This Bible Study was presented to the women of the LWML at The Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Duluth, Minnesota on Tuesday, September 28 + A.D. 2010.
What does unity mean? We often think of unity as being one, like-minded, maybe unity is thought of in regard to race, religion, or creed.
Are we one because we are Americans? No. Are we one because we are Scandinavians? No. Are we one because we are all Minnesotans living in the Northland? No. Are we one because we’re in the same family? No. What, if anything, then causes us to say we are one? What does it mean to be one that is, united together?
We could look for the answers to our questions by looking in all the wrong places. We could search the dictionaries, textbooks, legal documents, and even the Constitution of the United States and we will never find the answers we seek.
There is only one place to find the truth; God’s Word alone holds the truth for all mankind. What does God have to say on the matter of unity?
Let’s take a look at the this question of unity in the following major sections:
- You – the sinner
- You – the Baptized
- You and the Church catholic
- You and the congregation
I. You – the sinner
First, let’s take a look at unity as you the sinner. As a sinner, you are amongst great company. You come from a long line of distinguished names of sinners. There’s Adam and Eve, Noah, David, and even St. Paul himself.
As a sinner, you are part of the greatest and largest community of the world. You are united together with all people past, present, and future because of the Fall of mankind in the Garden in Eden when Adam and Eve disobeyed God and heeded the word of Satan. (Genesis 3)
As a sinner, you are united to all people because of the infection of original sin. St. Paul writes, “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12) (cf: Ephesians 2:1-3; Psalm 51; Genesis 5:3; John 2:24-25)
St. Paul also talks about our actual sin in the New Testament where he writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Jesus Himself explains this in His discourse on the relationship of believers to Himself. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) Apart from Christ, we are lost and doomed to suffer the wrath of the Father and to die in our iniquity. Apart from Christ, we will be separated from the love of God forever. The Psalmists writes, “The wicked shall return to Sheol, all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17) That old saying is true, “There will be a lot of good people in hell.”
Now is the time for you to repent of your sins. Repent and believe on the Name of the eternal Son of God, Jesus the Christ, who died to save you from your sins, death, and the power of the devil. IT’S TIME! REPENT and turn from your wickedness and seek the Lord while He may be found. (Psalm 34)
Prayer: See Hymn # 562 “All mankind Fell in Adam’s Sin” in the Lutheran Service Book
II. You – the Baptized
Alright, so you don’t want to live in hell forever apart from God and His love. St. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles, “Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’” (Acts of the Apostels 2:37-39)
The bigger question is this, “How do you know to make such a statement?” Do you know God? Who is He? Where is He? Is He a loving God? You cannot ask or answer any of these questions as a sinner. Don’t worry, God revealed Himself to the world in His Son, Jesus the Christ. So now you want to know more about God and His Son – GOOD!
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) God reveals Himself to the world but the world does not comprehend Him. (John 1:5) But you know God. You know Jesus. You know because Christ Himself took you in His arms and Baptized you in the waters of Holy Baptism.
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:5-6) When you were Baptized, you were made a partaker of the heavenly kingdom in Christ. You were numbered among the saints. You were given life from above.
Titus writes, “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.” (Titus 3:4-8)
You are all sons of God. (Galatians 3:26a) You are one body in Christ. (Ephesians 4:4) It is not your doing nor your righteousness which achieves this bond, rather, it is the Christ working outside of you creating the saving faith within you. It is the Christ who has done all things for you. The Christ continues to serve you daily as He forgives your sins and strengthens your faith. The Christ is the one who feeds you through His Word and Sacrament. He does all this because of His love for you – His Children.
In Holy Baptism, Christ made you a member of His Church. St. Paul writes, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)
The unity or communion
(koin?nía) we have with one another in Baptism because “God is faithful, by whom we were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Our unity is God’s work. Our unity is in Christ. The world cannot unify us. We can’t unite ourselves. We cannot know true unity by any standard of man. Only in Christ are we one body.
In Christ, we are united by His Blood which He shed for us, on our behalf, on the cross. Christ unites us together when He forgives us all our sins. Without the forgiveness of sins we are alone, lost, and condemned.
We are united in Christ because of His means of grace. We are united in Word and Sacrament. As the Baptized sons of God. (Galatians 3:26) We are the priesthood of the Baptized. We are one in Christ given a life of love and service to one another in Christ. We are given to tell others the Good News of salvation that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for all men to save all people from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Prayer: See Hymn # 590 “Baptized into Your name Most Holy” in the Lutheran Service Book
III. You and the Church catholic
During your Baptism, our Lord Jesus the Christ brought you into communion (koin?nía) with all the saints and more importantly with Him and His Father who is in heaven. You probably don’t remember this most important day and that’s alright. What is important is that you believe Jesus did this for you. He called you and received you unto Himself. (Matthew 18:1-5)
Let’s review our relationship, as Christians, to Christ Himself.
