I just returned from 2 weeks of ministry in India where Hinduism with its 330 million deities is explicitly evident. In one of my sermons I cited the words of the psalmist – “For all the gods of the nations are idols, bu the LORD made the heavens.” (Psam 96:5) I also reminded the Christ-followers I met, that North America has idols too–They’re just not as physically evident–or are they??
As Paul pens the letter to the church in Ephesus, he is writing to a community filled with idolatry. “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” had been the cry throughout this ancient city which hosted the temple of that goddess. She was worshiped “throughout the province of Asia and the world,” according to Demetrius, one of the silversmiths whose business flourished in the flurry of idolatry. (Acts 19:23-28)
The message of ONE true God and ONE Saviour stood in sharp contrast as it stands in distinct contradiction today. As Paul exhorts unity in the church, he reminds the Christians that “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to one hope when you were called–one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
Christians may have asserted this doctrinal claim in their ‘statements of faith’ but have the implications changed our conduct? Do we make every effort to ‘keep the unity of the Spirit?’ Is our unity with other Christians a matter of concern or do we simply ‘pack up our things’ and move to the nearest church down the street when someone offends us in the slightest way?
Paul is not arguing for unity at any price. Unity does not mean uniformity but as one of our discipleship groups reminded us last night, “On essentials unity, on non-essentials diversity, but in all things charity!” Now, that’s easier said than done. For some, everything they believe and practice is an essential. Anyone who disagrees with them couldn’t be as committed to the truth as they are! I confess to becoming weary of ‘nit-picking’ self-professed adjudicators of the faith. Truth matters, but are we required to train our theological guns on anyone who might have a slightly different understanding of doctrinal mattters?
I’ve been rereading ‘Wise Counsel’ by John Newton, well-known hymnwriter and vicar of Olney. Newton gets it, as far as I’m concerned, and offers sage pastoral counsel not only for his century but for ours! I think he provides an excellent example of a gospel-centred ministry, offering words of counsel combined with prayerful engagement of those with whom he disagreed.
The complexity of gospel simplicity is amazing, isn’t it? ONE body, ONE Spirit, ONE hope, ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God and Father. Now if we could only affirm these truths with ONE singular grace-filled passion!