The Fundamental Commonality, Part II

The first part of this discussion clarified what is the most fundamental attribute of all mankind, which binds us irrevocably together: our inability to live up to the Image that we perceive. In this there is no division, but unity in our irredeemable state, if unity there is within our natural proclivities toward division.

The second consideration following the first part is in fact not a unity intrinsic to mankind, but an elected unity. As certainly as we find ourselves helpless to meet standards set either from without or within, it is definite that this second bond is not one basic to our being, but contingent upon our will. The decision of humility before the Cross is neither a natural position of the human frame, nor a pledge idly taken. Yet the human person craves fellowship within the bonds of a common creed as surely as death is preferable to loneliness. Thus, as water flows away from the higher ground to water the lowlands, so men will follow the natural paths away from the hill at Calvary to those communities more appealing to their inflated sensibilities. It is for this reason that we encounter factions, groups of shared identity, opposing communities, and lines of division too numerous to comprehend. Man will wander the restless paths of Cain across the face of the Earth (Gen. 4:14) and walk in desert wildernesses for forty years (Numbers 32:13) before coming simply to the foot of the Cross. He will build his cities, form his troops, proclaim his oaths before witnesses, and wage wars to build mighty kingdoms marked by boundary stones in his own image before ever proclaim as Peter did, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Thus was Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, made low in the time of Daniel:

As the king was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, he said, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” The words were still on his lips when a voice came from heaven, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals… Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men.”

-Daniel 4:28-32

If we desire a unity not merely of nature, but of purpose, in which not division but communion is the daily practice, then we must become One in Christ.

How, then, are they characterized who are One in Christ? Is there an outward sign, like the mark of Cain, that all who strike him dead should be avenged (Gen. 4:15)? Is it by a constructed “holy atmosphere” through music and high words by which members feel or feign religiosity? Can we deduce it by the number of races represented in the institutional church? To contend that Christ’s Body can be detected by outward appearance in the third part, or projection of emotion in the second part, or rejection of structural forms of obedience in the first, is to display the same weakness as Samuel before the sons of Jesse. No, it is not by these means that the “unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3) is made and maintained. Even the strongest contender in post-modern ideology – race – has little hope of binding together a mosaic of peoples from every “tongue and tribe and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). For even as they are being gathered in one place, they are fragmenting in accordance with the blood of those with whom they share.

No, there is a stronger bond than blood, and that is creed. Those who are one in Christ hold this as true above all else, spoken by the early apostles and repeated by those who regard Christ, and not his own efforts, as final:

I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.

-The Apostle’s Creed

This, then, is the mark of those who are one in Christ: those who hold fast to this confession, unwavering and in conviction of spirit and word and work, until the end. The unity here spoken is again one of decision, made by the individual, but it is not merely a “voluntary act of uniting by the members of Christ’s body” (Oden, Classic Christianity, p. 720), for that would be to reduce it again to the lowly state of human community. Rather, it is one which, after affirming this creed in all her members, is set apart by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of service to God. Indeed, the unity of the church itself serves a powerful purpose in our world of factions and division:

By her unity the church gives expression in time to the oneness of Christ’s body so as to unite in hope all humanity to God’s reconciling activity.

-Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity, p. 720

If we hold to this shared belief, are we unified? If we are not unified, then what divides us? By what means might we divine the barriers separating brethren one from another, and so unify once more under the banner of Christ, as the church ought, spread out in time and space in the armor of God, wielding faith in one hand and the Word in the other? If we are one in Christ, and we are also divided, then we are not one in Christ. We would do well to ask ourselves – and not our brethren, who in our weakness we are apt to condemn – how often do we affirm the common creed? How often do we dwell on the words, “I believe in God”? “In Jesus Christ… our Lord”? “…in the Holy Spirit”?

The Apostle’s Creed contains the most primal elements of the Body of Christ. They must be examined anew every morning; they must be shouted from mountaintops; they must go down into the “inner parts” of a man; they must be the last word at night. If these truths are known but not held daily, they will fade into a worldly dimness. And in fading, a hundred contradictory worldviews and exploded systems of thought clutter the believer’s mind, and the ancient false choice is quietly proposed by the Enemy of our souls: By whose wisdom shall you live? Your own, or God’s? It was by this lie that Eve took and ate of the apple, as time and again we choose our own paths instead of God’s. But this is to evade the thrust of that first commandment, for to live as one we must live, not by rules, but by relationship. The false choice is to encourage the believer to forget that he is to choose, not between our wisdom and God’s, but between our wisdom and God’s love.

Were it not for the love demonstrated by Christ on the Cross, there would be no possibility of election into this communion. But because Christ did come to earth, and in coming die, and in dying rise, He gave us this hope for “peace on earth,” that one day every “tongue and tribe and people and nation” will proclaim as one that Jesus is Lord.