Church is a singular noun. Despite the schisms, fractions, and multiple expressions of the institutional church, the driving image for the Church in the New Testament is one body.
“The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body– whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free– and we were all given the one Spirit to drink,” (1 Corinthians 12:12-13).
One Jesus, Lord of the Church. One baptism makes us part of that Church. One Spirit, given to empower the Church.
All who are in the Church have the same Spirit and have been given a gift. It doesn’t make sense to say that only some of those who came into the Church through the one baptism, one death and resurrection of the one Lord, would not have the one Spirit that marks the identity of the Church. It doesn’t make sense to say so, but some do, and by doing so, defy that the Church is one body.
Perhaps the most foundational (and overlooked) gift given to the Church, through the Spirit, is the gift of unity. The members of the Church are to express its quintessential oneness. Unity is to be more than a theological reality, more than a characteristic, more than a God-ordained wish. Unity must take on flesh among us and move beyond a charter of essentials that members agree on. The source of unity must be living, active, and breathing among us.
The flesh of this unity—its expression among us—is none other than Jesus himself.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 15:5-6).
Following Jesus is the medium through which the spirit of unity is poured into the Church. The “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” is experienced as the Church is built up into the unity of the Son of God. Spiritual gifts were given for this very purpose:
“. . . to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4:13).
The Spirit manifests among the Church the oneness of the body as it stems from Jesus Christ.
“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit– just as you were called to one hope when you were called– one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all,” (Ephesians 4:3-6).
God’s umbrella of grace spans over the entire Church, and we exist beneath it as one body. We do not stand under this umbrella separated from one another, but as one body. We do not experience unity individually, but as one body. And one day, in heaven, we will worship as one body in perfect unity.