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Table of Contents
Focus Text: Ephesians 4:1-16
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort 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 of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Focus Text: Ephesians 4:1-16
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
Scripture Commentary by Marcus A. Steer, Duke Divinity School Intern
“In 4:1-16, Paul repeatedly uses the word “one” in reference to various aspects of the Christian life and theological truths: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. As if the repetition of “one” were not enough to convey Paul’s emphasis on unity, he goes on to describe the church body as one that is “joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied,” (4:16 RSV). Paralleling Paul’s description of many gifts and one body to the Corinthians, these instructions to the Ephesians stress the unity of a church with various roles and gifts.”
Pastoral Reflection by Fr. David McBriar, Associate Pastor, St. Francis of Assisi, Raleigh
“For more than one hundred years we Christians have been praying officially for the unity of the Christian church, praying with the Lord Jesus: “that they all may be one,” and echoing Paul’s challenge to the church at Ephesus: “Guard the unity which the Spirit gives.” In the early 20th century, a day and then a week was set aside in what came to be called “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.”
Personal Vignette by Dr. Geoffrey Wainwright, Robert Earl Cushman Professor of Christian Theology, Duke Divinity School
“My engagement with institutional ecumenism began in 1964, when my mentor Raymond George, the Methodist theologian, invited me to accompany him as a youth delegate to the meeting of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches at Aarhus in Denmark. When I had gained a bit of seniority, I myself became a member of Faith and Order, and I played an active part in the writing of the document “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” that was unanimously adopted by the Commission at Lima in 1982.”
The twentieth century conciliar movement produced councils of churches at the international, national, state, and local levels. The North Carolina Council of Churches shares the broad goals of Christian unity and justice with the World and National Councils and with the many state councils, and our members come from many of the same denominational streams. But there are no structural or financial connections between us. Each is its own autonomous organization, and the NC Council, founded in 1935, actually predates both the National and World Councils by more than ten years.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed. Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.
[Jesus] said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under the bushel basket, or under the bed, and not on the lampstand? For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light. Let anyone with ears to hear listen!” And he said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear; the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given you. For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.”
Scriptural Commentary on Ephesians 4:1-16
This pericope addresses the need for unity in the Christian community. The letter to the Ephesians is Christologically loaded, with various descriptions of the mystery of Jesus Christ and the redemption accomplished through his life, death, and resurrection. Pauline authorship, while attested throughout antiquity, has been doubted by modern scholars in light of the stylistic differences between Ephesians and other Pauline letters. However, some scholars argue that differences in style may be the result of differing contexts and ideas being conveyed. Regardless, the church has received the letter to the Ephesians as an authoritative part of the New Testament, so it is to be treated with the same reverence as those letters with uncontested Pauline authorship. For the sake of semantic ease, I will refer to the author as Paul for the remainder of the commentary.
In 4:1-16, Paul repeatedly uses the word “one” in reference to various aspects of the Christian life and theological truths: one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father. As if the repetition of “one” were not enough to convey Paul’s emphasis on unity, he goes on to describe the church body as one that is “joined and knit together by every joint with which it is supplied,” (4:16 RSV). Paralleling Paul’s description of many gifts and one body to the Corinthians, these instructions to the Ephesians stress the unity of a church with various roles and gifts.
Some interpretive anxiety has been felt over vv. 9-10. While some scholars take Christ’s descent as a reference to the Incarnation, others see it as a description of his descent into hell. Both views have lexical, theological, and hermeneutical merit. Many of the Church Fathers take this as a reference to the descent into hell, but their theological framework was built within the oral tradition of such an infernal descent. For Christian traditions that do not emphasize (or perhaps do not accept) the tradition of Christ’s descent into hell, the textual warrant for such an interpretation of vv. 9-10 seems lacking. This is one of the difficult passages of Scripture in which various traditions will interpret the text differently depending on the presuppositions and doctrines they bring to the text.
