Christian Unity: The Pilgrim’s Progress -- By: Thomas N. Smith

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 08:3 (Summer 1999)
Article: Christian Unity: The Pilgrim’s Progress
Author: Thomas N. Smith

Christian Unity: The Pilgrim’s Progress

Thomas N. Smith

The Christians responsible for my early nurture in the faith were good at many things. They believed implicitly in the Bible and the fundamentals taught in it. They were convinced that men without Christ were lost and on their way to hell, and were concerned to rescue as many of them as possible through the preaching of the gospel at home and abroad. They preached the necessity of fervent prayer and practiced what they preached. They bore a tender affection and self-denying love toward those within their own fellowship. They were exemplars in these and many other virtues.

They were not very good at unity. Indeed, in the ecumenical climate of the 1960s they were downright hostile to the concept. I could be wrong, but I do not recall hearing one sermon or address on the subject of unity in the first ten years of my Christian life. All the Christians with whom I had my earliest associations were members of churches which had begun their historical existence in reaction to and separation from other Christian churches.

This aspect of my early Christian formation imprinted me negatively for most of my life as a Christian and minister. Like malaria, which continues to plague the sufferer for years after it is first contracted, this anti-unity disease has continued to trouble me. My early career as a student, a preacher, and then a pastor, fills me with shame and regret. After some fifteen years of conflict with and separation

from institutions, denominations, and friends, I began to rethink the issue of unity in the body of Christ. The most important biblical passage in this long and thorough “rethink” was Ephesians 4:1–16.

The First Concern Of The Prisoner Of The Lord

Having laid the doctrinal foundation of his epistle in chapters 1–3, namely that through the riches of God’s free grace in Jesus Christ, Jew and Gentile are now one new man existing in a new organism called the church, in which the manifold wisdom of God is now revealed to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places, Paul (who describes himself as “the prisoner of Christ Jesus” [3:1] and “the prisoner of the Lord” [4:1] begins to set a new ethical agenda for those who are participants in this new reality. They are “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which they have been called” (4:1). They are not to conduct themselves as they formerly did, but, rather, are to behave in...

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