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Earlier this year in my hometown, the city began constructing a sixty-acre municipal park. It’s in an urban setting but is nestled on either side of a small river valley that meanders its way through Upcountry South Carolina and famously ends in a waterfall in Greenville. The park will geographically link the vestiges of an almost forgotten older historic poor neighborhood with the newer dynamic downtown. It’s a living symbol of the old and the new. The mayor has christened the new endeavor Unity Park, and in its center will be a 160-foot bridge connecting people from all parts of the city to one another.

The older I grow in my Christian conviction, the more I understand that unity between Christians can’t be assumed, especially in the church. It doesn’t just happen; the Holy Spirit must first blow through a Christian, who in response pursues other people with Christlike motivation and practices godly humility consistently so that unity will flourish in the church. In some cases, as is being done in Greenville’s new park, unity must be built from scratch and practically bridge people who may not realize that they are supposed to be connected.

The Apostle Paul tells us “to walk in a manner worthy of [our] calling” (Eph. 4:1) and to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). He famously uses the language of the human body to illustrate the principle: “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 all” (vv. 4–6). Seven times in two verses, he calls us to be one. Paul tells us we ought to have unity, he tells us we should want unity, and then, remarkably and somewhat paradoxically, he tells us we already have unity in Christ. In other words, we should live our present lives considering the finished work of Jesus on our behalf in making us one.

We should live our present lives regularly considering the finished work of Jesus on our behalf in making us one.

In Paul’s day, there was a raging disagreement between Jewish and gentile Christians in the church. Some ethnic Jews believed and practiced the abiding validity of the old ceremonial law and so insisted not only on circumcision but on the observance of the Old Testament food laws given through Moses. They were people of Christ, but their book was only the Torah. For these people, the inclusion of the gentiles in the promises of God was a hindrance and a source of division. Paul appeals to the Trinity as the basis for their earthly unity. We see all three persons of the Trinity described in Ephesians 4: God the Holy Spirit (v. 4); God the Son, Jesus Christ (v. 5); and God the Father (v. 6). Their unity is a model for us of how we, though many, must be one. Paul is also reminding us of the great Christian truth that the gospel is something completely outside ourselves. We contribute absolutely nothing to it; we only benefit from it, and it is the foundation of our ability to love one another. As the old hymn says, the church is where, in this life—because of Christ—God’s people find “mystic, sweet communion with those whose rest is won.”

In my denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, our Book of Church Order asks a question in the form of a vow to those called to serve and work toward the unity of the church: “Do you promise to strive for the purity, peace, unity and edification of the Church?” For those who answer yes, a description is given of practical examples of good church unity:

Spiritually fruitful, dignified, prudent, an example to the flock, visiting the people at their homes, especially the sick, instructing the ignorant, comforting the mourner, nourishing and guarding the children of the Church, praying with and for the people, seeking the fruit of the preached Word, ministering to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress, caring for the sick, the widows, the orphans, the prisoners, and others.

The involvement of a Christian in his local church is the most significant earthly organizational relationship he will ever maintain. If a believer loves the theology, history, or liturgy of the church, he should make a special effort to pursue unity within the body. It is his family in this world, and it will be his family in the world to come.

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From the January 2022 Issue
Jan 2022 Issue