The diversity of the worldwide church is extraordinary. Every culture and every society is included. In fact, in every country in the world there is at least one follower of Jesus – and for many, following this path to life comes at great personal cost.
The same is true of our buildings – look around my home town of Milton Keynes and you can see communities of Christians gathering everywhere. Just here in Walton we have churches meeting in every type of building: mediaeval, modern purpose-built worship centres, a number of schools and community centres – even, on occasions, the local pub. Church happens when Christians gather together, and the history of the church proves that this can happen anywhere – in caves, in prisons, in shopping centres and even on rubbish dumps, in the case of one church serving destitute people in Cairo.
But what holds us together? What are the things we can agree on, which represent the glue for this vast diversity of humanity? Here in Ephesians chapter 4, St. Paul gives us the vital clues. To start with, we all have a common calling: to ‘live a life worthy of the calling you have received’ (v1). As the first half of the book outlines, we share an identity: chosen children of God, forgiven and freed and brought into God’s family – and this calling stirs us to a grace-filled life of gratitude. A life marked by humility, gentleness, patience and love (v2).
But we also share common convictions, a core of truths that bind us together (vv4-6). We worship one God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are part of one Body – the universal and worldwide family of God. We profess one faith in this glorious Trinitarian God, and (almost universally) acknowledge one special way of declaring and signifying our faith: baptism – in water and the Spirit.
This is the power of one – one hope for the world, and for ourselves. And it is noteworthy that Paul starts his list with the practical outworkings of our unity: one body – one group of people self-identifying and sharing together as followers of Jesus – filled with one Spirit: the power of God poured out into all of our hearts so that, as we saw a couple of days ago, we are now little temples where God’s presence dwells.
This current season has wonderfully showcased the multi-faceted creativity of the church – its diversity is displayed in thousands of online services and gatherings, each with its own unique character. And we can join any of them, at any time! But today let us celebrate what holds us together, what unites us as one big family of God stretching across the world. I like to picture it as millions of lights scattered across the globe worshipping the one true light of all. May it stir us both to gratitude and to prayer, and to renewed energy and vision to live a life worthy of the glorious calling we have received.