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Colossian Blog
November 13, 2012 | Lori Wilson

Unity of the Spirit, Unity of Faith: Larry Hurtado on Ephesians 4

Following Rob’s piece last week about ecumenical dialogue, I’d like to highlight a fascinating article exploring Christian unity in light of Ephesians 4.  Larry Hurtado, a historian of the early church and New Testament scholar in Edinburgh, suggests an intriguing path forward for Christians who disagree and, as a result, find themselves divided.

Central to Hurtado’s case are what we might call two different types of unity:  the unity of the Spirit and the unity of faith.  Ephesians 4, verse 3 exhorts the reader to be about “making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  As Hurtado highlights, this unity is referenced in the present tense.  As believers in Jesus Christ, we have all received the Spirit he sent – we already share this unity as a gift from God in Christ.  Additionally, it is simply assumed that this unity will take work on our part.  As Hurtado carefully traces, the Christian church has faced differences since its very inception.  Beginning with the variations in theme and story of the four Gospels, through the early Church, and on down to our day, the faithful have often found themselves holding significantly different perspectives.  What the author of Ephesians makes clear is that these differences do not invalidate our unity in the Spirit – but that it will take every effort to maintain the peace which we have already been given.

Later, in verse 13, the author points to a time in the future: 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.”  It is apparent that this unity – a sharing in full knowledge, and, by extension, understanding, is an expression of the coming Kingdom of God.  This unity of faith is an eschatological hope – one which we Christians share, and for which we together wait expectantly.  Just as the unity of the Spirit is a gift we share in the present, unity of faith is a gift we will share in the future.

In practical terms, this means a number of things for us.  First, we ought not to be surprised or dismayed by our differences.  The early church struggled with difference, as evidenced by these New Testament calls for unity. Christians have apparently always differed, and until the coming of the Kingdom will continue to do so. Second, these differences actually create the occasion for ongoing discipleship (specifically, by expressing our unity in the Spirit) – we are challenged to extend God’s grace to those with whom we disagree (sometimes even vehemently so!). Finally, we share with these believers a hope that one day we will, in fact, share in the unity of faith.  We will understand one another, and the gifts of God, in such a way that our differences are overcome.  And, having spent our lifetimes practicing the unity of the Spirit, we will be prepared for the joy that will be ours in the unity of the faith.

 

You’ve Got to ‘Accentuate the Positive’: Thinking about Differences Biblically is available on Hurtado’s personal blog, followed by an interesting comment thread.  The article was originally published in the Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, volume 30 number 1 (Spring 2012).

 

