The Church Is Constitutionally One (Part 3 of 3)

By Clint Gill

The first two articles in this series examined Thomas Campbell’s statement in the Declaration and Address that the church found in the New Testament is essentially and intentionally one. Its essential nature is defined by fellowship. It is intentionally one as both the fulfillment and the fulfilling agency of God’s reconciling work in Christ. The series concludes this week by examining Campbell’s assertion that the church is constitutionally one.

To say that the church is constitutionally one is to say that its oneness was expressed in its form ordained and appointed by God. The apostle Paul expresses this foundational truth in Ephesians 4:1-6:

I am calling you therefore . . . to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all humility and gentleness, with long-suffering, bearing one another up, in love being eager to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all (author’s translation).

The unity described here is organic oneness. The theme “body of Christ” is prominent in Paul’s discussions of the church throughout his epistles. In 1 Corinthians 12:14-27 he underscores the truth that the unit in Christian unity is the individual believer: “You are Christ’s body, and individually members of it.”

Paul prefaces his appeal for the maintenance of unity with a call for a Christian attitude and lifestyle that are the essence of genuine Christian character. The Greek harios, worthily, is a picture word depicting the return of a coin to the mint for weighing. It was common practice to shave precious metal off of coins and to accumulate the gold or silver for personal gain. Roman coins were circulated back to the mint and weighed in a balance in order to ensure full value.

Paul encourages us to be “full-value Christians” in our attitude toward one another for the sake of unity. A full measure of Christian character requires “all humility.” Such an attitude is the opposite of the “pride of life,” which John identifies as one of the “things of the world” (1 John 2:16).

Genuineness includes long-suffering. Some complained about the time consumed in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ by scenes depicting the brutal prelude to Jesus’ crucifixion. They said it detracted from the film’s message. Gibson’s portrayal was mild compared to what actually happened before Roman prisoners were put on a cross. Historians estimate that about 40 percent of those sentenced to crucifixion died before they reached the cross.

The long-suffering of Christ challenges the genuineness of those he instructed to take up their own crosses. It involves more than putting up with unpleasant people. We are to bear one another up in love, to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
Burton Coffman points out what is involved: “Having an attitude that grants them [other members of the body] the same ‘right to belong’ which he claims for himself.”
I know a little town where there are eight small, struggling congregations. Four of them have roots in the Stone-Campbell Movement and two other denominations are represented by two congregations each. It’s a friendly little town. They work together, send their kids to the same school, and enjoy the same neighborhood activities—until Sunday comes. Then they hide from one another in their separate church buildings and refuse to allow anyone the “right to belong” until he/she jumps through their institutional hoop. Until such attitudes change, the church will never rise above the sectarianism that divides it.

Paul directs us to “be eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” He then tells us what constitutes that bond: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. In the Greek text of Ephesians 4:4-6, no verb is expressed. Paul doesn’t say there is, or there ought to be. Rather in staccato sequence he enumerates the requisites that constitute the unity of the church.

W.O. Carver wrote, “Paul grounds his call for unity upon a sevenfold ideal and factual foundation. The whole Christian experience and movement are based on these fundamental, factual elements.”

A Sevenfold Ideal
One body—This one fellowship recognizes no distinctions of race or culture; no economic caste system; and no gender bias. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Understanding the cross in light of the resurrection, “the love of Christ constrains us. . . . Therefore from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh . . . if anyone is in Christ he is a new kind of creature; the old things passed away” (2 Corinthians 5:14-17, author’s translation).

One Spirit—In the New Testament, any body inhabited by more than one spirit was considered to be demon possessed. Since the church is the body of Christ, this is unthinkable. Every member receives the same (one) Holy Spirit at baptism.One hope—In Ephesians 1:18, Paul prays that “you may know what is the hope of his calling.” The hope to which he refers is not what we hope to get out of being Christians. No one should minimize our precious hope of Heaven, nor the positive, hopeful outlook his love engenders. However, when Paul uses the word elpis, hope, in the Ephesian letter, he goes far beyond the self-centered attitude that brings people to the church only because of what they hope to gain from it.

W.O. Carver’s commentary on Ephesians is titled The Glory of God in the Christian Calling. In it, Dr. Carver shows the purpose of God fulfilled in human life as the stewardship of the church. That’s the “one hope of your calling.”

One Lord—Our democratic culture has a hard time comprehending the concept expressed in Lord. John Adams was limited to a single term as president of the United States because his political opponents promoted the erroneous notion that he wanted to establish an American monarchy.
The biblical understanding of Lord is probably best illustrated in Jesus’ statement, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). God doesn’t call committee meetings or take opinion polls. He gives commands. The lordship of Christ is a vital aspect of the constitution of the church as a single body.

One Faith—When my brother arrived in Lackland Air Force base for basic training, he answered questions asked by the lieutenant responsible for obtaining biographical information. When they came to the question marked “religion,” he was asked, “Protestant, Catholic, or Jew?”
My brother replied, “Neither!”
“So,” the interviewer said, “you are an atheist?”
My brother answered, “No. I’m a Christian.”
“Oh,” said the lieutenant, “are you a Catholic or a Protestant?”
To which my brother replied, “Neither. Just a Christian.”
Eventually the officer wrote “Christian” on the form. And my brother was probably the first man to go through Air Force basics with “Christian” stamped on his dog tags.
A primary reason for the division that has plagued the church for centuries is our insistence on hyphenating the one faith with denominational names.
One baptism—Coffman points out that “seven baptisms are mentioned in the New Testament. ‘One baptism’ here means there is only one as pertains to the Christian life. There can be no escape from the conclusion that this is the baptism of the Great Commission.”
One God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all–“One God” is the seminal truth of the gospel.

Organic Oneness

The unity constituted by these seven factual elements is an organic oneness. Such unity is clearly understood by what it is not as much as by what it is. It is not unanimity, absolute conformity of opinion codified into a creed. It is not uniformity, complete similarity of expression and method. It is not union, oneness of ecclesiastical affiliation.

The unity constituted by these seven factual elements is an organic oneness. Such unity is clearly understood by what it is not as much as by what it is. It is not unanimity, absolute conformity of opinion codified into a creed. It is not uniformity, complete similarity of expression and method. It is not union, oneness of ecclesiastical affiliation.

To realize the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” we need the “worthy walk” implored by the apostle, the active determination to maintain the unity of the Spirit, and an acceptance of Paul’s seven factual elements as constituting that bond. Paul has identified the constituting elements of the church’s essential and intentional oneness. The recognition and practice of these seven elements that make up the bond of peace is all that is necessary to accomplish Paul’s plea and Jesus’ prayer (John 17).

Generation X, with their hunger for relationships in a world disconnected by the technology that connects it, is waiting to be won by a church that is essentially, intentionally, and constitutionally one!


Clint Gill lives in Taylorsville, Kentucky, and serves as an instructor with Christian Training Ministries (www.ctmministries.com) based in Greenford, Ohio.

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