From the First Global Gathering of the Global Christian Forum, 6 – 9 November 2007, Limuru, Nairobi, Kenya
1. Learning from Paul to pray for one another (Ephesians 1: 15-23)
15 Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Study guide Ephesians 1: 15-23
Our approaches to unity, which by necessity focus on dogmatic, historical, and organizational issues, can lead us to underestimate the availability of God’s power to guide us on the path of unity, a power that is accessed through prayer. As a result, we don’t pray enough for one another’s churches and communities and allow that experience of prayer for each other to transform our attitudes and mutual relations. In this passage, Paul offers some directions for our prayer for one another’s communities.
As we know, the words “in Ephesus” are lacking in some early manuscripts, and indeed, in this passage, Paul appears to be writing to Christians who are from his own community, but whom he appears to know from the information of others. He learns two things about them that lead him to keep on thanking God for them and remembering them in his prayers. One is their faith in the Lord Jesus, and the other is the love they have for all the saints. Do our churches continue this practice of Paul? How often we thank God for the faith in Jesus Christ that we find in other Christian churches or the love for God’s people that we see being lived out other Christian groups? What specifically should thank God for when we reflect on the Christian life lived by churches and communities other than our own? What aspects of their faith life and their loving diakonia are we especially grateful for?
But Paul also prays that God will bestow grace on these other communities. He asks God to give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they know God better. [One could also translate this “that God give them the Spirit of wisdom and revelation,” but it comes down to the same thing, that God send the Holy Spirit on our fellow churches to make them wise and to reveal God’s own will to them.} All of our churches need to grow continually in the knowledge of God and God’s will, but this is only possible if God grants them the wisdom “that comes from above.” If we really want other Christian churches to grow in knowledge of God, we have to keep asking God to grant them wisdom. It is especially important to make this prayer when they have synods, elections, or important decisions to make, or when they are experiencing moments of crisis or confusion. Each of our churches must be able to count on the spiritual support of Christians of other churches.
Paul asks that “the eyes of their hearts” be illumined so that they know three things: 1) the common hope to which all Christians have been called, 2) the riches of the one Christian inheritance of which all are heirs, 3) the incomparable power of God at work among all, the same power that God showed in raising Christ from the dead and making him the source of all fullness and unity. Our heart – that intuitive faculty of perceiving that transcends rational thought, but by grace attains to wisdom – has eyes, but usually those eyes are so dim that they fail to recognize the bases for unity among us. With Paul, should we not be praying that God enlighten the eyes of the heart of all Christians to know that one hope to which we’ve been called, the common inheritance of Christian faith and life in which we variously share, and God’s mighty power at work to bring us into unity and fullness in Christ? Perhaps one of the reasons why we seem to make so little progress on the path toward full, visible Christian unity is that we don’t have enough confidence in this “spiritual” side of ecumenism.
1 Failing to pray regularly for Christian unity, or limiting our prayers to the annual Unity Week, would seem to indicate a lack of deep commitment on the part of our Churches. Should a prayer for Christian unity be incorporated into every worship service?
2. Mention some of the specific elements of faith and love that you find in other churches for which you want to thank God.
3. How would you describe the common hope to which all Christians are called? What is your hope?
2. Joining together to build God’s temple (Ephesians 2: 11-22)
11 Remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men), 12 at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
Study guide Ephesians 2: 11-22
It is perhaps the final verse of this passage that expresses the direction in which Paul’s discourse is leading. In Christ, we are all being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. The image is one of God building a house where God intends to dwell and be glorified through the Spirit. Clearly, the work of unity is God’s own project, not something that we Christians have thought up on our own.
God has already brought us a long way along this path. We are the ones who the Jews, whom God had chosen to be his people, used to refer to as the uncircumcized, the “unchosen,” the outsiders. Paul saw our “former” state as a sorry one in which we lacked every blessing by which the Jews could be distinguished: we were distant from Christ; we did not have the rights and privileges of citizens, but were merely tolerated as resident aliens; we were outside the promises God made to Abraham and his descendants; we did not share the hope of the Jews for a Messiah, and we were living in this world without God. There was bound to be hostility between those who had been given so much and those who were lacking so much.
But “now” in Christ God has changed all that. First of all, Christ, embodying the Divine Word, preached the same message to those who were distant and to those who were near. Then, in Christ’s death on the cross, God once and for all broke down the wall of hostility and made peace by making one new person for whom the old distinctions are irrelevant. By the Spirit we all have one Father and we all have direct access to that Father. We “outsiders” have now become insiders, members of God’s own household, free to come and go as we please, with intimate access to God, the master of the house.