The Relationship of Believers to Christ
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:1-11)
In Holy Baptism, you became a member of the invisible church. You became a member of the one holy catholic church, that is, the one spiritual body of believers (saints), whose one and only head is Christ. (See Romans 12:4-5; Ephesians 4:3-6)
The one holy catholic church is everywhere where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached in its purity and the holy sacraments are administered according to the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Sacraments are called the “marks of the church.” (See Isaiah 55:10-11)
This new life you have in Christ is given and sustained through the power of the Holy Spirit. Hear what Jesus says, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)
When we make our confession concerning the Holy Spirit in the Creeds, we confess that the Holy Spirit gives life! The Third Article of the Creed is all about the giving of life!
Now, let’s review our relationship to one another, in Christ, as the Baptized (visible Church).
The Relationship of Believers to Each Other
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17)
We are also one, united in Christ, here at The Lutheran Church of Christ the King in Duluth, Minnesota. However, the building and location here at 4219 Grand Avenue is not your church nor is it mine. The Church belongs to Christ. She is His Bride.
Here in this holy place, Christ is serving His people. He forgives. He baptizes. He teaches. He feeds. He blesses. Yes, this congregation is the visible church here in Duluth. You know this is Christ’s Church by what Christ is doing in this place.
The church is not only made up of people but more importantly, it is people gathered around the marks of the church; Word and Sacraments. St. Ignatius said it this way, “Ubi Christus ibi ecclesia” which means, Where CHRIST is there is the CHURCH.
So, where do you find the Church? You find her where the bishop is. There the Word is being preached and taught and the sacraments are being administered. The Church is where Christ is confessed. You cannot confess Christ apart from what He is doing in distributing His gifts through preaching and the Lord’s Supper.
You know where the Church is by the “marks of the church.” There are seven marks to know and remember as Christians. They are:
- The Word of God
- The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
- The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper
- The Office of the Keys (confession & absolution)
- Call and Ordination (consecration)
- The sacred cross
We must also remember that the visible church has unbelievers in her midst. There are hypocrites in her midst of which, we, the Baptized are chief.
The unity we have in this congregation is not because of anything we have done, are doing, or ever will do in our lives. Our unity is because of Christ and in Christ.
Finally, let’s review our relationship to those around us in our community and world.
The Relationship of Believers to the World
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’” (John 15:18-25)
In Holy Baptism, you were united with the Bride of Christ, His Church. The next logical question is, what is the Church? You were given life from above through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Our Lord Jesus kept you in communion with Himself and His Bride, the Church, throughout your young life by bringing you to Church and Sunday School. He did this through the power of His Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.” (SC 147)
So, let’s talk more about the communion of saints that you are a part of through the washing and regeneration you underwent by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. What is this communion? Why did you confess to believe in the communion of saints at your Confirmation? Why do you confess this in the Creed each week during the Divine Service?
The communion of saints is another name for the Church catholic, that is, the Church universal. The Church is the communion of saints, that is, the total number of those who believe on the Name of Jesus the Christ. St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Church in Ephesus, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22)
Jesus also refers to the communion of saints in His discourse on the Good Shepherd in the Gospel according to John. Jesus says, “just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:15-16)
The communion we share with one another is special because of Jesus. He binds us together in His Blood which He shed for us on the cross. Our communion together, that is, our Life Together, is the work of God. God is building His Church through the power of the Holy Spirit through the means of grace; Word and Sacraments. We are bound together by the Holy Spirit. Christ works through His means of grace to deliver to you His forgiveness for all your sins. (See 2 Corinthians 5:19) We are sure of these promises of God, through Jesus the Christ, because God keeps His promises in Christ. (See Romans 8:38-39 and 2 Timothy 1:12)
The unity or communion we share together is because God’s is working to preserve His Church. We believe, teach, and confess this because “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Ephesians 4:4-5)
As sinners given life from above in Holy Baptism, we have vowed, by the grace of God, to hear the Word of God and to receive the Lord’s Supper faithfully. We receive the Lord’s Supper together because of our common and faithful confession. We believe, teach, and confess that only those of the same confession (unity/communion) can partake of the Lord’s Supper at the altar. Our confession in this matter is called Close Communion.
At our Confirmation, we also vowed, by the grace of God, to live according to the Word of God, and in faith (unity/communion), word, and deed, to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit even unto death. Did you hear your vow? You vowed to live in faith, that is, unity and communion with one another in Christ.
And finally, you vowed, by the grace of God, to continue steadfast in this confession (unity/communion) and Church (unity) and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it.
