Foundations of Community II: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

Last week, we started looking at the foundations of Christian community, beginning with the reality of the Triune God. Since God is both three and one, Christian community needs to do justice to both truths. So how do we know when diversity is good, and when we
should emphasize unity? Paul addresses this in Ephesians 4 when he calls for unity and packs seven “one” ideas into three short verses: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. We will focus on the three “ones” found in verse 5: one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and try to answer the questions: “Why is it necessary to have only one?” and, “Why should we be glad that there is only one?”

First, one Lord. Why can’t community work with more than one Lord? The answer is that divided lordship splits a community. You will necessarily end up loving one Lord, and hating the other. This can show up when a church divides into factions, as it did in 1 Corinthians 1, or in the Christian home, when God’s pattern of authority and submission is replaced by our modern notions of equality, and children end up picking sides between two parents. Why can the Church have only one Lord? Because having two lords destroys community. Why is the husband called to lead and the wife to submit? Because having two lords destroys the family. When there are two lords, the community or church or family is marked by competition, confusion, division, and infighting. When there is one leader, one Lord, the result is wholeness, peace and harmony.

Second, one faith. Why can’t Christian community exist with more than one faith? At the personal level, Jesus warns us in the context of marriage not to be unequally yoked with an unbeliever – why? Because inter-faith marriages break community apart. When people get married they become one flesh, and Jesus is saying that two faiths cannot fit inside one flesh. At the community level, the Church is one body, and only one faith will fit – any more, and the body will split.

We may agree that this is true, but why is one faith good? It’s because a common faith breaks down all false divisions and barriers between people. There is no competition between different paths to heaven when there is only one path. We come to the cross completely empty of ourselves – we are all equally sinners, and equally in need of a Savior. Instead of being a source of envy, pride, and ugly divisions, one faith protects the graciousness of grace, and makes us a humble people.

Third, one baptism. Whom do we follow? One Lord – Jesus. What do we believe? – One faith. Who are we? Baptism is what answers that question. Baptism identifies Christians, and it is when we think about baptism’s function as a means of identification that we understand most clearly why we can’t have more than one. Think of baptism as a membership card that lets you into the Church. What if you show up to a church that doesn’t accept your baptism? “Actually, here at this church, we require you to pass our theology test, or our age test, or our state of your heart test.” Functionally, many churches do have different “baptisms”, and when this happens, the community is divided – some baptized people are treated as Christians, and some are not.

The reason why one baptism is so beautiful is that it takes the guesswork out of fellowship – you don’t have to try to read hearts or make judgments based on your limited knowledge in order to participate in community together. Baptism lets you speak about others with confident faith. This means that we need to treat all baptized people as Christians. This helps explain why our children come to the Lord’s Table – we don’t have two baptisms, two different membership cards. We do not wonder whether our children are Christians – when God baptized them, He said that they are, and we believe Him.

The point is this: Some kinds of diversity build community, and some kinds of diversity destroy community, and we need God to show us which is which. In these three instances a lack of diversity is a good thing, because it protects us from harmful divisions that would tear our community apart. Christian community seeks maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace by following one Lord, by sharing one faith, and acknowledging one baptism.

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