Trinity 17 2021

Ephesians 4:1-6

September 26, 2021

Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID


At the beginning of our Epistle for today, Paul urges us to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  So I have a question for you this morning, “How is that working out for you?”

There’s no doubt that over the last year and a half this been tested.  COVID, politics, mandates, being labelled essential or non-essential, virtue signaling, virtue shaming, not to mention all the other issues that were already going on in our lives, have all put us to test in our Christian walk and doing so with the characteristics listed here. Which by the way, are all qualities of Christ Himself, which He works in the believer for the sake of unity. 

And that’s where St. Paul is going here.  Paul focuses on the major theme of the entire letter to the Ephesians, which is our unity in Christ. Seven times (note the completeness of the number seven), Paul writes of our oneness in 4:4-6, “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, who is over all and through all and in all.”  As Christians, we are one in Christ, brought into the unity of the Church through baptism, and kept there through God’s Word and the Sacrament of the Altar.

The fancy name for this is the una sancta.  This Latin phrase comes from what we confess in the Creed, that we believe in the one, holy, Christian and apostolic church.  Broadly speaking, there is only One Church, one spiritual body of believers in Christ, whose one and only head is Christ.  This One Church is to be found where the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.  These things are the marks of the true Church – Word and Sacrament – because it is through these means that the Holy works faith and unity with Christ.

Even so, there are divisions in the church. Differences of denominations, of language or culture.  Divisions within congregations even.  Divisions are the work of the devil and our own sinful pride.  It was sin that turned man against woman until they could not even look at each other without guilt and shame.  It was sin that built distrust between people and between the Lord and all He had made.  It was sin spoiled love with fear and self-interest.  It was sin that broke the world and left us as competitors and enemies. 

Our old Adam desires to do his own thing, strengthened by the individualistic American culture in which we live.  Our old Adam desires to redefine God’s Word, to pick and choose what to believe in or not believe, to be enslaved by what feels good at the time or what may please man.  We want to do it on our own, by ourselves.  We cannot sacrifice our unity in Christ for the sake of uniformity to the world. Where that leads is not to unity, but to isolation, loneliness, division.

To restore unity with God and to build anew the unity between people took nothing less than the incarnation of our Lord and the sacrifice of His very life on the cross to restore what sin had stolen. Earlier in Ephesians, in chapter 2, Paul speaks about the oneness we have in Christ. “He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that He might create in Himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace and might reconcile us both in God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility” (Eph 2:14-16). We can only have unity with each other if we have been united with Christ through faith. One Lord – a confession that Jesus is Yahweh, that He truly God. One faith – not the act of believing, but that which is believed, true doctrine. One baptism – baptism as new birth cannot be repeated, and there is only one Baptism into which all Christians are baptized and joined together as Christ joins Himself to His people by the means of the water and the Word. 

The true unity of the church centers around the agreement of the Gospel and the right administration of the Sacraments. St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:19, “… there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized.” Divisions, though sad, make clear who is following Christ and His Word and who is not.  A Christian should avoid false teachers, false teaching, and false churches so that we are not tossed to and for by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 

What is at stake here for us is not the true unity of the Church, but our continued connection to it.  Twentieth century theologian Herman Sasse once commented, “No one can split the body of Christ. But what can happen is that we cease to be members of this body, that we defect from the Una Sancta by the grave sins of schism and heresy.”[1]  We should always seek to be and remain part of the Una Sancta, the One Holy Church, by sincere faith in Christ and faithful to that visible gathering of God’s saints where the Gospel is purely taught and Sacraments are rightly administered.  The basis for what goes on over there (Luther Hall, or even outside the church) is what goes on in here.  (Exemplified by “Communion” with God and one another). It really does matter which denomination you belong to, and it really does matter which congregation you attend, and it really does matter what you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth and your actions.   

 The unity of the Church is at the same time a gift that is given by God in Christ and a task in which we are to work toward maintaining in the Spirit. We are to maintain, to hold fast, to keep, to treasure that which has been given to us. Christ makes us one, Christ provides the gifts to maintain the oneness, and all Christians are to seek it as our goal. It is not of human making, it is the work of Christ. Nor is it of human preserving, it is the Spirit’s gift.  Nor can it be destroyed by human neglect or hostility, it has Christ as its cornerstone.  The true unity of the Church is always a perfect, holy thing, because it is of God. Through faith in Chirst alone, and by His grace alone, so are you. 

[1] Quoted in Concordia Commentary: Ephesians by Thomas Winger, CPH 2015, p 485.