So as we reflect on who we are first as sinners, lost and condemned because of our sin, we know, as a matter of fact, we will live because of what Jesus, the eternal Son of God has already done for us in His atoning sacrifice on the cross. We will live, with Christ when He calls us home to glory. We live, today, in Christ, because He saved us in Holy Baptism and wrote the Name of the one true God: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, on our soul and wrote our names in the Book of Life. (Rev. 21:27)
Earlier, I mentioned we are members of the priesthood of the baptized. In Holy Baptism, we became members of the priesthood of all believers. (1 Peter 2:4-10) We are numbered among the saints. (Revelation 14:1-5)
As we reflect on our lives as saint and sinners simultaneously (simul justus et peccator), we come the final part of our discussion on unity. We have made the pilgrimage from the womb to adulthood. Now it is time to discuss our lives together in the Church.
Prayer: See Hymn # 646 “Church of God, Elect and Glorious” in the Lutheran Service Book
IV. You and the congregation
St. Paul teaches us, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:1-6)
Did you hear St. Paul? He said we are to be eager to maintain the unity (willingness and cooperation). What is he referring to? Paul is referring to the faith God gave to all of us in Holy Baptism. Paul is talking about living in Christ. We are truly one because God’s Spirit made the Church one in Christ. (LSB note on Eph. 4:3)
Christians are to live in Christ. Is this a strange phenomenon in America and the world in which we live? What does it mean to live in Christ? So we don’t lose focus, the prepositional phrase, “in Christ,” is a communal statement. To live in Christ defines a lifestyle which is given by God through faith in Jesus Christ.
The Christian life together is a life lived in love. The love we have to give is not ours but Christ’s. We love because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19) Our life together is lived through faith. Our life together is a life of confession and absolution. Our visible confession is shown outwardly when we say “I forgive you.” There cannot be unity apart from Christ. There cannot be unity apart from the forgiving of sins. Unity is brought by the forgiveness of sins.
We must all remember that all sin is unbelief. Unbelief is the sure way to everlasting condemnation. However, Christ gives us the gift of repentance and absolution. We use this gift, called the Office of the Keys, to bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:1-5). If we have loveless thoughts all we will produce is loveless deeds. Christ commands us to love one another (John 15:12 and Ephesians 4:2)
St. Paul tells us in the opening verses of his letter to Church in Ephesus, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3-10)
St. Paul writes to the Church in Corinth describing how they, the Christians and many members of the Church, are one in the Body of Christ. “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-26)
St. Paul in his Epistle to the Church in Rome writes, “For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Romans 12:4-5) In the context of chapter 12, St. Paul is describing our lives as Christians as a living sacrifice. He describes in detail how God gives each member of the Body of Christ gifts and how each member is to use those gifts.
When we think outside the box, that is, when we start thinking inside the small box of Holy Scripture, God reveals to us the sanctified life in His Son Jesus Christ. When we live out our Baptism and live together in love because of the Christ and His atoning sacrifice on the cross, then we begin to appreciate all that God is doing for us in our lives.
I had a pastor in the LCMS explain it to me this way. Each of us is a member of the Body of Christ. Just as the body have individual members each with its own distinct vocation. If the big toe gets stubbed on the couch, what does the rest of the body do and feel? The rest of the body reacts in pain and suffering. All the members react to bring comfort to the big toe. St. Paul writes to Church in Corinth, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:26)
Does this story tell of the life of unity here in this holy place? We must discern between friendship (worldly concept) and fellowship (church concept). Friendships are built by man. Fellowship in Christ is the work of God.
As we share fellowship with one another in this holy place, living under the cross of Christ, what happens when one of us gets hurt? What happens when one of us is suffering? Do we all get hurt? Do we all suffer? What if one of the members is rejoicing, do we all rejoice? Or, do we all go about our separate lives and do what is good for me, myself, and I? Do we have some real close friends that we may let in and rejoice or suffer with us but at the same time ban the rest of the Body of Christ from joining in?
St. Paul tells us, “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) As Christians, we are not to be divisive but confessing and forgiving.
The unity, communion, life together that we share in Christ is not from our own doing. Rather, our life together comes from outside of us. The Reformers expressed it this way: Our righteousness is an “alien righteousness,” a righteousness that comes from outside of us (extra nos). (Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 22)
The “alien righteousness” which is ours from Christ Himself is shared with one another because of faith. The Apostle James writes, “But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18)
How can we live together, as Christians, without serving (diak?nia) one another through faith in Christ? We can’t. REPENT! For the sake of His Son, Jesus, our Father, who is in heaven, will forgive us all our sins. Forgiven, we are restored to the Church, the family, our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we receive God’s forgiveness, we are whole again and united with the Bride of Christ in Christ, our Good Shepherd.
Prayer: See Hymn # 655 “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” in the Lutheran Service Book
Rev. John F. Wurst
28 September X A.D. 2010