One Body In Christ – 5
Chapter 5: Understanding Faith and True Unity
Faith is the gift of God which produces in us this fellowship with God in Christ. It cannot be created or maintained by human efforts. With the Spirit of God governing us directly, we love each other and do God’s work by obeying Him. Faith is but another name for fellowship, the koinonia with God. In this relationship the power of God works through us. No creed or doctrine, no priest or pastor, no institution or ceremony is actually necessary. The one thing required is that a man repent and come to Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the newness of life He freely gives.
When the Lord walked on earth, He praised the “great faith ” of a centurion and blamed the “little faith” of the disciples. He acknowledged the faith of a sinful woman, a leper, a woman suffering with a flow of blood, and a blind man by saying, “your faith has saved you.” In all such cases no doctrines, institutions or ceremonies ere involved. Those who simply relied wholly on the Lord himself were accepted, their sins forgiven, and thus they were saved. The only necessary condition was that they have faith in Christ personally–that they engage in a living contact with Him. Where there was this “faith,” there was the beginning of the Ekklesia, because through this koinonia they became one with Christ and He became their Lord. In a word, Christianity has its center in God Himself, and in the fellowship men have with Him. This fellowship of God through the Spirit with believers is the answer to the question of what faith is, and of what the true Ekklesia is.
When this centrality of God in fellowship with men through Christ is made clear, we at once see that all other elements, such an institutional Church, the interpretation of the Bible, various doctrines, the morality of believers, or any other problem of different denominations or sects, cannot be the center of Christianity. When this revelation dawns, we know that we should not judge others by any of these standards, for Christ Himself never made these the standard for judging His followers. The center of Christianity is fellowship with God. The Bible itself is not the center. It is only the inspired description of this central truth, through which we may come to the center and have fellowship with Him.
Oh, how important our fellowship with God is! This koinonia is the essence of the new life we have in Christ. “You pore over the Scriptures for you imagine you will find eternal life in them. And it is they that give testimony to Me.” (John 5:39).
Redemption by the blood of Christ is, of course, the most important fact of Christianity, the basis of all koinonia with God. Everyone knows how Paul emphasized this truth, as also did Augustine, Luther, Calvin and every other great spiritual leader through the years. But God loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins, “not just to have us believe the doctrine of our sins being forgiven through the blood, but also to let us actually in practice “have boldness and confidence of access through our faith in Him” (Eph. 3:12; see also 2:13, 18; Heb. 10:20).
To have access to God is the true purpose of redemption, while the propitiation by the blood of Christ is the basis on which we are allowed to come near to God. Therefore, the main purpose of God’s sending His Son, as well as the Son’s death on the cross, was to let us have this access, this entering into communion with God. We know how God loved us, because He gave His Son to save us (I John 3:16, 4:10). Without the cross of Jesus we would be unable to know the love of God or to be saved from the curse of sin. But only to know that He loved us is not enough. We must actually come into His presence and experience koinonia with God.
He who acknowledges the doctrine of redemption is not necessarily experiencing the fellowship it allows, but all who have communion with God surely are also trusting Him who forgave our sins through the redemptive death of His Son. This relationship of experienced fellowship with Him is what God really wants of men, for this was the purpose in our creation.
Therefore, merely to understand or confess the doctrine of redemption is only to have found the passage through which to come near to God. Those who stop there have not yet come into life-union with Christ and are in danger of dead orthodoxy. How full the churches are of this kind of “faith”! Because of this we must be careful to avoid making the doctrine the center rather than the life. There are many Christians who, though for one reason or another may not subscribe to some statement of the doctrine of redemption by the blood of Christ, still are standing very close to God and obeying Him from their hearts. Perhaps Albert Schweitzer and Karl Hilty are examples of this. If I had been born in a country where so much dead orthodoxy prevails, I too might have been repelled by such a doctrine of redemption professed without a corresponding change in life and practice.
To confess faith in the resurrection is one thing and to have fellowship with the risen Lord is another; to believe in the doctrine of the second coming is one thing, and to wait for Christ’s return is another. For as the fact of the resurrection of Christ gives us the faith that sees God face to face, so the coming again of Christ gives us the hope that we “shall be caught up together … to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we always be with the Lord.” In all such doctrines, the koinonia with God is the ultimate object expected, and all the various dogmas serve only as tributaries to this main stream.
Koinonia versus Institutionalism
When God’s people truly see that the center of Christianity is fellowship with God, and that this fellowship is realized through Jesus Christ, then they will see the true causes of the divisions in the churches, and will understand the way to get rid of them. The primary cause of these divisions is the Institutionalism and organizationalism of the churches and missions, which instead of helping the life of the believers in them, smothers or drives it out. This gradually produces mere dead institutions instead of the living Ekklesia.
Christians who really have life in Christ cannot exist within such a corpse and usually will finally come out of it. But, sad to say, in most cases those who leave dead institutions simply set out to build another “better” institution or embrace other rituals and ceremonies, thus repeating the same error. Instead of turning to Christ Himself as their center, they again seek to find fellowship and spiritual security on the very same basis that failed.
