By Paul Louis Metzger
The words “One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism” loom large behind the pulpit at Vancouver Avenue First Baptist Church in Portland, where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once spoke. I taught a class there last night on the doctrine of the church. During the class, we addressed the subject of church unity. We hearkened back to Dr. King’s sermon, “Paul’s Letter to American Christians,” in which King claimed that,
There is another thing that disturbs me to no end about the American church. You have a white church and you have a Negro church. You have allowed segregation to creep into the doors of the church. How can such a division exist in the true Body of Christ? You must face the tragic fact that when you stand at 11:00 on Sunday morning to sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus Name” and “Dear Lord and Father of all Mankind,” you stand in the most segregated hour of Christian America. They tell me that there is more integration in the entertaining world and other secular agencies than there is in the Christian church. How appalling that is. (Delivered at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama, on 4 November 1956; see here.)
Paul says in Ephesians 4:4-6 that “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.”
Do we really live as if there is one church? Paul writes his letter to “God’s holy people in Ephesus.” For Paul, there was only one church. Of course, we live in complex times, perhaps far more complex ecclesially than in Paul’s day. We have a multitude of Christian traditions and sects with all kinds of doctrinal variations, ecclesial practices, and views of church authority. But still, as I read Paul in his various letters, there is only one church in any given city: the church of Ephesus, the church of Philippi, the church of Colossae, etc. At the very least, we should long and pray for the unity of the church in our city. No doubt, many people do pray regularly for such unity to exist. No doubt, all of us need to pray far more for the unity of the church in the greater Portland area. We need to pray into what we are: the one body of Christ.
Dr. King was speaking about multi-ethnic church unity. How can we pursue such unity more? There are various individuals and groups working toward building unity in the church in the greater Portland area. Some of the things that need to be fostered for the long haul are a vast number of pulpit exchanges involving sister congregations, teaching excursions, prayer chains, and shared activities.
The John 17:23 Network that The Institute for the Theology of Culture at Multnomah Biblical Seminary is cultivating with area churches and other groups is one strategic piece in this mosaic. The purpose of the network is to encourage, equip and educate the multi-ethnic body of Christ in our region to live into who we are as Christ’s body, the church. We long to live into Jesus’ prayer in John 17:23: “I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
There is so much richness in ecclesial tradition in the various ethnic Christian communities in the greater Portland area. There is so much vitality in the various forms of cultural witness through the distinctive worship and practices. We have so much to gain from coming together. We have so much to offer when we are together. Our witness to the surrounding community is so much more impactful when we come together through various endeavors. Not once a year, but in a variety of ways through every season of the year.
We have such a long way to go. This is no sprint. This is a marathon race, as we seek to live into what we are as the one body of Christ in the greater Portland area.
May our one Lord make us one: one faith, one baptism–one church.