The Unity of the Spirit

I was in a discussion on Facebook concerning the nature of the church. I am holding this discussion with a couple of Orthodox church members. One of them provided a bunch of quotes on the church from the “church fathers.”

Some ideas came from that …

  1. I really like a couple of the quotes, so I’m going to share them in this post.
  2. I realized that “church fathers” is a mysterious term to most Protestants. To most of us, they are people in ecclesiastical robes,  belonging to an unspecified era a long time ago and belonging to churches we don’t understand, but that were probably Roman Catholic. So I’m going to share a timeline of church history starting tomorrow, then drill down on it bit by bit over a few posts.

Early Church Fathers on the Spirit and the Church

These are not the church fathers that I normally quote. Tomorrow, I’ll begin explaining why I quote from the “pre-Nicene” or “ante-Nicene” fathers and almost never quote post-Nicene fathers. That will be the “Learn All of Church History in One Week” series. You won’t know any details, but you’ll have a framework of all of church history that you can plug the details into. Basically, we will be building a set of shelves in which you can organize and retain everything you know and will know about Christian history.

Anyway, here’s the quotes:

“What is the unity of the Spirit?” asks Saint John Chrysostom, and he answers, “Just as the spirit, in the body, controls all and communicates some sort of unity to the diversity which arises from the various bodily members, so it is here. But the Spirit is also given in order to unite people who are diverse among themselves in descent and in their way of thinking.” (from http://www.pravoslavie.ru/english/christchurchilarion.htm)

Blessed Theodoret says, “You are all considered worthy of a common Spirit; you compose one body.” Blessed Jerome describes: “One body in the sense of the body of Christ, which is the Church; and one Holy Spirit, one single dispenser and sanctifier of all.” (ibid.)

Blessed Paul Pavao would like to say he really likes these quotes.

Hey, those guys were probably more obedient to King Jesus than I am. They were probably better servants to our Master. However, there’s no way they were more blessed than me. Our Father has been very gracious to me, a sinner, as I am sure he has been to you if you have given any effort to following him.

Anyway, back to the point …

Throughout the post I linked after that first quote, there is this emphasis on the Spirit as the source of our unity. I can’t say I followed the point of the whole post because I got lost in my own points after I read the quotes.

There are those who are unified by the Spirit despite their various descents and ways of  thinking. There are those who are being sanctified by the Spirit. There are those who want to please Jesus above everything else in their life, and no matter how good or bad they are at pleasing Jesus, they are the ones who will find the Holy Spirit uniting and transforming them.

That is the church. Everything that gets in the way of our acting that spiritual unity out is at best a distraction and at worst evil. We are called to diligently maintain the unity of the Spirit.

“Maintain” means that we already have it.

Acts 5:32 says that God gives the Holy Spirit to those that obey him.* If the Holy Spirit is in us, he will unite us. I think most of us have experienced that feeling. We have met people that we just knew were Christians. There was a draw to them, and they felt the same toward us.

That unity is to be diligently maintained.

What About Important Doctrines?

There are important doctrines. No one denies that. I think most of us agree, however, that God doesn’t give the Holy Spirit to people who deny the basics of the Christian faith.

What are those basics?

There are things that all of us agree are important. The Apostles Creed is a good example. To boil the Apostles Creed down to its basic meaning, we are to believe that God the Father created everything with no exceptions. He created all these things through King Jesus, our Lord, the Son of God, who was born of God before time began, one in substance from the Father (God from God), and that all the things we read about him in the  Gospels really happened. He really was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died for our sins, rose again bodily, and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of the Father. We also believe in the Holy Spirit.

The Apostles Creed adds that we believe in one church and in one baptism for the remission of sins, but the interpretation of those terms is extremely varied in our day.

Okay, given that these things are important, all debate about anything else needs to be done keeping in mind that if we have unity of Spirit with people, we have to diligently maintain it.

I’m not going to tell you how to maintain it. I saw a discussion on Facebook about whether to fellowship with other Christians if they did not agree with you on head coverings (re: 1 Cor. 11). It’s important that the church discuss these things and draw conclusions. A person who breaks fellowship with a church over such an issue, however, has forgotten that we are to diligently maintain the unity of the Spirit.

How would things be different if that were our attitude? If we could say, “I have my convictions, my Bible interpretations, and my strong opinions. I don’t want to see them dismissed, but if you are my brother or sister, united to me in Spirit, I will diligently maintain that unity until I absolutely cannot. Even then, when I can no longer maintain that unity, I will honestly examine myself to see if there is any change I can make in myself for the sake of the unity of God’s flock.”

After all, if we are able to believe that another person has the Spirit of God, then are we not believing that God has fellowship with that person? And if God does, shouldn’t we?

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11 Responses to The Unity of the Spirit

  1. Pingback: Day 342: Ephesians 4-6; Unity in the Spirit | Overisel Reformed Church

  2. Ruth says:

    Deal breakers hurt. So does compromise. Between a rock and a hard place look up, don t lose hope. message to self.

  3. Ruth says:

    That would make a lot of sense

  4. ruth says:

    dear blessed Paul. as much as it lies within you is all we can offer to maintain unity with people set on discord. thanks for the nudge I have been struggling myself with where to fellowship and whether to sign an agreement with a group that “allows me ‘membership'”. I may have to attend without full assent with their creed but they are welcoming and I do sense God’s Holy Spirit there. it’s irksome to be second class. ha ha all is well. thanks for the posts.

