<The following blog is based on a talk given to a multi-denominational church meeting held in Perth, Australia>
“One Lord, One faith, one baptism”
So there was a busy cosmopolitan port city by the name or Corinth. It was a city where east met west and many different nationalities resided there from various backgrounds. The Apostle Paul planted a church in this city, but it wasn’t long before there was division among them.
Some people had formed little clicks saying “Paul baptised me!” or “Well Apollos taught me!”- it was your classic popularity club. And it was dividing the church.
Some people had great and wonderful gifts given by God, but they were using their gifts to their own ends, and this would often lead to chaotic church life.
Some people were rich and affluent, and so when they did communion they would eat each other’s food that they bought but would make sure the poor wasn’t to join them at the table because they considered themselves more worth due to their social status.
The apostle Paul would have none of it.
To those boastfully priding themselves in their leaders, Paul came along and said “Well we are God’s servants, and its God who’s given the growth anyway, so why divide into popularity groups what God sees as one and His transformation?”
To those being used by God, Paul seeks for them to use their gift for each other and see themselves as a giant body that should function as one and be filled with one purpose: love leading to the building up of the church.
To those excluding others from the table of fellowship, Paul uses communion as the model of Christians being allowed to have the free and equal welcome of God at the table- all get the same food and drink equally (despite social class) because Jesus came to establish a society modelled on His table meal- the body broken and the blood poured out for all who want it.
In all instances, the Apostle Paul is drawing all people together in unity through “the one Lord, one faith and one baptism”.
You see here’s the thing.
We are not united on nationality (We come from many different nations)
We are not united on gender (We aren’t all male or all female)
We are not united on social class and wealth (For we all have a different status and income in society)
We are not united on all our doctrine (Whilst we do have to agree on Jesus, there’s a mystery of plurality in our faith, such as infant baptism vs adult baptism etc.)
But we are united one the One and only Jesus- the same Jesus that we all bend the knee to. The Jesus at which, at His name, every knee shall bow and tongue shall confess that Jesus is Lord. There are many denominations. Many backgrounds. Many people groups. But in Jesus we serve the One Lord.
If we are to put aside our differences of opinions and be united, there’s a lesson we are to learn from Paul. In the church of Corinth, they were also divided on food offering. Some Christians (Some scholars say Jewish Christians) didn’t eat food that had been sacrificed to pagan idols and thus firmly believed it was tainted, whilst other Christians firmly believed that since all food ultimately comes from God than one not to be to fussed if it was sacrificed to an idol (Which in itself has no power). Paul agrees that food sacrificed to idols isn’t a huge deal, but he doesn’t turn to the group that don’t hold onto that belief and rip into them. He doesn’t nastily tell them how wrong they are. He appeals to a higher ethic than just mere knowledge alone- He appeals to love. This isn’t to say that conversation over particular doctrines aren’t important, and it’s certainly not saying that there isn’t a time and place for straight truth telling. But, in discernment and wisdom, Paul saw this occasion as a matter of not telling people how wrong they are, but of recognising that if someone has a different opinion than you, that you are to seek the wellbeing of the other, which might involve being generous in allowing them to believe what they believe in what isn’t an essential to faith. And as churches come together for gathering where they too will have different opinions on things we must listen, we must be generous with our beliefs, we must love. By the way, that’s the context of the verse “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up”.
Let’s apply that same ethic with our differing beliefs on particular matters.
Major on the majors, minor on the minors.
“In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, love.”
And when we do this, If we are united, than the world will see more clearly that the Father sent the Son, and will see God’s love for them too. This is what is promised by Jesus Himself when He is praying to the Father about all believers:
“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
When we are one, the world will see more clearly that the Father sent the Son, and will see God’s love for them too
I’ll end on a story.
I heard this story on a podcast, about an African American couple in the midst of a racist part of the South in the USA. The town they lived in was divided by the colour of your skin. Black people only were allowed to go to certain spots. There were signs that said “whites only” to indicate that this place or that place of that thing were for white people only. Deep division. Any if there was a place that was mixed it was shamed by white people. In fact, to such people it was utterly disgusting. So here’s this couple- the wife is a Christian and the husband is not a Christian. But they both go to the church in town- the husband not participating in the service, and the wife participating in the service. They had the music and the preaching and the praying, but then came the time of communion. It was one of those traditional church services where you go down to the front and the pastor will break of a little piece of bread and you will eat it as he or she said “the body of Christ broken for you” and then the pastor would bring the cup around to the same people and then they would all drink from the same cup, saliva and all. The husband watched intently as the cup was given individually to each member as the pastor said the “the blood of Christ poured out for you”- as he watched he saw it being passed to a few white members of the church to drink. And then it was his wife’s turn to drink. This was America in the height of the civil rights movement, where the face of racism and segregation was at an all-time high. Will the cup pass from her? Will she have to drink from a different cup? Will racism and segregation win as it does everywhere else? And then the unthinkable. The husband watched as it went from the white man next to her to his wifes- and her lips touched the drink. She drank. “The blood of Christ poured out for you”. She reached the cup and drank just like everyone else from the one cup. And in that moment the husband knew, and he said “The outside world would have never done this. Only God Himself could do what I have seen”.
When the world see we are united than the world will know that the Father sent the Son and that God loves them to.
One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism.
May we go into the world in unity, by the power of the Spirit, declaring that God raised Jesus from the dead. May we be one as the Father and the Son are one, that we be united on Jesus and give ourselves room on the other things. And may God be glorified as we come together.
One Lord. One Faith. One Baptism.
What is Jesus wanting you to hear?
How might you and I grow deeper in unity?
Speak Lord….Your servant is listening.