One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism

A Maxim for Today — Unless It’s Too Late

At this moment, the number of Adventists eager for forthright coverage of goings-on in the church’s administrative circles has gotten ominously larger. Recent initiatives from Silver Spring seem, after all, to put the church’s very unity at risk.

Since we are within days of an Annual Council fraught with potential discord, it is well to heed anew the New Testament’s ideal of church unity. Although we cannot suppose that circumstances today exactly equal those in New Testament times, two classic chapters — Ephesians 4 and John 17 — still offer vital correction and encouragement.

The first of these came to my present attention on Thursday, September 20, when Bobby McGhee, a pastor in the Arizona Conference, called to say, “We need phrase.” He meant, he went on, a phrase central to Christian life that could be a maxim for a time when conflict may tear us apart despite all we have in common.

When Pastor McGhee proposed “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism” the phrase struck like a bugle call: Yes, what better summons to an awakening! We need solidarity, not division. We need hope, not discouragement. Our perspectives vary, as do our backgrounds, but we still yearn, worldwide, for singleness of purpose and commitment. Perhaps the six words from Ephesians, diamond-bright in their classic setting, could precipitate renewal toward these ends. Pessimism inside of me says, “I doubt it,” and perhaps the same is true for you. But for as long we trust the risen Christ, our hopes cannot shatter altogether. Sheer pessimism, though understandable, is pagan; Christian hope says Yes despite all the reasons to say No.

So consider “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.” Ephesians 4, the phrase’s home, begins by asking readers “to lead a life worthy” of their “calling.” In such a life, “with all humility and gentleness” and “patience,” we bear “with one another in love” and make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” So when we are worthy of our calling, the New Testament is telling us, we are not cocky or pushy; instead we are patient and forbearing, focused on strengthening the life we share together.

Does this mean that whatever our convictions, and however firmly held, we must at all costs avoid offense to any brother or a sister who disagrees with us?

Recall that although we share “one Lord,” we are human, so we lack the God’s-eye view and our interpretations of that lordship are bound to differ. We share “one faith,” one trust and loyalty, yet, as we grow together, not only limited perspective, but also faultiness, remain. We share “one baptism,” but the same public response to God still leaves us at different points and circumstances along the way to maturity. “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism” does say that we belong to the same story and revere the same God, but it does not say we are the same to the point of uniformity. The fact of difference — real and difficult difference — is why Ephesians 4 assumes that we must put great “effort” — forbearing “effort” — into maintaining Christian unity.

The point, then, is not to withdraw from our convictions, as if they were optional. Ephesians 4 tells us that “speaking the truth” is good. We need to let our disagreements into the open, look for deeper understanding, clear fresh pathways toward consensus. But all this works best if we proceed “in love,” reaching, to be sure, for “the full stature of Christ” yet doing so with “all humility and gentleness.”

This is hard, and who would say Adventists are particularly good at it? Surely no one. No human beings are particularly good at it. What harder goal, after all, than to achieve, at one time, both integrity and patience?

From the beginning, you remember, the message of Ephesians demolishes barriers against Gentiles and announces a single new humanity under God. In that light, may we not infer that spaces from which we have excluded others must also open up? Does it not mean that hurt we inflict — including hurt to our mothers, sisters, and daughters — must end? How can there be any outsiders in God’s single new humanity? How can we allow anyone even to feel like an outsider?

But…we differ, and have no easy time of resolving differences.

If Christ alone “ascended on high,” gave us “gifts,” and now functions as our “head,” how can we give a few human beings, from one center of power in Silver Spring, such authority as to stifle conscientiously held variations of outlook or aspiration? It matters that we are linked together as a global community, but how can we allow ourselves to resemble the sheer hierarchy Jesus himself associated with the Gentiles?

But again…we differ, and in dealing with difference we are, being human, clumsy, or stubborn or both.

We thus take some of the shine off Christian solidarity. But remember again how Ephesians spells out the ideal of our unity on earth. We do, the letter says, share “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism,” but in the present we may expect our solidarity to be imperfect. Unity on earth is something we aspire to. It takes, I repeat, “effort.” It means “bearing with one another in love.” We must bring “humility,” “gentleness” and “patience” to all our interactions.