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Reclaiming Jesus
February 14, 2019 | Gene Miyamoto
Reclaiming Jesus
“The contemporary church is so often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  Wicked Problems The “Wicked Problem” of today’s political climate can present us a wonderful, if challenging, opportunity for polarized Christians and churches to gather as one body. It gives us the chance to face our conflict and brokenness, learn through the Spirit to lovingly “fight” well together and to become stronger; to be held together in Christ (Colossians 1:17) and known as Christ’s disciples through our love of one another (John 13:35).  Reclaiming Jesus is a letter from a group of Christian leaders acting upon their conscience, coram deo, posting six theses that affirm what they believe and what they reject, specifically related to several pivotal issues that are driving separation across our society. In the letter, they denounce racism, particularly white supremacy; oppression and abuse of women; abandonment of the vulnerable, the poor, immigrants and refugees; normalization of lying and the undermining of the public accountability to truth; autocratic and authoritarian rule; and xenophobic ethnic nationalism. Their declaration calls to churches for a process of prayer, discernment and turning away from complicity in politics that undermines the theology of being seen as disciples of Christ through love for one another. The authors repudiate “those at the highest levels of political leadership” who incite such behaviors, implying but without naming President Trump.  Critics of this statement, such as the author of the 6/10/18 The Washington Times’ op-ed, “Wolves in Shepherd’s Clothing,” focus primarily on hyperbolic criticism of the “Reclaiming Jesus” authors, rather than offering biblical exegesis illuminating counter-points.  Choose Loving Engagement Over Rhetoric But rhetoric isn’t the point. Rather than trying to convince the other to come over to our side or engaging in a vitriolic argument that simply drives us further apart, we have the opportunity to change the conversation. We can recognize these kinds of opinion differences – these conflicts – as Christ-given possibilities to offer a new way to approach our disagreements.    In this case, both sides are equally impassioned, equally committed to revealing the “truth.” It is precisely, squarely within the realm of disagreement between two sides such as these where we have the chance to deepen our relationships with God and one another. For the pastors, local churches and young people watching and waiting to see what liturgical leaders will say and do in response to this, and other arguments, that are playing out on the national stage, be encouraged. Because polarized Christians who gather and lovingly engage and learn well together as one body held together in Christ provides a wonderful opportunity for leadership and discipleship.  Let’s defy Dr. King’s observation. Let’s join our voices to create a beautiful sound, change the way we argue, and both lift up and restore the church and its people.
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
January 29, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
We live in exciting times—times when the need for the reconciling power of the gospel is blindingly clear. Christendom is in retreat. The church suffers from a brand problem, rooted in its complicity with a divisive culture that it tacitly reflects. Young people, as well as old, are leaving the faith at an unprecedented rate.[1] Yet, there are pockets of beauty, faithfulness, and hope, as hunger for communion, community, and peace is becoming increasingly pronounced.[2] Pockets of Hope The work of The Colossian Forum (TCF) is privileged to be situated within these pockets of hope—as well as within the tensions among them. We recognize the depth of our society’s polarization and alienation, while at the same time, seeing that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the body of Christ, the solution has already been given and indeed is embedded in the problem itself. Conflict, at its core, arises from differing desires, and those differences are perceived as threatening. Yet, the Christian tradition from Augustine onward has recognized that desire is always desire for communion—with God and one another. If this is the case (and we think it is), then conflict is that same desire for God and one another gone awry. How so? Well, we begin with our confession that humanity is created in the image of the Triune God, whose very life is constituted by self-giving love across three distinct, different persons. The Father gives himself completely to the Son, the Son gives himself back—unto death—to the Father through the Holy Spirit, catching up all creation into the divine and eternal dance of self-giving love and delight. This is ultimately who we are and how the world most truly is. Harnessing Conflict But in a world full of brokenness, hurt, and sin, rather than participating in the divine dance of pouring ourselves out through self-giving, our love has become self-protective and self-serving. Rather than experiencing delight and desire across different persons, there is defensiveness, fear, suspicion, and even violence. Yet the very desire powering conflict (all the energy of our desire gone awry) can, by the healing power of the Holy Spirit, be harnessed for our own redemption and the salvation of the world. The conflicts raging across our society, denominations, churches, and even our families are driven by our deep and abiding desire for communion with God and one another, however distorted that desire has become. And we have, in the words of 2 Peter 1:3, “…been given everything we need for a holy life...” TCF is an organization tasked with the recovery of the language, imagination, and practices that will help open up believers to the Spirit’s power to reshape our desires, moving us away from the fearful and combative desires of the self-protective “flesh” and toward active participation in God’s own holy life of self-giving love, especially in the face of the conflicts that plague our time. Built for Communion To our deep delight, we have found believers and non-believers alike are hungry for this way of being-in-communion-in-the-world. We are made for this. We are ready for this. We are built for communion, and even amidst the intense divisive language we experience in social media and elsewhere, we haven’t forgotten it. Because of this deep longing, and because of the vision and faithfulness of people like you, TCF has had the privilege of being set aside—given the time and space—to walk with believers, churches, leaders, and Christian organizations from divisiveness to discipleship and to the first fruits of reconciliation. Through almost eight years of research, reading, writing, experimentation, and evaluation, we now have the clearest sense in our history of where we are as an organization and where we need to go next. And with this emerging clarity, we are embarking on a five-year strategic planning process next month. Envisioning a five-year horizon will insure that near-term planning plots the appropriate trajectory. This is an exciting, yet daunting, time. [1]Pinetops Foundation reported in 2018 that if the current trends continue, 30-50 million people will have left the church by 2050, never to return. [2]Google’s NGram tool analyzing word usage across time marks a 46% increase in references to “community” from 1960 to 2000.

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