The indwelling Holy Spirit secures the unity of the Church. Establishing and strengthening unity among the people of God falls within the province of the third person of the Holy Trinity. The early church experienced an earnest of unity on the day of Pentecost when representatives from every nation cried out in amazement, “How hear we in our own language the wonderful works of God?” The tower of Babel—the man-made attempt at unity—brought forth division and confusion of tongues. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost brought forth a universal spiritual language that could be understood by all nationalities and would bind together the children of God from every nation.
In every language, people would understand the mighty works of God: calvary, resurrection, regeneration, justification, reconciliation, sanctification, eternal life and joy. The unity introduced at Pentecost was a foreshadowing of the future unity that would characterize the church under the power of the Holy Spirit.
A sad commentary on the ecclesiastical world of today is the necessity of asserting that the Spirit mentioned in Ephesians 4:3 is none other than the third person of the Trinity. The person of the Spirit is obscured and sometimes equated with new life and new love brought into the community. The fruits activated by the Spirit do not form the Spirit. The tendency to confound human consciousness with the Spirit must be resisted. Nor should it be thought that virtue and power emanating from God constitutes the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, the Unitarian concept of the Godhead is gaining ground in some denominations that were historically trinitarian. However, none other than the third person of the Trinity broods over the new creation to bring forth the beauty of unity even as he brought order and beauty out of what was waste and void in the old creation.
Unity Of Pentecost
The glorious unity engendered by the Holy Spirit was dramatically illustrated on the day of Pentecost when from a mixture of nationalities the Christian church became visible. Three thousand souls were welded together and continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread and in prayers (Acts 2:41, 42). The immediate effect of this outpouring of the Spirit was a unity of doctrine and spiritual fellowship. Similarity of belief and gathering together for prayer gave visibility to the early church and demonstrated unity of the Spirit. The union of Christians in doctrine and their association in the breaking of bread and in prayer followed the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Identity of faith, of love, of hope, of desires characterize those moved by the third person of the Trinity.
The apostle Paul presupposes the existence of unity such as that demonstrated on Pentecost when he warns the church at Ephesus to make real effort to maintain this quality—“Endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). The import of his warning must not be misunderstood to mean that unity is the product of peace or simply consists of peace. The existence of peace among the people of God reveals the presence of the Spirit and indicates his activity. Peace gives visibility to the inward unity created by the Spirit. Lack of tranquility indicates the absence of the Holy Spirit.
Being a citizen of a particular nation brings about a feeling of kinship with fellow citizens. Belonging to one ecclesiastical structure may also create a sense of affinity. However, God designed a deeper and more vital bond for the Christian. Through the Holy Spirit the believer enters into close relation to the Lord Jesus Christ. This common relationship, formed by the Spirit, gives to believers a sense of unity stronger than that brought about by a common citizenship or by church membership. Living relationship to Christ, with the consequent sense of fellowship, is authored by the Holy Spirit. In this the unity of the Spirit consists.
Mere citizenship in a nation or membership in a church does not in itself cause a feeling of kindness and love that must prevail if harmony is to be achieved. Disruptive evil forces exist in both nation and church. Hatred, envy, greed and kindred sins induce friction and separation in family, nation and church. Human beings in their own strength have failed to remove divisive evils from society. Supernatural power alone can change human dispositions from evil to good. The Holy Spirit provides a sanctifying influence that removes evil and implants good and thereby establishes concord.
Removal Of Enmities
Among sinful lusts mentioned by Paul in the fifth chapter of Galatians are enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions and envyings. These vanquish harmony and peace. Belonging to one particular church or denomination does not remove evils that cause dissension and discord. Every pastor knows the grievous trouble that the sins enumerated by Paul stir up within the congregation and the scandal they cause to the outsider. The unregenerate man does not as a rule become disturbed by the many denominations within the nation but does become troubled by factions and fightings within the local congregation. That is his point of contact. Divisive evils that cause scandal to the community can be removed only by the Holy Spirit. Those who walk in the Spirit will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. Unity cannot exist without the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit.