One reason the upcoming Annual Council worries people is that top leaders are setting these values aside. Instead of helping us struggle through our differences, or live at peace in spite of them, they hope to stamp them out, coerce them away. These leaders seem comfortable with hierarchy instead of wanting to overcome it. “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism” is a maxim for today because that phrase, taken in its context, lifts up the true unity we now desperately need. It does tell us that we are one, really one. But it tells us, too, that on this earth all unity in Christ is partly broken, and that this fact properly calls forth — not pride and pushiness, but forbearing love.

In what time, I ask, have we more needed forbearing love? In what time have we more needed humility, gentleness, and patience?

Simple Bible truth can seem too boring or naive or demanding. But can giving in to feelings that savage moral seriousness make human sense? Cynicism that “sees through” spiritual and moral passion as irrelevant or hypocritical or repressive is only self-indulgent. Arrogance determined, despite limits we all share, to force its way on the rest of us is, in Scripture’s light, an abomination.

Just when Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to assist us toward truth and implied that the journey is hard, he prayed (John 17) that his followers “might be one” as he and the Father are. The difficulty and the goal would go together, he was saying, and so he made a point similar to the one in Ephesians 4. Like Jesus himself, the classic phrase “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism” acknowledges complicated truth even as it upholds a magnificent ideal. Can it not sustain us through the present tribulation and guide us to a better place?

It feels late, and is. But the phrase we “need,” as my pastor friend suggested, still looms large and therapeutic. Today as ever, it is indispensable. How, in this time of trouble, can it not be our theme? How can it not wave like a banner over the coming Annual Council?

Charles Scriven is Board Chair of Adventist Forum, the organization that publishes Spectrum.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/9067

ONE FAITH –
Jesus Lived
Jesus Died
Christ Rose from the tomb.
Christ ascended and seated Himself at the right hand of the “Father”.
Christ will come again.
ALL 3 of the Trinity – God the Father, God Christ, God Holy Spirit are ALL EQUAL,
one is NOT lower, subordinate to the other.
Baptism – the use of water over the body – is a symbol one’s death to the old nature, one’s
creation into a new creation, and justified before God. The beginning of the Transformation
into a new life. The SIGN of being SEALED, receiving The SEAL of the Holy Spirit.

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As mentioned, Jesus sought for unity among His students in the upper room. But for every patient Jesus there is an impatient Judas who sooner or later hangs himself. Yet, even patient Jesus told Judas, ‘Whatever you’re going to do, do quickly.’ Jesus had a goal near at hand. Judas also had a goal near at hand that opposed that of Jesus, Whose goal Judas could not stomach.

I once worked as an electrician on the remodeling project of Haven Hall on the campus of the University of Michigan, right on the ‘Quad’ at the center of campus. Deadlines in the latest ‘CPM’ (‘Critical Path Method’) method of ‘construction management’ (or ‘construction profit management’) being the stuff of which Marvel Comic Books are made, the drywall contractor, nevertheless, once threatened to obey the ‘CPM’ chart and began hanging drywall on one side of every framed wall before the other trades were even ‘roughed in’.

Of course this just slowed the project down, and provoked the destruction of the impatiently-hung drywall by other trades, to boot. So, it was made perfectly clear to all trades that the time-setting goals of the imaginary, but ‘legal’, ‘CPM’ chart and the goal of actually, successfully completing the real building project had nearly nothing in common, except the ‘better’ remodeled ‘place’, itself.

Now, the electrical contractor could have been lovingly patient with the drywall contractor to the point of bankruptcy . . . could have let them continue with their own unrealistic, but ‘legal’, comedic goals . . . could have made life even harder on their own electricians, and in the process . . . could have failed to have the building ready for U-of-M staff and well-paying students to occupy that Fall. But, instead they chose to ‘set values aside’ and ‘kick butt’, to impatiently, immediately, protest the ‘legal’ comedy being performed by the unrealistic ‘Judas’ drywall company who had, first, ‘set values aside’.

So, phrase it any way one chooses, if the one intelligent goal of ‘one realistic finished product’ – “a better place” – is not kept in sight by all involved parties, ‘humility, gentleness, and patience’ in one party – rewarding 'pride, aggressive selfishness and impatience in another party – may in fact result in an incomplete marvel of purely ‘legal’ folly.

Neither the CPM chart nor ‘Love’ finished that remodel project. ( Enemies were made, all around the circle.) The completion-focused skilled individual workers who faced ‘blueprint’ reality did. And any trade contractor who refused to do that, hung themselves.

The presence of Judas and his ‘better place’ is still not missed.
The presence of Jesus and His ‘better place’ still is.

