This is my second post in a series of ecclesiological explorations. We are studying the church in order to counter the bad ecclesiology that pervades so much of today’s world. We begin our ecclesiological exploration by studying the four characteristics given to the Church in the creeds: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. These four characteristics can not be truly separated. They properly belong together and are thus confessed together as a whole. Nevertheless, we will consider each of them in turn for convenience and nuance. We begin with the first: “the Church is One…”
We should strive toward unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ around the world, but before we prescribe that we strive for unity, we must describe the unity that already exists. The Church is one. It is one because God is one. This is a theological description, not a sociological or organizational description. Though we rightly confess that our God is Trinity, we also rightly confess that God is one. In a similar manner, though we can clearly see the plurality in the Church world-wide, we rightly confess that the Church is one.
Notice that in the New Testament there are a diversity of Churches. There are some churches where women pray and prophesy (1 Cor. 11:5) and others where women were silent (1 Tim. 2:11). There were churches that were more Jewish and others that were more Gentile. The body has many parts (1 Cor. 12:12, 18, 20). There were arguments and disagreements in the earliest church (Acts 15; 1 Cor. 1:10-17; Gal. 2:11-14; Phil. 4:2). Diversity in the Church has existed since its beginning. The New Testament does not try to cover these things up or hide them in any way.
If the New Testament has no worries about the obvious diversity in the church from its earliest days, why should we? Diversity in the church is not a threat to its oneness. In fact, not only is the diversity of the church not a threat to its oneness, the diversity of the church may very well be argued to be the prime expression of its oneness. Unity does not mean uniformity. God comes to us in human flesh in a particular place and time in history. The Church has always encouraged local expressions of the faith in local languages, cultures, and traditions.
We are called to live what already is. We are called to do visibly that which already is invisibly.
I end with Paul’s words to the Ephesians:
4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, – Eph. 4:4-5 NRSV