Implanting positive virtues as well as removing evils falls in the province of the third person of the Trinity and is essential to concord. The fruits of the Spirit, Paul informs us in the fifth chapter of Galatians, are love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, meekness and self-control. Without these virtues one may succeed in building a structure stone upon stone but without mortar to cement it together into a solid whole. Organizational visibility occupies the mind of ecumenists, but what can show forth greater visibility than the manifestation throughout the entire church of love, joy and peace? The early church was made perceptible to the pagan world by the love and serenity of Christians. The twentieth century cannot fail to be more impressed by a tangible evidence of love, joy, and peace than by an efficient and centrally controlled organization. Holiness more than outward solidarity impresses the worldly mind. This type of visible unity depends entirely upon the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Unity Of Faith And Knowledge
The Spirit also promotes unity by gifts with which he endows the church. Both in the twelfth chapter of First Corinthians and the fourth chapter of Ephesians attention is drawn to the diversity of gifts bestowed by the same Spirit. The grand purpose of these gifts was “For the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ: till we all attain unto the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God” (Eph. 4:12, 13). The New Testament stresses the importance of the unity of faith and knowledge while remaining almost silent with regard to unity of structure and organization that looms so large in the minds of some ecumenists.
Contrary to opinion, the world is not so perplexed and puzzled by duplication of organizations as by conflicting voices emanating from various groups within the visible church. Who is teaching the truth? is the question frequently asked. The disastrous impact of contradictory doctrines does more to destroy the appearance of unity than the lack of centrally controlled organization. The Spirit goes to the heart of the matter by endowing the ministry with gifts to bring forth unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. Unity authored by the Spirit becomes visible in identity of faith and knowledge among believers.
To communicate faith and knowledge the Holy Spirit employs the written Word. The modern (yet old) attempt to detach the Spirit from the written revelation has done untold harm to the unity of the church. P. T. Forsyth wrote, “Detached from the Word, the supernatural action of the Holy Spirit becomes gradually the natural evolution of the human spirit. The Spirit becomes identified with the natural humanity” (Faith, Freedom, and the Future, p. 95). The religious experience of a generation becomes identified with the Spirit. Yet the experience of one generation may differ and even contradict the experience of another generation. Thus the Spirit is saddled with the responsibility of contradiction and confusion. Religious experience that differs from the revelation given through the prophets and apostles cannot be regarded as true and authentic. The Spirit does not teach a faith and knowledge in contradiction to the written Word which he inspired.
The thrust of the Ephesian passage (4:11–13) indicates that the Holy Spirit endowed the Church with the ministry for the purpose of causing all to come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. Jesus Christ is the object of faith and the content of knowledge. The unity of faith means that all shall possess the same confidence in the divine Son of God as Saviour and Lord. The ministry, called and gifted by the Spirit, declares that faith which lays hold of Christ unto eternal life. The unity of knowledge means that all be informed of the facts relating to Christ. Such knowledge includes the pre-existence, incarnation, earthly life and ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, present reign and coming again of the Messiah. It includes also the interpretation of these events as given by the inspired writers of the Scriptures. Only as the ministry labors to instruct believers in the faith and knowledge of the Son of God does it fulfill the mission to which it has been called and enriched by the Holy Spirit.
Seeking The Spirit
The church must learn how to open her heart to the sweet influences of the third person of the Trinity that spiritual unity may prevail. The Holy Spirit may be grieved, offended, and quenched. More than a passive attitude is required to attract the indwelling of the Spirit. Heart searching and supplication are positive requirements that demand activity on the part of the church. Whatever offends must be eradicated and the Spirit’s presence implored. A church solicitous to please the Spirit is a church active in true ecumenicity.
The evangelical more than any other understands the nature and quality of spiritual unity. He sees the fallacy and shallowness of an ecumenicity that would achieve unity through a central organization. This increases his responsibility and rebukes him for the lack of spiritual unity evidenced by those who hold to evangelical Christianity. He comes far short of that perfect man and the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:13). He must admonish false ecumenicity not only with his lips but by a display of true unity among the brethren. Love and peace are as visible as concrete and stone. The evangelical will not prevail in rebuking the error of some aspects of the modern ecumenical movement until the unity of the Spirit prevails in his midst.
The Rev. J. Marcellus Kik, Associate Editor of Christianity Today, is presently engaged in writing Ecumenicalism and the Evangelical to be published by the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company in October. The above article will form one of the chapters. Mr. Kik is the author of Matthew Twenty-four, Revelation Twenty and Voices from Heaven and Hell.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 65+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more