7.17 Ephesians -- Church Order
Having laid the foundational principles for co-existence in chapters 2-3, Paul gives more concrete directions for orderly community life in 4-6. He is aware that a diversity of backgrounds is a breeding ground for disharmony and rivalry. Hence his stress on peace and patience and unity:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Eph 4:2-3).
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 (Eph 4:4-6).
It must have been obvious to the Ephesian church that they were not a homogeneous community in race, religion or cultural background. Complicating this diversity were the class differences: merchants, artisans, slaves, soldiers, aristocrats. In Jerusalem, the early church immediately developed factions of Hellenists vs Jews (Acts 6:1), and the same conditions were present in Ephesus and elsewhere. This is the reason for Paul's repeated emphasis on "oneness." It was crucial to nip the party spirit in the bud, because that would destroy the fellowship. So he hammers the theme: "one body, one Spirit, one hope, one God and Father." This is not Paul speaking, it is the Holy Spirit, whose agenda was (and is) set athwart every cultural and national agenda. All the converts, Jewish and Greek, brought with them cultural baggage -- attitudes, prejudices, opinions -- that threatened to derail the local church. They had yet to learn the culture of the Spirit who, while welcoming people of all backgrounds, endorsed none of them! The Spirit was not building a Roman church, a Greek church, to replace the Jewish synagogue. He was going to create a new Christian culture, built on the Spirit-led contributions of apostles and prophets, but in which all members had a vital part, as Paul soon makes clear.
Throughout history, the church has stumbled over this diversity, and the too frequent solution was an accommodation to contemporary mores: the church mirrored the divisions of rank in the surrounding society rather than representing the universality of the Kingdom of God among men. The consequence is that these verses have been treated as ideals, as doctrines, or even as poetry. This was not Paul's intent. The unity of the congregation was to be the fundamental practical reality, the starting point for all decisions and actions. Models of organization and control drawn from the business and political worlds were not to be imported into the family of God. Every baptised member was essential to the proper functioning of the whole community:
"to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it" (Eph 4:7).
This could only work if the Holy Spirit was an active participant in all church life.