– Marcus A. Steer, Duke Divinity Intern
Pastoral Reflection on Ephesians 4:1-16
“MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO GUARD THE UNITY WHICH THE SPIRIT GIVES.” (Eph. 4:3)
For more than one hundred years we Christians have been praying officially for the unity of the Christian church, praying with the Lord Jesus: “that they all may be one,” and echoing Paul’s challenge to the church at Ephesus: “Guard the unity which the Spirit gives.” In the early 20th century, a day and then a week was set aside in what came to be called “The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.” It was largely inspired by the work of the World Council of Churches. The grace of that beginning has matured until now the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is celebrated throughout the world. It shows what the grace of God can accomplish through those who are willing to walk out into deep waters. And throughout the 20th century it was largely the Protestant Churches who kept the cause of Christian unity alive. The Roman Catholic Church formally embraced the cause of unity with its Decree on Ecumenism at the Second Vatican Council in 1964.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, writes: “Much has been achieved over the last decades. Separated Christians no longer consider one another as strangers, competitors or even enemies, but as brothers and sisters. They have largely removed the former lack of understanding, misunderstanding, prejudice, and indifference; they pray together, they give together witness to their common faith; in many fields they work trustfully together.” They have experienced that “what unites us is greater than what divides us.”
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians was a challenge to the church at Ephesus, reminding them of their own need for unity. He reminds them of the fundamentals of the Christian life. He reminds them of their beginnings. They were unified as a community around their faith and love of Jesus. Has that been compromised? Have they misplaced their center? They have the same baptism, the same faith, the same spirit. Surely they have the same Lord! Isn’t this emphasis important for us, as well? But it’s easy to wander off course. Our own history as church and as churches is clearly evidence of this. Walter Kasper, again in his book, “That They All May Be One,” says that when the Christian community is one, it is functioning inter-actively. It is a process in which life is being communicated, a life whose source is the free gift of Christ through his spirit. In the ecumenical movement the question is the conversion of all to Jesus Christ. In his letter to the Ephesians Paul calls this recognition of unity “maturity” and he recalls again the metaphor of the body. Every follower of Jesus Christ is called upon to play his/her part in the building up of his body, the church. And all of this must be done in love.
Paul identifies some of the roles we are meant to play in the building up of the body: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. The list is not exhaustive. We all have a role to play in bringing about unity in Jesus Christ. Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said that the right and proper goal for all ecumenical endeavor is the fundamental reality of a community in which people are “feeding” each other, communicating life to each other, because they are fed by Christ. A powerful reason for making prayer for unity a top priority is that prayer’s first effect is in us. When we pray sincerely and honestly, i.e., dispose ourselves to accept and to act in accordance with God’s will, prayer changes hearts, and it is essentially hearts that need to be changed. In the intimacy of prayer, we experience the God who loves all the members of the different churches. In prayer we enter into a deeper solidarity with them, recognizing that they are members of the same lord: “There is one lord, one faith, one baptism.” Pope Francis, both in his words as well as his actions, said that the unity of the Christian churches is a priority for him. With God’s help we will also find practical solutions to the different questions which remain open, and in the end our desire for unity will come to fulfillment, whenever and however the Lord wills. The Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches offers this prayer for unity. May we make it our own in our continuing effort to make the prayer of Jesus “that they all may be one” a reality in our time.
“O God, holy and eternal Trinity, we pray for your church in the world.
Sanctify its life; renew its worship; empower its witness; heal its divisions;
make visible its unity. Lead us, with all our brothers and sisters, towards communion in
faith, life, and witness, so that, united in one body by the one spirit, we may together
witness to the perfect unity of your love.”
– Fr. David McBriar, Associate Pastor, St. Francis of Assisi, Raleigh
Worship Aids about Christian Unity
Call to Worship
We gather together as God’s anointed children;
Together, though we are divided.
We praise the works of the Creator God, who created us to worship unceasingly;
Together, though we are divided.
We recognize the unity of the Trinity, the mysterious three-in-one;
Together, though we are divided.
We implore you, Jesus Christ, to gather us together as a “hen gathers her brood.” Your Church remains divided, though you call us to unity. We recognize our divisions and denounce them as unfaithful; we acknowledge that we sing your praises, though with a divided tongue. We profess along with your apostle Paul that there is indeed “one body and one Spirit,” and we ask that your Spirit descend upon us—your Body— today.
