But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.8 Therefore it says,
“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”
9 (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. – Ephesians 4:7-16
The equipping/mending/restoration of the saints is to enable us to serve and in that service build up the body of Christ. Paul puts a time limit on this service; it is to continue “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood.”
This unity of the faith is either a pipe dream or a Divine decree that is humanly impossible but divinely decreed and will come to pass. The church has been in constant dialogue (or to use less sensitive language, church fights) since the beginning of the church. The Reformation wasn’t the beginning of church splits; it was just one of the biggest. Before the Reformation, we had the east/west split that gave us the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. There were others. These substantial splits were over our understanding of the faith, and the unity of the faith was broken. Humanly, it appears there is no way the church will become institutionally one church again. However, one day, in God’s providential dealings he will bring us all together in the unity of the faith. It will happen. And, I don’t believe anyone will believe they are compromising their conscience for it to happen. Possibly it won’t happen until the resurrection, but we don’t know that.
What is our part in this miracle?
It is our part to focus on our responsibilities in the process. “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Each of us is a “part” of the body. The parts are held together by “joints.” The joints are the God-given relationships we have in the body of Christ. We are to speak the truth in love and live with Jesus as the model of life. When each part is working properly, the body naturally grows and builds itself up in love. We are to focus on these things we can control and leave the ultimate unity of the body of Christ to God who created and sustains all things.
Every attempt in history to create unity has come at the expense of someone’s conscience. That is not true unity. We must honor the freedom of conscience as we speak the truth in love. We have a Great Commission to accomplish, and it won’t get done if we are fighting with one another. When done God’s way, the body builds itself up in love.
When we honor the freedom of conscience and speak the truth in love, we are able to have our strong relationships in local churches and in denominations, and beyond that, we are able to honor fellow believers with whom we have differences. We are called to honor fellow Christians as Christians even if we have some differences of understanding.
There are lots of books that have been written on this subject, but the best one of all is the Bible. And this section of the letter to the Ephesians is one of the best texts on the subject.
May the fame of Jesus be spread far and wide to every tongue, tribe, and nation and may the body of Christ build itself up in love in every tongue, tribe, and nation.