The Unity of the Faith

“He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
—Ephesians 4:11-13

THE YEAR 2000 WAS declared by the Roman Catholic Church to be a Holy Year. An article in the “New York Times” on September 20, 2000 reminded the Christian world of this Holy Year and the objective that the Catholic hierarchy had in its establishment. A Holy Year is proclaimed from time to time and although there have been many in the past, this year was unusual for it was the first year of the new millennium.


The reporter for the “New York Times” started the article by saying, “For Catholics, a Holy Year is a time to make pilgrimages to Rome and throw open the doors of their faith. At the Vatican, however, there are signs suggesting that top church officials are working behind closed doors during this Holy Year to reorganize top echelons and prepare for the future. The most glaring signal was the reassignment of a close aide to Pope John Paul II, Bishop Giovanni Batista Re, 66, the deputy secretary of state, whose Vatican job description is akin to that of a White House chief of staff. Last weekend, the bishop, a career Vatican diplomat, was put in charge of the office that selects bishops, a powerful post that will almost certainly result in his elevation to cardinal.”

The article went on to remind everyone of the frailty of the present cardinals, some who had to resign their office because of illness. There is also a deepening awareness of the 80-year old pope’s failing health. The number of cardinals under age 80—and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to choose a new pope—has shrunk to 100 from the maximum 120 allowed. The reporter wrote, “The busy Holy Year calendar has not deflected preoccupation in the church administration with the cardinal selection process, which is expected to be completed by February. ‘All you hear is talk about cardinals and when they may be named,’ Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of Galveston-Houston said this summer after visiting Vatican offices.”


For some time there has been speculation among Vatican experts on the subject as to whether the cardinals building on the precedent of a Polish pope would move toward electing a candidate from Africa, Latin America, or Asia, or whether they would return to an Italian. The oft cited battle between the so-called liberals and conservatives inside the Vatican is believed by some to be exaggerated since the pope shows no signs of winding down his mission after the Holy Year comes to a close. The article reported, “In recent weeks, plans have been floated for the pope to visit Armenia either this year or in early 2001. The Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said last week that the pope wanted to resurrect his plan to make a pilgrimage to Ur, a holy city in Iraq, a trip that was canceled in December after the Iraqi government withdrew its consent.”


It appears that the pope wants to continue his program of ecumenicism and interfaith dialogue, but a 36-page document issued in September by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger who directs the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith seemed to deflate the pope’s efforts in this direction. The document stressed the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church and declared that it (the Roman Catholic Church) cannot be any group’s “sister church” because that would imply a “plurality.” And it said non-Christian religions, while holding out the possibility of Divine grace, “are in a gravely deficient situation in comparison with those who in the church, have the fullness of the means of salvation.” To some, the document seemed to deflate the pope’s bold efforts to further ecumenicism and interfaith dialogue, most notably with his silent prayer at the Western Wall in Jerusalem last March. The document offended many leaders of other churches, who saw it as a tactless step backward. When John Paul opened a joint commission on dialogue between Catholics and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in September, he did not allude to any change in his own thinking, saying, “The commitment of the Catholic Church to ecumenical dialogue is irrevocable.”

One outstanding event in this Holy Year was the pope’s visit to the Holy Land in March and holding a public mass in that land. Some students of the Bible have viewed this event as another fulfillment of our Lord’s words in Matthew 24:15. The pope scheduled a dialogue between Christians and Jews for October 3. The document on the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church issued in September, and a few days later the “New York Times” ran a short article saying, “VATICAN: MEETING WITH JEWS CANCELED. The Vatican was forced to cancel an October 3 symposium on dialogue between Christians and Jews after two Italian rabbis dropped out to protest a Vatican document asserting the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church. Rabbi Elio Toaff, chief rabbi of Rome, and Rabbi Abramo Piattelli told the Vatican that given the current climate, they could not attend. ‘It is difficult to organize a celebration between two faiths when one is missing,’ said the Rev. Remi Hoeckman, secretary of the Vatican’s office for relations with the Jews.”


