In St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians we are reminded that, “…in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 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.”1 Indeed, this oneness which St. Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians directly reflects the heart of Christ – as we see when He prays for His disciples.
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them even as thou hast loved me.”2
And it is in this same spirit that St. Paul again and again issues a call for Christian unity.
- “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”3
- “I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”4
This appeal to Christian unity is, in fact, so prevalent throughout the apostolic writings of the New Testament that it is the first of four marks by which the Catholic Church is described. The Church is described as being one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic.
A Lack of Unity
Unfortunately, all too often it seems as if Christian unity is in short supply. Growing up Protestant I was exposed to a bewildering array of Christian denominations – literally tens of thousands. I witnessed firsthand the damage caused by the all too frequent church splits as half of the congregation would follow a new pastor in a one direction while half of the congregation would stay loyal to the previous pastor and his teachings. I saw churches split over doctrinal disagreements, disagreements over the direction and emphasis of ministry, disagreements over issues of church discipline, and sadly due to ministerial scandal.
Publicly we professed a goal of Christian unity and charity; privately we lamented the fact that it was unattainable. [Tweet This]
In Scripture, this oneness that Christ prays for is perhaps most commonly expressed by the New Testament writers in the metaphor of a body. St. Paul in his epistle to the Corinthians writes:
“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the organs in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single organ, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those parts of the body which we think less honorable we invest with the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so adjusted the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.”5
Over and over in his epistles St. Paul returns to this metaphor:
- “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.”6
- “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.”7
- “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,”8
In Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians we see these two descriptions of the Church come together. The Church is the literal body of Christ, and she, like a body, is marked by her oneness – her unity.
“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 us all, who is above all and through all and in all…And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the equipment of 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 fulness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied, when each part is working properly, makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love.”9
Divided on Earth and in Heaven?
Unfortunately, it is not just the visible Church which has experienced the pain of division. All too often we mentally separate the “Church on earth” from the “Church in heaven” as if the body of Christ could simply be cut in half. Perhaps we reason that the saints in heaven are “dead” forgetting the words of Christ Himself who said, “Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.”10 Perhaps we forget the, “great cloud of witnesses”11 which the author of Hebrews assures us are intently watching our race. Perhaps we forget St. John’s vision of heaven in which he sees the saints in heaven offering up the prayers of the faithful on earth as incense before God.12
But, as the entirety of the New Testament Scriptures attest to, we are one body in Christ. Not one body on earth and another in heaven. Not two Churches. One.
And what a great gift we have in this fellowship with the saints who have gone before us! The author of Hebrews describes it in this way, “you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.”13
The oneness that we share in Christ is not something less (Christ alone) but rather something more – Christ and. Yes we have Christ, and in Him and through Him we have the very hosts of heaven, the saints who have gone before us, and God Himself!
One in Christ
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby bringing the hostility to an end. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”14
You are all one Christ.
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