We pray this in the name of the One “who is above all and through all and in all,” Amen.
(by Jason R. Jenkins)
Prayer of Confession
Let us seek the forgiveness of God and of each other for the divisions that have hindered Christian witness: Lord we have sinned against you and against each other.
Lord, have mercy.
O Christ, our divisions are contrary to your will and have impeded our common witness to you.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, we have not loved you enough in our brothers and sisters, created in your image, but different from us.
Lord, have mercy.
Creator God, let us no longer live beside each other as strangers. Satisfy the longings of our hearts, grant our rightful requests, and unite us soon in one Holy Church through Jesus Christ, who with you in the communion of the Holy Spirit lives and reigns eternally. Amen.
A Prayer for Unity
Holy One, whose love has been poured into our hearts through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit, and who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine, infuse us with a longing for reconciliation.
Help us maintain the unity of your Spirit in the bond of peace. In these days when people and places are affected by strife and its threat, make us light to the world.
When we get tired and confused, take us by the hand and show us the way forward.
Help us transform barriers into bridges. Amen.
(by Rev. Dr Diane C. Kessler, Executive Director, Massachusetts Council of Churches)
A Call for the Unity of Christ’s Disciples
For every congregation of the Church—that we may end the sin of our division which makes a mockery of the Cross of Jesus before the world.
Lord hear us.
For every congregation of the Church—that the Spirit of the Lord may remove from between us the walls of separation which do not reach to heaven.
Lord hear us.
For every congregation of the Church—that we may reach out to meet one another and rejoice to find that we are brothers and sisters in Christ.
Lord hear us.
For every congregation of the Church—that we may all be one, worshipping God as beloved sons and daughters, in spirit and in truth.
Lord hear us.
For every congregation of the Church—that we may commit ourselves to the non-violent way of Jesus and transform society through offering forgiveness and receiving peace.
Lord hear us.
O God, unite all the congregations of the Church in Jesus, our Lord and Savior. May your will be done among us and your kingdom come soon, through Christ who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.
(adapted, from Clonard Monastery, Northern Ireland)
Children's Sermon about Christian Unity
Christians are all part of the same body Ephesians 4:1-16
Theme: As Christians we should be united as one body.
Object: Simple drawing of a body showing the head, arms, legs, feet. Marker.
Scripture: You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. Let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grown from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grown in that it builds itself up with love as each one does their part. Ephesians 4:4,15b-16 CEB
Say: When I was driving to our church this morning, I drove past ten other churches. It made me think about these verses in the Bible.
Read the scripture. Ask: why do we have so many different churches? All of these churches I passed are Christian. They believe in Jesus. They may do many things exactly like another church. But, they may differ on how the church’s business is done; or the procedure for joining the church; how the Lord ’s Supper is served. Or other things
Look at this drawing. (Write in Jesus on the head and other Christian denominations on the arms, legs, etc.) The Bible teaches us that each part of the body is important and that we should love each other and work together in unity. Unity means to get along and live in harmony with other people.
Challenge: When you are in the car this week, notice how many different kinds of churches you see. Remember that as Christians, we are all part of the same body and that Jesus is the head of all the body.
Prayer: Thank you Lord for being the head of all Christian churches. Help us to learn about each other, respect each other, and work together for you. Amen.
by Rose Gurkin, Program Associate-Administration, NC Council of Churches
Suggested Hymns about Christian Unity
In Christ There is No East or West
African Methodist Episcopal Hymnal 557
Christian Methodist Episcopal Hymnal 360
Baptist Hymnal 385
New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ) 394
United Methodist Hymnal 548
The Hymnal (1982) 529
Presbyterian Hymnal 439
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 687
Moravian Book of Worship 697
Gather Hymnal (Catholic) 738
Many Gifts, One Spirit
United Methodist Hymnal 114
New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ) 177
O God of Vision
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 288
The Church’s One Foundation
Christian Methodist Episcopal Hymnal 377
United Methodist Hymnal 545
Presbyterian Hymnal 442
The Hymnal (1982) 525
Lutheran Worship 289
Baptist Hymnal 350
New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ) 386
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 272
New Century Hymnal 564
Moravian Worship 511
Gather Hymnal (Catholic) 661
We Love Your Realm, O God
New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ) 312
Quotes about Christian Unity
It is true in ecumenical gatherings if we get beyond the ecclesiastical niceties, and it is doubly true in congregations: Christian unity is a demanding vocation. Speaking the truth in love is a demanding vocation. But it is the vocation of all Christians, and it is a precious gift. “Speaking the truth in love we grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.” Christian unity is the vocation that draws us into unity with Him, into the new life He offers.