It is evident that stressing differences in faith will not help the ecumenical efforts of the pope. What should we expect in attaining unity of faith as preached by the Apostle Paul to the Ephesian church in Ephesians 4:11-13? First, God’s objective in the present time must be understood. At the present time, he is selecting “a people for his name” (Acts 15:14) which is the true church. These are called members of the “church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven.” (Heb. 12:23) Jesus mentioned that this was a very selective work. He concluded the parable of the wedding garment and feast with the words, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 22:14) This special choosing of those that can become members of the church is emphasized by Jesus in John 15:16, when he told his apostles, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” This is contrary to the usual concepts our Christian friends have about the Gospel message. They believe that today is the only time available for salvation for everyone, and that we must seek out and choose Jesus as our Savior.

On the Day of Pentecost God sent his Holy Spirit upon the apostles and those gathered with them. Israel was enjoying exclusive favor from God, so this blessing was limited to Israelites indeed. The Apostle Peter gave a mighty discourse on that day and three thousand were immersed into Christ. This was the sudden appearance of the true church. Later Peter said, “The promise [of the Holy Spirit] is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.”—Acts 2:39

When exclusive favor to Israel ended three years later, God instructed Cornelius (a Gentile centurion) to send for Peter. Peter had received a vision from the Lord that convinced him that God was directing the matter and he went to see Cornelius. As Peter briefly summarized the events of Jesus’ ministry, the Holy Spirit came upon Cornelius and his family and friends. God was visiting “the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.”—Acts 15:14

The Holy Spirit (God’s influence on our hearts and minds) is essential to an understanding of God’s plan. When the Apostle Paul and his companions went to Philippi, they went to a place by the river on a Sabbath to worship. There was no synagogue in Philippi and faithful women came to this location to pray. One of these, Lydia, heard Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke expounding on God’s plan, with Paul being the chief spokesman. The Scriptures say of Lydia, “whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul.” (Acts 16:14) This is an experience that every child of God being chosen to be a part of the Church must have. We do not receive an understanding of God’s plan by our own astuteness and wisdom. We are utterly dependent on God opening our hearts to receive the message.


Along this latter line, God has provided much assistance to make matters clear. When writing to the Ephesian church he tells us about these helps. “He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” (Eph. 4:11) These helpers would be used by the Lord “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (vs. 12) The goal to be achieved by these helpers is, “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”—vs. 13

The Apostle Paul wasn’t saying that during this present Gospel Age all professing Christians would eventually be unified in faith. The opposite is true. Church dogmas differ from one sect to another, and often these differences interfere with the churches joining one another in unity. During these attempts at unity of the faith, statements are made that would indicate a change in doctrine or attitude. Such has been the experience of Protestants with Roman Catholicism. Statements have been made that appear that the church is deviating from its former stance. In one such incident, an article in the Vatican newspaper, “L’Osservatore Romano,” published April 17, 2000, the author, Father Suaudeau, gave that impression, and this was seized by some as a change in philosophy. Father Suaudeau was questioned about this and our article said, “‘I don’t understand why people want to interpret what I stated clearly in my article,’ Father Suaudeau said with a sigh. ‘But there is no change in church teaching.’”


It is evident that as stated, ‘There is no change in church teaching.’ Roman Catholics intend to hold on to their beliefs and the various Protestant sects intend to hold on to their beliefs. What then was the Apostle Paul alluding to when he told the church at Ephesus that God’s helpers would bring them to a unity of the faith? This could only apply to those being chosen of God to be members of the ‘church of the firstborn.’  The steps necessary for this achievement are as follows:

  1. Selection by God and Jesus
  2. The opening of our hearts by God
  3. Dedication of ourselves to serve God and accepting Jesus as our Redeemer
  4. Receiving of the Holy Spirit
  5. Attaining an understanding of God’s plan
  6. Growing up into “the stature of the fulness of Christ”—Eph. 4:13

This ultimate objective of the unity of the faith is stated elsewhere as, “to be conformed to the image of his Son.” (Rom. 8:29) If any one of the steps indicated does not occur, there can be no unity of the faith.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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