Two Open Letters and Ephesians 4:1-17

Two very different open letters were published yesterday, both written by professing Christians.

One is an open letter from progressive millennials to their conservative parents, thanking them for their parental care but asking to not be condemned for the progressive turns they have taken.

The other is an open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention, condemning that denomination for allowing certain member churches and seminaries to take progressive turns.

Both published yesterday. Both from professing Christians.

How should we respond? Should we celebrate the diversity of the visible church? Should we take sides? Should we find common ground and meet in the middle?

Well, consider this. Ephesians 4:1-17:

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 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, 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. Rather, 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. (ESV)

Here’s how we should respond:

1) With all humility and gentleness (Eph. 4:2)
2) With patience (Eph. 4:2)
3) Bearing with one another in love (Eph. 4:2)
4) Eagerly desiring a unified church (Eph. 4:3)

How do we accomplish a unified church? By default we’re already united through the Spirit and the work of Christ (Eph. 2–3; 4:3), and our task is only to maintain that unity. But here’s how that happens:

1) Christ gives different gifts to different Christians as he wills. (Eph. 4:8-10).

2) Some of these gifts are gifts that involve leadership in the church through shepherding and teaching. It is the job of pastors and teachers to equip us to build up the church and maintain the unity of the Spirit. They do this by preaching the Bible to us, with complete patience, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting us from the Scriptures, both in and out of season. (Eph. 4:11-13; 2 Tim. 4:1-5)

3) So if you want unity and you want it God’s way, the worst thing you could do is become a lone wolf Christian or drift around from church to church, even though the churches available are flawed. You need to accept God’s grace to you through those gifted as pastors and teachers and come under their leadership if you want real unity. (Eph. 4:12-13; Heb. 13:17)

4) We must acknowledge that not everybody is right. False teaching exists, and we must learn to identify it and guard each other against it, again through the ministry of pastors and teachers who preach the word. (Eph. 4:14)

5) We guard each other against this by speaking the truth in love to each other. Note: In its original context, “speaking the truth in love” is not about evangelism (although it is applicable there as well). This is about Christians guarding other Christians against false teaching so that they can maintain the unity of the Spirit. If you want unity and you want it God’s way, you must learn to speak the truth in love to guard one another against false teaching. Taking a stand on the truth is not unloving (1 Cor. 13:6).

6) A mature, healthy, loving, growing church will be the result if we respond to disunity like this. (Eph. 4:16)

The authors of these two open letters are not writing about the exact same issues, but the difference in conviction is striking. Professing believers on either side of the discussion must be sure to not brush their differences under the rug nor abandon the church nor celebrate diversity before evaluating convictions under the light of Scripture. If we want a pure and unified church, the truth must be spoken and it must be spoken in love.

Update: These open letters actually weren’t published the same day. They actually came out one day apart. Not sure how I missed that, but of course, the main point above still stands.

2 Replies to “Two Open Letters and Ephesians 4:1-17”

  1. Wow! Very different letters indeed, in both tone and perspective. Read them both with interest and agree that as believers we must always speak the truth in love. The way Christians disagree publicly matters hugely to those who are watching.

    1. Makes me think of the song (and the Bible verse it comes from): “And they will know we are Christians by our love.” Not our love to all people generally, although that matters too, but specifically our love to other Christians

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