“The unity of Christendom is not a luxury, but a necessity. The World will go limping until Christ’s prayer that all may be one is answered. We must have unity, not at all costs, but at all risks. A unified Church is the only offering we dare present to the coming Christ, for in it alone will He find room to dwell.” – Charles H. Brent
“What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politics, common nationality, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort. Christians come together because they have all been loved by Jesus himself. They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.” – D.A. Carson
“I have never yet known the Spirit of God to work where the Lord’s people were divided.” – D.L. Moody
Vignette about Christian Unity
That They May All Be One
Raised in a village in Yorkshire, England, my earliest encounter with the problems and promises of ecumenism had to do with the sometimes tense relations between Methodists (of whom I was one) and Anglicans (the “parish church” belonged to the Established Church of the land). Things had eased somewhat by the time I went as an undergraduate to Cambridge University in 1957, and there people from the Church of England and the “Free Churches” got on rather well together. My experience broadened when I attended graduate school at the Ecumenical Institute of the University of Geneva, where I met not only continental European Protestants but also students from the Eastern Orthodox Churches and even a few Roman Catholics. My best contacts with Catholics were, in fact, with some young English Benedictine monks who were studying at the University of Fribourg, also in Switzerland; and I have retained a fondness for that monastic order.
My engagement with institutional ecumenism began in 1964, when my mentor Raymond George, the Methodist theologian, invited me to accompany him as a youth delegate to the meeting of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches at Aarhus in Denmark. When I had gained a bit of seniority, I myself became a member of Faith and Order, and I played an active part in the writing of the document “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry” that was unanimously adopted by the Commission at Lima in 1982.
For six years (1967-73) I served as a missionary in Cameroon, West Africa, teaching theology at the Protestant Faculty of Theology in Yaoundé which brought together Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans and Baptists from the French-speaking churches along that coast. At that time I also served as a pastor in the interdenominational English-language congregation in Yaoundé.
Around that time I also became involved with the work of the World Methodist Council. For two periods I chaired its committee on worship and liturgy. Then I was placed on its Commission for Dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, and I have co-chaired that commission since 1986 along with a succession of Catholic bishops.
My ecumenism has always been exercised from within the Methodist tradition, which I love in its more Wesleyan manifestations. As I wrote in my book “Methodists in Dialogue” (1996), my hope has been to keep “as many Methodists as possible walking with historic Christianity.” The restoration of full visible unity in Christ’s sadly divided Church will help all Christians to be more faithful to their Lord, who prayed “that they all may be one” (John 17:21).
By Dr. Geoffrey Wainwright, Robert Earl Cushman Professor of Christian Theology, Duke Divinity School
Contacts & Resources for Christian Unity
North Carolina Council of Churches, a list of the Council’s twenty-four member judicatories and seven individual member congregations which are not part of a member judicatory.
Christian Unity Committee, North Carolina Council of Churches: While Christian unity is modeled and promoted through all of the Council’s work, the Christian Unity Committee is the one entity whose primary responsibility is to further Christian unity or wholeness. This includes bringing people together across lines of denomination to realize that we are more alike than different and that we can be enriched by many of our differences. Website contains a few of the Council’s resources on ecumenism and Christian unity, including the work “A Reflection on the Churches’ Doctrine of Humanity.”
North Carolina Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Prayer Calendar, which identifies member judicatories and congregations to be the focus of your prayers each month.
The World Council of Churches is the broadest and most inclusive among the many organized expressions of the modern ecumenical movement, a movement whose goal is Christian unity.
National Council of Churches isthe leading force for ecumenical cooperation among Christians in the United States. The NCC’s 36 Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and Living Peace member faith groups include 45 million persons in more than 100,000 local congregations in communities across the nation.
