Sermon for Sunday, August 5, 2012

Ephesians 4:1-7 & 11-16

“The Body Of Christ Is Bound Together In Love, Not Doctrinal Unity”

This summer’s sermons will explore evangelism through the lens of basic Christian theology.  Today: Christian Unity

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

To hear a podcast of this sermon, click HERE:  120805SermonPodcast

To watch a video cast of this sermon, click HERE:

Our seeker today asks her question with a grin across her face.  “Is God a Presbyterian, Methodist, Catholic, or Disciples of Christ?  Or perhaps God belongs to a Vineyard church?”  Touché, Seeker!  You’ve found the Achilles heel of the Church of Christ on earth.

Christian Unity is a goal in almost every segment of the Christian faith, and yet the most elusive of all of the great doctrines of the faith.  We in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) have a particular love/hate relationship with the concept of Christian Unity, as it was – and is – one of our key hopes and visions for the church of Jesus Christ,

Barton W. Stone

and yet we have suffered painful splits and nasty divisions throughout our history.  Barton W. Stone is said to have oft repeated the phrase, “Christian unity is our polar star.”  One of the other founders of our movement, Thomas Campbell, penned the phrase, “the Church of Christ upon earth is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one.” (1)


Thomas Campbell

The problem has been, in my humble estimation, is that though our movement was one of doctrinal freedom and the rejection of uniformity in thought, we nonetheless maintained a strict understanding of what a believer should and should not believe.  We championed the well-known mantra of the day, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity,” but our commitment to “Restoring the New Testament Church” led us to set into stone aspects of the New Testament church that were more a reflection of the growing fundamentalism of the 19th century than it of the wildly diverse and decidedly non-uniform first century Christian community.

But today’s scripture from the fourth chapter of Ephesians reminds us that the unity that we find in Christ is not a unity based in uniformity, especially uniformity of thought or doctrine, or even practice!  The “unity of the

Unity is NOT based on believing a list of certain doctrines…

Spirit” is based in “one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism,” and ultimately in “one God.”  The closest thing to a doctrinal unity in that list is “one faith,” and if we take Peter’s great confession, “You are the Christ,” that’s pretty easy!

What I love about using Ephesians 4 as a basis for our understanding of Christian Unity is two things: First, most of the aspects of unity are beyond our control (one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism, one God.)  But the second is even more wonderful: the foundation for Christian unity is grounded, founded, and expounded in the diversity of our gifts and the use of those diverse gifts!

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

… but, instead, unity is based on how we discover, offer, and use our gifts in community!

Now THIS is a kind of unity that I can celebrate, and to which I think the world would respond most favorably!  Our unity is based not in our uniformity, but in the good and faithful sharing of our diverse and wondrous gifts!  You play the tuba?  Come on in!  You speak in tongues?  Come on in!  You love to read?  Come on in!  Our strength is found in having our gifts and graces honored and used well, all to the glory of God!

And I so deeply appreciate the next section of this scripture.  It is almost as if the author of Ephesians knows that the course of Christian history will be wrought with conflict and tension around the maintenance of doctrinal uniformity and not the celebration of the diversity of our gifts.  We read:

We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Barton W. Stone, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, and the other founders of our movement tried their best to remind us that Christian unity was as simple as the following the North Star.  Unfortunately even the tradition that followed from their examples, teachings and writings would succumb to the human need for uniformity of thought rather than unity of purpose.  Nonetheless, Christ’s vision, and Stone and Campbell’s vision, of one church throughout the entire earth which pulsed with a rich diversity of gifts, rituals, perspectives, and approaches to following Christ and worshipping God continues to beckon us forward.

Let us not be wooed by the voices in our world, even if they come from ministers and people of faith, to believe that the only way to be church is to demand that we think alike, talk alike, pray alike, and believe alike.  Let’s speak the truth in love to them, and show them how it’s done.  Let us honor one another’s different perspectives on the faith.  Let us seek out and help one another discern each one’s gifts and graces for ministry, and then find a place in our congregation and community for those gifts to be utilized more fully.  And in doing so, the Body of Christ, in all its wondrous diversity, will be knit together in love.


(1) Thomas Campbell, Last Will & Testament of the Springfield Presbytery