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ephesians 4:1-16: unity in the body of Christ

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together, unity in the body of christ

Chapter four of Ephesians begins with Paul describing how we, as Christians, are to unite in one faith:

Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 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 for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism,and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.

(vv. 2-6, NLT).

Two thousand years later, I wonder what Paul would make of the proliferation of denominations proclaiming the Christian faith. Without too much mental strain, we can easily rattle off a list: Assembly of God. Baptist. Catholic. Congregational. Disciples of Christ. Episcopalian. Friends. Lutheran. Methodist. Mennonite. Presbyterian.

I find it remarkable that both the Metropolitan Community Church and Westboro Baptist Church identify as Christian. Is there a single Christian faith? A single church?

I think there is. To illustrate the unity of the Christian church, I’m going to tell you about my dogs.

Years ago I owned a pair of basset hounds. Grace and Glory were sisters, littermates, even adjacent in birth order. They were also about as different from one another as two dogs could be. Gracie was a clever, active imp. She greeted each day wiggling with enthusiasm for its inherent opportunities to make mischief. Glory, just five minutes younger, was quiet, calm, and eager for everyone to be happy. (She was the household peacemaker, not a small task in a family that included two dogs, two cats, a potbellied pig, and a big, mean lizard—and humans. But that’s a tale for another day.)

My neighbor had an Anatolian Shepherd. The beast was majestic, dignified, and aloof. He was also content to be solitary. His human, Mark, could describe Brutus’ temperament with the same detail that I could provide for my hound-girls. But Mark saw my two bassets as “alike,” yet quite different from Brutus.

An individual unfamiliar with dogs might see Brutus, Gracie, and Glory as “the same.”  And indeed, they were all dogs, and shared all the essential canine traits, despite their differences.

We might look upon our denominational differences the same way I’ve described these dogs. When you know a denomination as well as I knew my basset hounds, you can spot differences even between two congregations within that same denomination. If you are unfamiliar with the Christian faith, the denominations all seem the same.

We would do well, I think, to remember that people outside the faith don’t make the distinctions that we do. When a pastor strays, when a congregation behaves hatefully, the world shakes its head at us hypocritical, vicious Christians.

It’s tempting to console ourselves with the notion that “those other guys aren’t real Christians.” But it’s wrong. We’re told over and over, throughout Scripture, to forgive one another, to “make allowances for each other’s faults,” as Paul puts it in this passage. We’re also told that judgment is reserved for God. And we’re exhorted, here, to be united in our faith, not divided by it.

It’s all about perspective, you see. And it is possible that our God (Whose ways are not our ways) sees not dozens of denominations, but One Christian Church, Unified. Maybe He chooses to focus on our similarities instead of our differences. Maybe the interdenominational squabbles and bickering are invisible to He Who does not look upon sin.

Maybe, in a lovely paradox, the One Who sees all and knows all, looks upon the church(es) today and draws the same conclusion, albeit for different reasons, as the casual unbeliever:

They’re all part of a single church.

Paul knew that maintaining unity would be difficult. Look again at verse three, wherein he advises us to “make every effort” to remain united. It’s easy to chalk the difficulty up to our sinful nature, our fallen world. It’s so, so human to want to distance ourselves from others whose practices differ, who are embroiled in scandal, or who behave in ways we understand to be unchristian.

What might happen if instead we asked ourselves:

What efforts are we making to unite?

What similarities can we build upon?

What could a unified Christian church accomplish?

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Sheila Lagrand
Sheila lives with her husband, Rich, and their two dogs (J.D. and Doc) in beautiful Trabuco Canyon, California. She enjoys serving at Trabuco Canyon Community Church, gardening, cooking, boating, and most of all, spending time with her children and grandchildren. She has lived her entire life in southern California, except for a year spent in French Polynesia as she conducted research for her dissertation. She doesn't understand boredom and is passionate about words, their power, their beauty, and their care and feeding.
Sheila Lagrand

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  • http://www.redemptionsbeauty.com/ Shelly Miller

    Perspective, yes it is all about this. And perhaps standing back far enough from comfortable helps one gain understanding and empathy.But then, we’ve had division and misunderstanding about faith since the beginning haven’t we? I like your dog analogy Sheila, made me smile.

  • http://www.redletterbelievers.com/ David Rupert

    Most of our denominations were actually born out of cultural sects, rather than differing doctrines. The swedes, the german, the english, and the rest of Europe, all had different movements of the reformation. And in those days, we didn’t have the cross-pollination of cultures like we do today. So, when the Germans immigrated to the US, they were Lutherans and they brought their distinctives with them.

    While mainline churches all have their own measure of separateness, for the most part churches today aren’t divided over doctrine as much as style. And style is usually defined by music. The biggest trend today is the nondenominational church. In fact, if you were to add them up, they would be the third largest “denomination”.

    I don’t see the division of denominations so much today as when I was young. I really do see a much more unified church. Yes, the “churches” you named above (Metro-Gay and Westwood-Hate) are definitely fringe. But for me, the question is “Who is Christ to you and what is He doing in your life.” I could give a rip about the label.

  • http://godspotting.net Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    The role of culture–that makes sense, David. I’m not sure I agree with you about the significance of doctrinal differences, but that’s the beauty of respectful discussions, yes? Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Friend.

  • http://godspotting.net Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    Yes, we have. Thanks, Shelly.

  • Jody Collins

    Oh, Sheila….your point about people outside the faith taking a look a the waywardness of pastors and congregations, lamenting about ‘those people who call themselves Christians’ sobers me. Father, give us your grace to all keep our faces turned towards one direction–Jesus….so we become like Him and reflect who YOU are. Then when people say, ‘those Christians’ it is a GOOD thing….

    The patience of God just amazes me.

    And your dog analogy was pretty amazing too. Smile.

  • http://godspotting.net Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    What a perfect prayer, Jody. Thank you.

    “Amazing” makes me smile. Gracie’s full name was Amazing Grace (well, and then there was a kennel name too, but that’s immaterial) and she was an amazing dog–a once-in-a-lifetime bundle of personality.

    Sigh. I miss my hounds.

  • http://sandraheskaking.com/ Sandra Heska King

    One body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one God and Father.

    And you’ve made me want another dog–or two–just so I can name them.. :)

  • http://godspotting.net Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    I always want one.more.dog.

    I am by nature bipetual, by the way, but we don’t live in a cat-friendly area (coyotes, for example) and we have kids who are allergic to them. So I content myself with our dogs.

  • http://sandraheskaking.com/ Sandra Heska King

    Bitpetual. LOL. We are tripetual right now. Maybe we should go quad?

    Dogs are a lot of work. Cats can fend for themselves for a couple of days. Ours are strictly indoor–which is good, since we have coyotes, too.

  • http://godspotting.net Sheila Seiler Lagrand

    I meant species, not body count. ;) When I’ve had cats, they’ve been indoor kitties, too. But with family who are allergic, well, we’re sticking with dogs for now.

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