Even the Bible itself is interpreted and understood in various ways and often becomes the cause of sectarianism. In the same way, dogmas and creeds cannot bring Christian unity, because human minds are not so uniformly created that they can unite in a single dogma or creed. Even our understanding of Christ himself cannot be the basis of unity, because He is too big to be understood fully by any one person or group. Our limited understandings do not always coincide. One emphasizes this point about Christ, another that, and this again becomes the cause of division.
Only as we take our fellowship with Christ as the center of Christian faith, will all Christians realize their oneness. There are different understandings of Christ. There are varying opinions about the Bible and its teachings. There are various kinds of institutions and ceremonies. But this need not hinder our practicing the unity of the Body of Christ. Is not our fellowship, however varied, with the same Lord? Is not the same Savior our one Head?
Our fellowship with God in Christ is, as we have seen, the very purpose of God in creating man. In its fullness it is His “eternal purpose”–the Ultimate–and He cannot rest until this is fulfilled, however great the cost may be to Him because of man’s sin.
I feel that all Christians are aware that this koinonia is very important, but obviously they have not realized that it–not theology’ doctrine, creed, institution, ceremony, etc.–is the center of Christian faith. When all Christians see this, the change will be amazing. Our practices, of course, will not be the same, because God’s commands differ according to the different gifts and callings. But even though each one may differ in carrying out his part of the will of God, since God’s object is one, all members of the Ekklesia will be united in doing the will of the same God, fulfilling one great purpose. Each individual, by doing his part, will contribute to the work of God in cooperation with others.
God is the great Conductor, and the individual members of the orchestra each play their varying parts on different instruments; but if all follow the Conductor the whole composition will be a complete and beautiful symphony in perfect harmony.
The ecumenical movement, which has become very popular recently, seems to have arisen from the belief that the division of Christian into many sects denominations has greatly weakened their power and made it almost impossible to fight against worldly forces, especially Communism. This is true, as far as it goes, but we must remember that the unity of Christians is not a matter of human effort or cooperation. True unity must come solely from God, and when there is true fellowship with God, it will come natural of itself. The power of Christians does not come from human cooperation but from life-union with God. It is the power of God working in men. Therefore, the One Body cannot be created by human collaboration. It exists through simply removing the barriers and having fellowship with God, a reality prevailing among those who obey Him and love each other. No other merely human method will avail. “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is the law and the prophets-and also the Gospel.
How Can We Tell?
If the center of Christian faith truly is fellowship with God and if only those who have this fellowship are Christians and those who lack it are not, regardless of their profession or what institution they are members of, then a serious and difficult problem is naturally raised. Some will say, “How can we tell whether someone is a Christian or not?” Well, in the final analysis, we can’t really know for sure whether another is a Christian or not. This knowledge belongs solely to God, Who alone can judge a man’s heart. No human being can judge another’s faith without probability of prejudice and error.
For many centuries the distinction between believers and unbelievers was made by their reception of baptism and the Lord’s supper. Yet, who can deny the inadequacy of these standards? Everyone knows that there are many baptized non-Christians and many unbaptized Christians. The confession of creeds and doctrines is also a very inadequate criterion for recognizing Christians, for these confessions can be made without the experience of the new birth.
Actually, we have created a problem that need not exist, for no final decision on a person’s faith, or any standard to judge by, is needed for the simple fellowship among Christians that God intended. Such drawing of man-made boundaries and distinctions is needed only for organizations and institutions.
However, once we lay aside the necessity of objective judgment, we can in actual practice, though imperfectly, still tell whether one is a Christian or not. The most important basis for such recognition is, of course, that he confesses Christ as his Lord, with the sincerity of a life that demonstrates that Lordship. There will be the reality of loving God and men in practical experience. It is a lamentable fact that there is very little love among thousands who belong to the different churches and sects. This makes us
doubt that these are really Christians, for “He that does not love does not know God; for God is Love” (I John 4:8).
To sum up, I believe God is moving to reveal to all Christians what the true center of the Christian faith is, and that the inevitable spiritual unity which will surely result will be one of the major steps toward the fulfillment of God’s full purpose His “eternal purpose.” All Christians are one Body in Christ we cannot create this, but only recognize it. However, we must recognize it and then fearlessly practice it, disregarding our differences in doctrine, forms and interpretations of the Bible. We must receive one another on the ground of a mutual fellowship with God in living union with Christ in the Spirit. This is the essence of the true Ekklesia, and in such a free fellowship the truth will surely triumph.
On the contrary, if we put our emphasis on other matters, as has usually been the case in the churches since the Reformation, the great mistakes of the Roman and Protestant Churches will only continue. Division upon division will overcome all efforts to perfect the Church, and certainly any attempt to form an ecumenical Church will prove to be in vain.
We simply must come back to this central point, for in no other way can the oneness of the Body of Christ be practiced. I realize that to those who are used to the life of organizational churches, this principle seems very vague and impractical, but if they will put it to the test and really live the life of fellowship with God, practicing fellowship with all Christians upon this basis, they will soon experience the reality of it. Those who have experienced a real measure of this koinonia with God and men, from Apostolic times down to the present, know that it is the true and practical center of Christianity, and that here alone is the pathway to the unity of all Christians in the Ekklesia of Christ.