Relevant Biblical Passages: Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-13
Called to One Hope. Unity in Christ is clearly a dominant theme in the New Testament. But how does one arrive at such unity without any form of coercion? That is the challenge facing the church. This week’s study looks at the issues from the perspective of Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-13.
- Unity a strength or a weakness? On the religious front, the Roman Catholic Church maintains a structure which insures the “unity” of the faith. That is precisely why Adventists are so alarmed at Roman Catholic ecclesiology: it inevitably turns out to be manipulative and coercive. On the secular front, communism developed a system to “enforce” unity on issues which seemed so admirable at first glance. But the results of such “enforcing” proved deadly. Enforced “goodness” ends up being a frightful evil.
- The path to unity. The characteristics which mark the believer in Ephesians 4 are not those typically associated with coercion. But are they so gentle, so passive as to be ineffective in bringing about unity? Note the different characteristics:
- Humility. Is there a “positive” opposite to humility? How about self-confidence?
- Gentleness. When is it appropriate to be ungentle? In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul offered two options: the stick or love in the spirit of gentleness. Who decides when to use the stick?
- Patience. Is there a “positive” opposite to patience? Is there any value in impatience – when change appears necessary, for example?
- Bearing with one another in love. A few verses later in the same chapter, Paul admonishes the believers: “Be angry but do not sin” (4:26). How is anger compatible with “bearing with one another in love”?
- The call to be separate. At one point Adventists believed that God had called them to be separate, to come out of Babylon. But how does separation contribute to the unity of the faith? Is it possible for the church to go so far away from God that the gentle characteristics listed here are no longer applicable?
- The value and dangers of diversity. In 1 Corinthians Paul bluntly addresses the problem of divisions in the body of Christ. But he points towards a solution which encourages diversity as a way of preserving the unity of the body. He does not call for enforced unity. How does one determine whether there is too much or too little diversity in the church?
- Modern examples. In Adventism, small movements have often broken away from the main body in an attempt to form a “pure” community. For them, the church has become too Laodicean. Is it possible that such break-away movements are right? Who will know if and when the time has come to separate? How does one tell?