The Centro Pro Unione is the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement’s Web Site for Christian Unity. Located in Rome, Italy (and in New York), the Pro Unione Center is among the leaders of promoting and encouraging ecumenical dialogue. Website contains “Interconfessional Dialogues,” e.g. between the Roman Catholic Church and Baptists, Episcopalians, Orthodox, etc.
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity takes place every year on January 18-25. This website has resources prepared by Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute. Graymoor Institute promotes ecumenism and interreligious understanding through its support of theological dialogue, research, and publication. The Institute publishes Ecumenical Trends, a journal of ecumenical and interreligious articles, news, and dialogue. The Institute produces resources in print and on its website for the annual observance of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.
Churches Uniting in Christ: After forty years of study and prayer through the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), the nine member churches agreed to stop “consulting” and start living their unity in Christ more fully. On January 20, 2002, these churches inaugurated a new relationship to be known as Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC).
Facts and Reflection about Christian Unity
1. The twentieth century conciliar movement produced councils of churches at the international, national, state, and local levels. The North Carolina Council of Churches shares the broad goals of Christian unity and justice with the World and National Councils and with the many state councils, and our members come from many of the same denominational streams. But there are no structural or financial connections between us. Each is its own autonomous organization, and the NC Council, founded in 1935, actually
predates both the National and World Councils by more than ten years.
2. According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, edited by David Barrett, et al, almost 34,000 separate Christian groups have been identified in the world; over half of them are independent churches.
3. Churches Uniting in Christ (CUIC) grew out of the work of the Consultation on Church Union (COCU). The formation of the COCU was sparked by a December 1960 sermon preached by Presbyterian pastor Rev. Eugene Carson Blake at Grace Episcopal Church in which he envisioned a “truly catholic and truly reformed” church. At COCU’s first plenary meeting in
1962, the phrase “truly evangelical” was also embraced in the vision. The COCU partner church bodies decided to dissolve the COCU in January 2002 in order to organize the CUIC. The primary difference between COCU and CUIC is that what COCU talked about doing and made steps toward implementing, the CUIC has implemented. Some of the activities that
CUIC partner churches participate in are: pulpit exchange, serving on boards, educating members about the partner denominations, worship together during the various holy days, celebrate the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday, and promote youth to participate in events sponsored by the partner churches.
CUIC consists of ten partner church bodies:
African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME)
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ)
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME)
Episcopal Church, USA
International Council of Community Churches
Presbyterian Church, USA
United Church of Christ (UCC)
United Methodist Church (UM)
Moravian Church(Northern Province)
The Partners in Mission and Dialogue is:
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ECLA)
CUIC consists of three task forces:
The Local & Regional Task Force is responsible for developing strategies that will encourage and facilitate the formation of CUIC partnerships among local congregations and between regional governing bodies. The Task Force provides support and encouragement to groups that are formed by their own initiative.
The Racial Justice Task Force is responsible for promoting an open dialogue about racial justice within the life of the member churches and of society in general. It will also develop strategies that will enable the churches to confront and eradicate the sin of racism.
The Ministry Task Force is responsible for providing a foundation for the mutual recognition and reconciliation of the ordained ministry of the member churches of Churches Uniting in Christ.
4. The Episcopal Church, USA and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America entered into full communion in 2000. Full communion means a mutual recognition of Word, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and ordination of the partner churches for the purpose of a greater and more unified mission to the world as well as a greater and more efficient use of services, resources, and personnel.
The Episcopal Church, USA and the United Methodist Church have been celebrating the Interim Sharing of the Eucharist since 2006 as a means to recognize their unity in the faith.
5. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Moravian Church established full communion in 1999.
6. In a meeting with Pentecostal Anglican bishops, Pope Francis encouraged Christian unity by stating that Catholics and Evangelicals should not wait for theologians to reach agreement before praying and working together.
7. In 2015, members of Christian Churches Together are seeking greater unity in prayer and social justice. This organization includes various Protestant denominations as well as Orthodox and Catholic churches.
Proper 13, Year B: Christian Unity