mean by such a strong statement? Simply that when man (any man) disagrees with what God says in his word about a matter under consideration, man, not God is in error! I could not count the times that people have said one of the above is the design of baptism. What saith the Scriptures?
- For the Remission of Sins (Acts 2:38)
- For Salvation (Mark 16:16)
- Saves Us (1 Pet. 3:21)
- Into Christ (Rom. 6:3)
- Put on Christ (Gal. 3:27)
- Born of Water and Spirit (John 3:5)
- Washing of Regeneration (Tit. 3:5)
- Into One Body (1 Cor. 12:13)
- To Have Sins Washed Away (Acts 22:16)
- Bodies Washed in Pure Water (Heb. 10:22)
- Washing of Water by the Word (Eph. 5:26)
- Repent and be Converted (baptized) (Acts 3:19)
- Go teach baptize into name teach (Matt. 28:18-20)
- Repentance and remission of sins (Luke 24:45-47)
On the birthday of Christ’s church to believers who asked “what shall we do?” Peter said, “. . . Repent and be baptized . . . for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), and later to another audience, “Repent and be converted” (Acts 3:19). It appears that conversion to Christ has only been accomplished after one has been baptized. Peter uses the words “be baptized” and “be converted” interchangeably. If therefore you were baptized believing yourself already converted, your baptism isn’t the “one baptism” of Ephesians 4:5. Paul wrote in Romans 6:17-18 that they were made servants of righteousness after they had “obeyed from the heart that form of the doctrine they were delivered. It was then that they were made the “servants of righteousness.” Saved and then baptized? Hardly!
If folks would only read the Bible itself with an open mind, there’s no way one would conclude that baptism was any less important in the scheme of redemption than are faith, repentance, and confession of faith in Christ. It is because of the creeds of uninspired men, written to defend some particular denominational position, that the confusion and perversions of truth exist.
This promotes unity of the object of worship. It is essential that we have the right object of our worship. The Athenians worshiped God ignorantly and consequently their worship was not acceptable (Acts 17:22-31). There are “lords many and gods many” said Paul, but to us there is but “one God the Father, of whom are all things, and we in Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by Him” (1 Cor. 8:6). When Satan tried to get him to worship him, Jesus said, “It is written, You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:10). Not only must we worship the right God, we must be in the right relationship to the church (Eph. 3:21; 2:16) and worship him in Spirit and in truth through the one mediator, Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 4:14-16; John 4:23-24).
Where are you spiritually speaking? No more important question could possibly be asked.
Some Cases of Conversion
- Jews on Pentecost (Acts 2:22-38, 40-41, 47).
- Some at Samaria (Acts 8:12-13).
- The Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-39).
- Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:1-6; 22:16; Rom. 6:3-5).
- Cornelius (Acts 10:1-2; 11:13-14; 10: 43-47, 48).
- Lydia (Acts 16:12-15)
- Philippian Jailer (Acts 16:30-34). What about you?
Peter said, “A word to the wise is sufficient.”
Truth Magazine Vol. XLIV: 4 p16 February 17, 2000