“One” is an on-going concept throughout the Bible. God creates one day at a time. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” God is called the “One of Sinai (Psalm 68:8). He is called “The Holy One of Israel (Psalm 71:22 and throughout Isaiah).
And the concept of “one” is at the heart of Ephesians 4.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:4-5 (ESV).
As people of God, then, it would make sense that we are “one people.” But are we? That’s a question many have been asking in these days. Are we one people? Or are we many people? Is E pluribus unum, Latin for "Out of Many, One," true?
If not actually true in 21st Century America, then certainly it is true in the Church, yes? After all, we weekly confess we are “One Holy Christian (catholic) and Apostolic Church.”
So why are there so many churches? Look at the phone book, under churches. Each city has more than a few. Why is that? Why are there Lutheran churches and Baptist churches and Catholic churches, and Presbyterian churches, and Reformed churches, and Methodist churches, and Episcopalian churches, and hundreds of other denominations and non-demoninations?
All confess to be Christian churches, so why are there so many different Christian churches?
Denominations are not a new development in the church. I believe denominationalism has its roots in the first century Christian church. There was one Church, but many different churches – the Church at Jerusalem, the Church at Antioch, the Church at Corinth, the Church at Rome, etc.
As time when on different pastors of these churches would occasionally come up with different teachings that were considered by other churches to be heretical. These paved the way for the Ecumenical Creeds such as the Nicene Creed in the 4th Century – being a common confession of faith to show that even though Christians gathered in many different towns and cities, there was still only One Christian Church.
Today, the different denominations exist because of the same type of things. One believes one thing about Baptism or the Lord’s Supper and another has a different teaching. Some are merely rooted in different traditions or nationalities. All are still Christian.
But what about us here at the local congregation?
Are we all “one”? Do we all agree on the mission and ministry direction that we believe God is leading us? There are several different ideas and opinions on which direction God is leading us. And that’s ok. No one believes they have the only right answer here. I don’t think anyone believes there is only “one” way of doing things, either.
But that doesn’t have to fracture us. It doesn’t mean we aren’t “one.”
For too long, I believe people have looked at the church in America as an institution or an organization. They’ve seen the church as an institution like a university or place of learning. They’ve seen the church as an organization, like a corporation or political party.
We’ve seen how institution and organizations have fared in recent history in this country. The church is right there with them as they are seen as one of them.
But that isn’t how Jesus started His Church. He started His church not as an institution or an organization but as a family. Families don’t always agree on the direction to go – anyone who’s been on a family vacation knows that. But that doesn’t make them any less of a family, does it?
Once, my family and I were driving from Mayville, WI to Lake Villa, IL to visit my mom. We normally take the interstate but I wanted to try taking US 45 – basically a “back road.” Both routes would get us there but the interstate is much quicker. We talked about it and disagreed about which way to go. But that didn’t make us less of a family. We finally decided to go my way and it took us three and a half hours instead of two, but we were still a family!
In the local congregations – and indeed in the whole Christian Church on earth – we are a family. A family of God made that way by God. We are many, that is true. We look different, sound different, eat different, live different (for the most part), but we are still one because we have one God and Father of all. The God who created the universe made us all one. That’s powerful stuff! The power of the universe is the power of our “one-ness.” Nothing can fracture us unless we stray from that power, the power of God in Jesus Christ!
That’s why we cannot “do” church like it is some institution or organization. We can’t “do” church at all. We can only be the Church! When Jesus started the Church 2000 years ago, He didn’t start it as an organization. He didn’t organize His followers. He called them. And He called them from all over! You have Jews from Judea, Jews from Galilee, Romans, Cyprians, Africans, Greeks, and on and on. E pluribus unum … sanctam ecclesiam– “Out of many one … holy church.”
Jesus Christ died and rose again for the world – as it says in John 3:16 and Hebrews 7, 9, and 10. He died for all and made us all one in that death. We were all one as sinners and now we are all one as redeemed.
Not everyone accepts that. That is why Jesus called us together – so we can go out into the world and make disciples, baptize and teach. We are called as one to share the Good News of Jesus. We learn about it together, we strengthen each other together, and now we can tell others together.