CR News

Seeking the Unity of the Church (1)

(The following article originally appeared in the Covenant Reformed News, Ballymena, Northern Ireland-- May 2002)

I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:1-3).                                                                  

It is with deep gratitude to our faithful God that once again we resume our writing for the Covenant Reformed News. This part of the News has been devoted to answering questions concerning the explanation of various texts which our readers sent in. And so, as we resume publication, we ask our readers to send in texts which they wish to see discussed or with which they have some problems. We will do our best to answer them. It is preferable that, when sending in a text, the reader ask a specific question concerning the meaning, for, if only a text is sent in with a request to comment on it, it is easy to miss the point the reader has in mind. I look forward to your requests.                             

In this issue and in following issues I want to discuss the passage from Ephesians 4 quoted above. I do this because the admonition of the text is an urgent one: “Endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit."

The urgency of this admonition is clear from the text itself.

In the first place, the apostle begins the passage by reminding the church in Ephesus that he is a prisoner in Rome for the sake of the gospel of the Lord. It is as a prisoner that he makes this appeal to the church.

The point is that he could very well be killed for the sake of the gospel, and in the consciousness of the fact that his life may be nearing its end, he says as it were: "If there is one admonition more than any other which I want to mention to you Ephesians before I die, it is this: Endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit!"

The urgency of this admonition is also to be found in the fact that chapters 4-6 are the practical part of the epistle in which Paul turns from the doctrine of the church to the practical implications. The very first admonition is this one! "Do this before all else!"

Further, this urgency is underscored by the word the apostle uses: "I beseech you ..." Now "beseech" is a very strong word. The apostle says, as it were, "I beg of you; I plead with you; I put my heart behind this admonition so that it carries all the earnestness of which I am capable!"

Scripture conveys that urgency to you and me. This admonition, directed to you and me, is serious beyond description.

When the apostle speaks of the "unity of the Spirit," he is talking about the unity of the church.

That this is true is clear, first of all, from the fact that the whole epistle to the Ephesians has to do with the doctrine of the church as the body of Christ.

It is clear, in the second place, because in the verses following, the church is the subject of the discussion. "There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. . . . And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (vv. 4-6, 11, 12).

The apostle is not only speaking of the church in general, the church as the body of Christ; he is speaking primarily of the church as institute. That is, he is speaking of the church as it is manifested in the world in the local congregations. This is the church which is composed of the gathering of believers and their seed; the church which worships on the Lord's Day; the church in which are office bearers; the church where the gospel is preached; the church in which God's people enjoy fellowship with God under the preaching and the sacraments, and fellowship with each other in the communion of the saints. It is the church of which we are (or ought to be) members.

The unity of that church we are to endeavor to keep.

When we confess our faith with the words of the Apostles' Creed, we confess that we believe in one holy, catholic church: "I believe an (that is, one) holy, catholic church.

Christ through His Spirit creates the church, and Christ through His Spirit makes the church one. The church is chosen by God from eternity (Eph. 1:4), redeemed from sin through the blood of the cross (Eph. 1:7), and sovereignly called into existence by the power of the gospel (Eph. 1:13).

The text emphasizes this truth as well. We are not (as modern ecumenists claim) to create the unity of the church. We cannot make the church one. We are admonished to keep this unity. It is given to us as a gift. We are to receive it with thanksgiving and treasure it as the greatest of treasures.

In fact, this is really why the unity of the church is called "the unity of the Spirit." It is a unity which the Spirit creates and which has its constant source in the work of the Spirit.

We shall continue our discussion of this important text next time, God willing. For the present, let us meditate on this crucial and important calling that comes to each of us.

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 8
  • Issue: 17
Hanko, Herman

Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)

Ordained: October 1955

Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965

Emeritus: 2001

Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko

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