Just which ‘better place’ are all the various SDA ‘skilled trades’ imagining,
and which ‘One’ ‘better place’ is actually real, like the blueprints describe, not merely ‘legal’ as the CPM chart dreams ?

Separate ‘journeys’ are all fine, but what does the end of the road look like ?

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On a very personal note, I must confess that it is very difficult for me to have kind and loving feelings during a period when the leadership of the Church has been preparing a plan that is nothing but a vicious attack on liberty and freedom in the church. After all, this has been my Church for over 65 years!

I am not sure how many people are that motivated right now, at the eleventh hour, to just sit down and relax while Ted Wilson executes his well elaborated plan against the Unions of the whole world…

I see the GC going to this AC like Captain Haddock (from the Tintin series), with this attitude:

Image result for image tintin captain haddock

So, at this time, within the context of the assault planned, I really wish the story actually ends up like this:

Image result for image tintin captain haddock

If the Machiavellian plan is defeated after all, I am sure that it will then set the mode for the AC19, right? Another attack…

Image result for image tintin captain haddock

Isn’t it yet time to stop those malicious attacks on the Unions???

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I am glad Charles didn’t add Sister White says. The Canon closed with John. This text will be blurred

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I didn’t mean, George, to say Sit down and relax. Chuck

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Steve, you nailed it. John baptised with water. Christ baptises with the Holy Spirit. One Lord. One Faith. One baptism of the Holy Spirit. Would that make a difference?

We find that forbearing love, humility, gentleness and patience by losing ourselves in service to others. In Matthew 5:16, Jesus told us to let our light shine so people would see our good works and glorify our Heavenly Father. We spend an awful lot of time talking about “letting our light shine.” When are we going to start spending more time actually doing the good works that touch the people around us with God’s love instead of just talking about it?

I agree: One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. How far out do we want to go?
It becomes problematic for any body of believers that considers themselves to be the remnant/true church (including the RC and LDS faiths). There is an answer that covers the bases, but it might upset the apple cart a wee bit.

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Walk the walk, instead of talk the talk. Talk is cheap. Doing takes effort. May we all be a fair and merciful ambassador for Jesus.

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With all of this effort, energy , emotion indicated on these threads dealing with TW/GC action…isn’t it obvious that the cliché

“LET GO & LET GOD” …is ridiculous?

Where do I send a donation to help pay for skywriting this over Battle Creek every morning during Annual Council meetings?

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If the rocks were to have cried out, it would have been with one voice. That it the critical message, not the gender of the voice., Let us take up the message of the Three Angels. The Everlasting Gospel is the fruit of the Everlasting Covenant. what Abraham longed for we have… Rejoice, assurance is available now. A fisherman first told it to the world. A woman at the well told it to her towns people. A thief accepted it while in the pain of death. Now we have a misguided man who would stop any and all who didn’t mean his standards. If a woman can sing the Gospel from the pulpit why silence her speeking voice…?

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Thanks Charles, for these well stated thoughts. I say only, amen!

I really wonder if our denominational remnant theology is coming back to bite us. Based on being right about propositional doctrines that are deemed to be absolute truth, to the exclusion of every other Christian group that is deemed fallen and Babylon, such a theological mindset and self regard creates an institutional ethos. And, that ethos turned in on itself picks off and excludes anyone or any group from within that is also found wanting concerning matters that would compromise theological purity. Unless such outliers knuckle under to an imposed, uniform view of policy, never mind theology, they will suffer the consequences.

Saul of Tarsus went on a search and destroy mission against the first Jesus followers for a very similar reason. It was to root out the heretics that were bringing God’s disfavor upon his people. He was zealous for God, for the Law, and for the purity and destiny of his nation. He was a self appointed and approved agent for the task of getting rid of the trouble makers.

Then he met the risen Jesus. Then he spent the rest of his life under the realization that Jesus and his Spirit bring unity. A unity driven by the type of love that respects diversity and freedom. That seeks to bridge the divides and level the inequalities created by class, race, ethnicity, religion, and gender. This is what the gospel brings as its fruit…to and through an individual life, and into and through community. It is a utopian vision and ideal that we will never fully realize in this age, but a vision to which Jesus and his Spirit continue to lead his people.

I’m sorry to say, but it sounds like the SDA church has leaders, or a leader, that need to meet Jesus. If not for the first time, then all over again. It also seems that our theology needs to be clearly focused upon the Jesus and the gospel that transformed Saul of Tarsus into Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles…rather than upon the organizational hubris about our doctrinal correctness.

Thanks…

Frank

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