Blogging the NT: Ephesians 4-6

bloggingthentOne of the great themes of the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline corpus is the idea of Christian unity arising from the diversity of the people. We see it in this reading, in chapter 4. The author writes,

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people.”
9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended[a] into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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. 14 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. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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.

One of the great challenges of modern progressive Christianity is walking the fine line of diversity and unity. Richard Beck, on his great Experimental Theology blog that I keep plugging, wrote this on Monday:

To take one example, as Westerners progressive (and conservative) Christians privilege individualism over collectivism. And as any church leader will tell you, this individualism makes it very difficult for Western Christians to live as the church. Trying to do church with Western Christians is like herding cats.

And to sharpen the point, I think progressive Christians are particularly and especially bad at doing church. According to the research of Jonathan Haidt conservatives tend to value in-group solidarity more than their progressive counterparts.

We progressives greatly value and trumpet the Protestant ethic of the individual. The power and ability of each person to shape their lives and experience God in their way is something we hold near and dear. And we should. This is one of the things that makes us great, that makes progressive Christianity so vibrant and intellectually alive.

But it can also be our undoing. In the drive for our churches to take action, to be a social presence, each member takes the position that their primary interest is the most important one, and thus the one the church should be focusing on. This leads to inaction, when we can’t get together and compromise on what we should be focusing our energies on.

Paul in his letters constantly stressed the importance of building a unified church by valuing and desiring the individuals who make it up. We progressives need to find a way to practice personal humility, and remember that we are stronger together, working towards a common goal, than we are each forming a committee of one to stroke our pet issue. We have see the importance of what the corporate whole decides to focus on, and use our various talents and energies in the furtherance of that collective goal.

Next: Colossian 1-2

For an explanation on this series, click here.

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