    • paulfpavao says:

      I understand the difficulties, Ruth. I have lived with them myself. Yesterday, though, we were able to begin the process of affiliating with a group of “microchurches” here in Memphis. We’re pretty excited about it. The affiliation is a cooperation between these house churches who also come together each week for meetings and fellowship.

  5. paulfpavao says:

    Hmm. I can’t really disagree on any of this.

    I guess there’s a particular audience I had in mind, which I did not specify. I’m terrible about that. It’s not that I wouldn’t like everyone to consider these things, but there are those that are trying to bring people of varied backgrounds together. Some hardheads can never be joined to anyone because they love disputation. Some perfectly decent Christians can’t be joined because the bridge between their backgrounds is too great. Usually, that is Protestant and RC/Orthodox (purely my experience).

    The people in the discussion on FB that I mentioned consider me a heretic. I consider them Pharisees. I’m in another discussion with Orthodox believers, and most of them have to consider me a heretic, too. (I know there may be a better word than heretic since I was never Orthodox.)

    The general idea, however, that the unity of the Spirit is first to be maintained is a command of the apostle, though. I’m looking for the application of it, and it has had very practical application and amazing results in our community here in west Tennessee.

    • I didn’t enjoy being a party pooper – I’ve just seen wonderful beginnings come to a grinding halt when it came to the details. That is. after all, where the devil typically lies. (Pun intended)

      However, I thoroughly endorse the thrust of the post. Contemporary Christians are rarely fussed by schism and they should be. After all, Jesus said that our unity would witness to the world that He was sent by the Father. The maintenance of unity and the work towards unity should be the mission of all, at every level of the Church.

      I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this quotation before, but it was said by an Orthodox Bishop shortly after the Council of Florence that the Church is divided “because our love for one another has grown cold”. Love covers a multitude of sins.

      • paulfpavao says:

        Great pun, if I can say that about a subject so true and so critical.

        Some friends and I were just discussing today some practical issues. We are linking up with a network of house churches here in Memphis, and they have a weekly gathering that most of the members of that network come to. They broke bread, and it was presided over by a woman. I was more than a little surprised.

        Knowing you background, I’m sure that’s a critical issue to you. For me, it’s something that is going to have to wait for us to talk about. There’s some relationship that needs to be established first.

        We were comparing that to ourselves after 18 years together at Rose Creek Village. We can talk about anything, right now, and it’s never divisive. We can explore anything, follow Jesus anywhere, and learn. It’s the product of a long learning about what hurts our fellowship with God and what does not.

      • > Knowing you background, I’m sure that’s a critical issue to you. For me, it’s something that is going to have to wait for us to talk about. There’s some relationship that needs to be established first.

        An established relationship, founded in charity, is much more likely to survive the storms of disagreement, absolutely. However, such an issue will have to be talked about at some point and an agreement might not be met by everyone. If so, then what? Is this going to be an impediment to close/closer communion?

        I think of it in terms of a romantic relationship. As you date someone and get to know her you may(!) find issues over which you cannot agree. Some of these will be issues you can to live with (e.g. Red Vines vs. Twizzlers) but other issues might be more serious (e.g. refusal to have children). We can choose not to raise such issues for a time. We usually do so in the hope that the other person will change her mind, but also to establish goodwill and a more substantial relationship prior to dealing with something so contentious. Eventually, however, the discussion must happen, particularly if the end goal of the relationship is the covenant of marriage, the most intimate of relationships. These deal breakers may well ultimately halt the progression of the relationship and its elevation to a covenant. It’s sad, but that’s life.

        > We can talk about anything, right now, and it’s never divisive. We can explore anything, follow Jesus anywhere, and learn. It’s the product of a long learning about what hurts our fellowship with God and what does not.

        I’d say I’ve had mixed experiences in the different congregations (and denominations) to which I’ve been attached. Some good, some bad.

        Something that’s probably interesting to note though is the role that authority has sometimes played in those contentious situations. For example, there were times when a pastor made a decision that wasn’t very popular with some members of the congregation. It was quite beautiful to witness on occasion those members of the congregation swallowing their pride, trusting their pastor’s fatherly judgement and authority, and giving him their full support.

        “How good and pleasant it is
        when God’s people live together in unity!” – Psalm 133:1

        • paulfpavao says:

          I didn’t have a reply button at my blog. Odd. Blocked out of commenting on my own blog. It’s easy for me to believe in “the uprising of the machines.”

          Anyway …

          //These deal breakers may well ultimately halt the progression of the relationship and its elevation to a covenant. It’s sad, but that’s life.//

          Very true. Your description of the process was excellent. That’s exactly how I think of it.

          //Something that’s probably interesting to note though is the role that authority has sometimes played in those contentious situations. For example, there were times when a pastor made a decision that wasn’t very popular with some members of the congregation. It was quite beautiful to witness on occasion those members of the congregation swallowing their pride, trusting their pastor’s fatherly judgement and authority, and giving him their full support.//

          Yep. In this situation, where we are coming into a larger body, my friends and I are the ones that have to swallow our pride and trust leaders. We do get to talk about it before that happens … but not yet.

  6. I like the sentiment here, but I think the day-to-day issues cause real problems. For example, you reference the Apostles Creed but some Christians would want to stop you right there, declaring “No creed but Christ”.

    There is another problem when we talk about agreeing on the “basics” – who gets to say what the basics are? The Trinity? Baptismal Regeneration? …

    The attitude of humility you describe at the end is good and admirable, particularly in maintaining the bonds of charity, but I don’t think it would do much to prevent schism and heresy since I would suggest that most schismatics and heretics honestly do think that the issue at hand is a “deal-breaker”.

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