In this way Paul comes to his central image, that of God as a master contractor, building a temple for himself of which we are the building-blocks. If we flesh out this central insight to try to see the project that God is engaged in right now, we get an image of a great construction site, with our individual Christian communities and churches as pre-fabricated parts which God seeking to bring together to fashion a temple dedicated to His own praise and glory. Each of our communities has its own unique qualities, its own gifts, to contribute to this project. We can either choose to take part enthusiastically in this building project of God, or else we can fight it and try to remain as isolated, useless, unused building blocks.
Christian unity is not something that we dreamt up for our own ends, but rather an integral part of God’s plan of salvation. It is participation in God’s building a holy temple for himself; the project is aimed at giving God praise and glory. Shouldn’t we, who started out so far off and alien to God’s activities, be grateful and enthusiastic about being “joined together and rising to become a holy temple in the Lord”?
1. What are some of the gifts with which God has blessed your church for the building up of the one ecumenical Temple?
2. Name some of the spiritual gifts you have discovered in other churches that you feel are making important additions to the construction of the Lord’s temple.
3. When our efforts at unity seem to bog down and go nowhere, we forget that God is directing this project, taking initiatives, and that we are either cooperating or not. What are some of the efforts at unity around the world that you feel can inspire and encourage others?
3. Growing to maturity in Christ (Ephesians 4: 1-6, 11-16)
1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Study guide Ephesians 4: 1-5, 11-16
In this passage St. Paul offers three ways that all of us can work for the unity that Christ desired for his disciples. The first is by actually living our Christian vocation in a way that is worthy of that call. When we act toward other Christians – and toward other Christian churches – with complete humility and gentleness, we make it easier for others to act that way toward us, and thus we bring Christian unity a step closer. Acting patiently when confronted with our own failings as well as those of others, and bearing with one another in love, especially at times of ecclesial crises or on the occasion of hurtful statements, helps us all to maintain the bond of peace which the Spirit brings about among us.
Secondly, while not denying the real differences that exist, Paul invites us to reflect on what we have in common and proposes seven grounds for unity. 1) We form one body. There is only one body, one church of Christ, of which we all participate. In working for unity we seek to make visible that unity that Christ has already established among us. 2) There is one Spirit who is animating every Christian community. When we thank God for the faith and goodness we find in others, we are praising the Spirit that has produced that good. 3) We share a common hope. Christians profess a common goal. We all cry out “Come, Lord Jesus!” and we are all praying and working for the establishment of God’s reign. 4) We all profess one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Since Christ is one, how can we allow ourselves to present such a divided witness to the world? Should we not repent of the scandal caused by our disunity? 5) We have one faith, a common appreciation of what God has accomplished and continues to accomplish in Christ Jesus. Even though our doctrinal formulations often differ, we are invited to go deeper, to explore the common faith that unites us. 6) We profess one baptism, the common experience of dying and rising with Christ, an experience that transcends disputes over baptismal formula and ritual. Recognizing one another’s baptism is an important step toward unity.
7) Most importantly, we acknowledge one God and Father. Just as our Master, Jesus, was consumed with a desire to do the will of his Father, so also our churches exist to do the will of God. One God, who is over all; all our churches must stand before God in judgment and accept responsibility for how they have carried out their mission. We profess one God who works through all. Every church is called to be an instrument of God’s grace. Seeing sister churches as God’s instruments, through whom God is working to reconcile the world to Himself in Christ – this too is progress toward unity. We are conscious of one God who is in all. An awareness of God’s silent, loving presence in every Christian community will make us approach other confessions with the reverence they deserve.
A third step to attain unity is to reflect on the gifts that God has lavished on the various churches. While all confessions desire to embody the fullness of God’s grace, each communion displays specific charisms. Some may emphasize their faithfulness to the apostolic message, others excel in communicating the prophetic message, still others stress evangelism, pastoral service, or teaching the faith. Recognizing that God has given these gifts, not for the glory and pride of any church, but rather for the building up the one body of Christ in unity is a mark of maturity. It is clear that for Paul, unity is a mark of maturity for the churches; disunity is evidence of lingering childishness. We will achieve mature unity by focusing always on Christ rather than being swept about by passing disputes. By “speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”
1. How many of our divisions and tensions can be traced to a failure to act toward one another with humility and gentleness, to a lack of patience and bearing with one another lovingly? How can a humble and gentle approach to doctrinal and organizational issues transform the discourse?
2. As we reflect on the grounds for unity offered by Paul (one body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God and Father), do we agree that unity is different from uniformity? Can there be true unity with legitimate diversity?
3. Do you agree that growing toward greater unity is a sign of our churches’ growing in maturity? Can we look forward to a day on earth when we will be more united and “attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”?