25 September 2008

The Creedal Marks of the Church: (1) Unity

What ought we to be looking for in a church? The Nicene Creed provides us with four characteristics: It should be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.

What does unity mean for the church? Hans Küng remarks,

The unity of the Church is not simply a natural entity, is not simply moral unanimity and harmony, is not just sociological conformity and uniformity. … The unity of the Church is a spiritual entity. It is not chiefly a unity of the members among themselves, it depends finally not on itself but on the unity of God, which is efficacious through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit.

Genuine unity in the church can be conceived of only as oneness in and through Christ. René Padilla writes that “the unity resulting from Christ’s work is not an abstract unity, but a new community in which life in Christ becomes the decisive factor”. A picture of this unity is given in Luke’s description of the nascent church on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:42-47. The members of the first church were men and women who had been “cut to the heart” by the gospel. They signified their acceptance of that message through their submission to baptism and the single-minded priority that they laid on the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer.

The unity that Christians share in Christ cannot be reduced to mere uniformity or confused with unanimity. Paul’s image of the body of Christ with each member having its own particular function as a part of the whole, makes this clear. The unity that he envisions is a unity in diversity that depends on a delicate balance between individual freedom and mutual obligation. The unity that the early Christians shared in faith quickly translated into a unity in service and action. Such unity in service can only be on the basis of a deep oneness in faith—a shared experience of spiritual regeneration through Christ.

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