We Are One

/ Friday, February 21st, 2014 / 2 Comments »

Ice cubes have come a long way. A century ago, cubes were delivered in one enormous block. When I was a child, my family used ice cube trays. Today, however, if you need to fill a beverage cooler before a picnic or ball game, you needn’t even touch a tray. Many refrigerators produce cubes one at a time. Simply position your cooler below the dispenser, push the button and watch individual pieces of ice roll out of the door.

As the ice cube has gone, so has the evangelical Protestant movement. This is true at least in Western culture where one’s identity is no longer defined by the block (the Catholic Church) or the tray (a denomination in which there’s a shared ecclesial structure). Instead, evangelicals often operate as individuals who roll out the door with little-to-no commitment to church membership.

Given the depth of individualism within many of our Protestant circles, Catholics often see us as a multitude of isolated believers bereft of unity. We have no papal leader, no bishops to govern, no common liturgy to stabilize public worship, and a lack of agreement about what constitutes orthodox belief and practice. What we do have (from a Catholic point of view) are a myriad of fragmented churches which seem to make decisions according to their preferences. We evangelicals often see such fragmentation as “unfortunate;” for Catholics however it’s a travesty.

I think it is fair to say that in many evangelical quarters, we depreciate the importance of visible church unity. For instance, in how many towns do we have likeminded evangelical churches that never communicate with one another? Pastor Josh Moody explains how we make this mistake:

We, in conservative Christian circles, have vigorously maintained the message of the gospel but, at least in some areas and among some movements, have begun to lose any profound grasp of the community of Christ. We have rightly said that a relationship with God is a personal matter. In our context, though, it has become but a step, and a step many of us have unthinkingly taken, to acquiesce that a relationship with God is a purely individual matter. This is practical heterodoxy. Jesus said you can identify his disciples by the kind of relationship they have with one another, by the “love” they have for one another.[1]

In the same vein as Moody, New Testament theologian Robert Banks presses on this problem when he writes, “Paul’s understanding of community is nothing less than the gospel in corporate form!”[2] Think about that for a moment.

When a scholar like Banks makes such a provocative statement, it is worth considering. In a simple sentence he hits us between the eyes with an aspect of salvation that often eludes us; namely, when God redeems us, he births us into his community. Each of us represents a living stone which God enjoins to form a spiritual house (Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-10). We are members of Christ’s Body, organically connected to one another (Rom 12:3-8; 1 Cor 12:12-31). The Lord Jesus himself prays for this unity asking the Father to make us “one,” just as the triune God is One (John 17:11), and the Apostle Paul exhorts us to earnestly preserve our oneness (Eph 4:3). Anything less is sub-Christian.


[1] Josh Moody. The God-Centered Life: Insights from Jonathon Edwards for Today. (Vancouver: Regent College Publishing, 2006), 113.

[2] Robert Banks. Paul’s Idea of Community. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 190.

2 Comments

  1. Bryan Cross says:

    Chris,

    Amen. The Banks’ quotation is money. We might even say that the horizontal and vertical dimensions of the gospel are inseparable. One can’t love God and not love one’s neighbor. One can’t love Christ and reject His family. The gospel is *essentially* communal, in that respect.

    Thanks for writing this!

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  2. […] We, in conservative Christian circles, have vigorously maintained the message of the gospel but, at least in some areas and among some movements, have begun to lose any profound grasp of the community of Christ. We have rightly said that a relationship with God is a personal matter. In our context, though, it has become but a step, and a step many of us have unthinkingly taken, to acquiesce that a relationship with God is a purely individual matter. This is practical heterodoxy. Jesus said you can identify his disciples by the kind of relationship they have with one another, by the "love" they have for one another. […]

Leave a Reply