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Ephesians 4:4-14

 

There is one body and one Spirit- just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call- one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says, "When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men." ( In saying, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 

 

 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (ESV)

God's Gift of Doctrinal Unity

St. John, Apostle and Evangelist

27 December 2013

Agreement in Christian doctrine is a gift of grace from God. We Christians do not generate agreement among ourselves about the sacred and single truth of God. To make such a claim is to claim the power to manipulate the divine truth by our own power and for our own ends. We are granted one heart and mind not by an extraordinary effort of the collective Christian will, but as a sacramental gift from God. We don't confess one faith because we have ordered our human will so to confess. Such a contention would be a direct denial of the very faith that is confessed. For the confession of the church catholic is that the faith of the church is itself a gift from God not an accomplishment of our will, whether collectively or individually. Both what we believe and how we believe are gifts of grace from the God who acts. However, neither are these things ho-hum presumptions on the part of the church. "Oh well, we have the truth. Yawn." Gifts of such richness could never inspire complacency among the people whom they enrich.

 

Complacency about what is in the confession of the church is no longer a luxury that the modern church can afford. We Christians find ourselves increasingly in an intellectual world similar to Bishop Hilary of Poitiers. Hilary speaks to a world with a wild diversity of religious opinion in which Christianity is by no means privileged. At Hilary's time, the church catholic was certainly not the majority religion. It was just recently legalized and was being persecuted by an aggressive Arian insurgency. The monolithic and triumphant church of the fevered imagination never existed, but especially not in the fourth century.

 

We live too in an age where Christian orthodoxy is an increasingly persecuted minority and we are anxious to do something about it. If we could only get all Christians of good will to unify that good will into a good confession that is united! But of course, this is making the gift our performance; the gospel gift our law offering to God. We can see how the world would be mightily improved if we could just make this mightily united confession of one faith. This vision of united human will is an abandonment of the gospel. How different the wills of humans are! Hilary recognized that Paul's description of human variety of status (Gal 3:27-28) was not something the gospel abolishes, but what the one gospel transcends. We are to revel in human variety because it does not undo the divine gift of unity in the one doctrine. Hilary had it right when he abandoned unity generated by human will and rather referred to the sacramental unity created by God who brings unity of heart and soul through one baptism. If we would be about the sacramental gifts, God will take care of unity His way and in His time. 

 

Hilary of Poitiers

 

"I ask whether those whose soul and heart were one were one through faith in God? Yes, assuredly, through faith, for through this the soul and heart of all were one. Again, I ask, is the faith one or is there a second faith? One undoubtedly, and that on the authority of the Apostle himself, who proclaims one faith even as one Lord, and one baptism, and one hope, and one God (Eph 4:4-5). If it is through faith, that is, through the nature of one faith, that all are one, how could anyone not understand a natural unity in the case of those who through the nature of one faith are one? For all were born again to innocence, to immortality, to the knowledge of God, to the faith of hope. These things cannot be differentiated among themselves because there is both one hope and one God, as also there is one Lord and one baptism of regeneration. If these things are one rather by agreement than by nature ascribe a unity of will to those also who have been born again into them. If, however, they have been begotten again into the nature of one life and eternity, then, since their soul and heart are one, the unity of will fails to account for their case who are one by regeneration into the same nature.

 

"These are not our own conjectures which we offer, nor do we falsely put together any of these things in order to deceive the ears of our hearers by perverting the meaning of words. But holding fast the form of sound teaching we know and preach the things that are true. For the Apostle Paul shows that this unity of the faithful arises from the nature of the sacraments when be writes to the Galatians. "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:27-28). Are those one amid so great diversities of race, condition, sex, from an agreement of will or from the unity of the sacrament, since these have one baptism and have all put on one Christ? What, therefore, will a concord of minds avail here when they are one in that they have put on one Christ through the nature of one baptism?"
 

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, 8.7-8

 

Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, You would have all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. By Your almighty power and unsearchable wisdom break  all the counsels of those who hate Your Word and who, by corrupt teaching, would destroy it. Enlighten them with the knowledge of Your glory that they may know the riches of Your heavenly grace and, in peace and righteousness, serve You, the only true God; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

 

For those who heard the story of the birth of God-with-us on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but who heard it only as a pleasant story, rather than as the story of their own salvation in Christ, that they would be brought to repentance and true faith

 

For Bishop Christian Ekong of the Lutheran Church of Nigeria, that He might lead the people in his care to be united in one Lord through one baptism

 

For Lee Burrows that his heart might be glad in this season of the incarnation of Christ

Art: CORREGGIO Nativity Holy Night (1528-30)

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