One lord, One faith, One baptism…

One lord, One faith, One baptism…

The Reverend Dr Gregory Seach | Warden | Wollaston Theological College

In our current ecumenical autumn (though ‘winter’ is probably nearer the truth), it is heartening to recall the heady days of ecumenical summer, c. 1982, when the World Council of Churches released its Lima statement, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry. The first section dealt (obviously enough, given the title) with ‘Baptism’, and in it the passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, which is the topic given for this month, was quoted early:

The union with Christ which we share through baptism has important implications for Christian unity. ‘There is [one Lord, one faith,] one baptism, one God and Father of us all…’ (Eph. 4: 4–6). When baptismal unity is realized in one holy, catholic, apostolic Church, a genuine Christian witness can be made to the healing and reconciling love of God. Therefore, our one baptism into Christ constitutes a call to the churches to overcome their divisions and visibly manifest their fellowship.

(Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, p. 3)

Remarkably, we are still enjoying the reflected warmth of that summer, and the vast majority of churches still recognize each other’s administration of baptism as that ‘one baptism into Christ’, when it is made in the name of our Triune God and with water. Starting from the Letter to the Ephesians is sensible, because a central aim of that letter, from its beginning, is a call to unity – chiefly between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Those who were once ‘strangers and aliens’ are now ‘citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God’ (Eph. 2: 19–20). In Christ, the letter makes clear, both Jew and Gentile ‘have access in one Spirit to the Father.’ (2:18)

Yet, for the writer of Acts, this desired unity, even confessing one baptism, had not always been present in the Church in Ephesus. Paul found in Ephesus some who had been baptized ‘into John [the Baptist]’s baptism.’ (Acts 19: 3) After speaking with Paul, ‘they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus’ and ‘the Holy Spirit came upon them’ through the laying on of hands (19: 5–6).

From earliest days, therefore, Christians have recognized that as part of our confession of the one Lord Jesus, we are baptized into the name of the one God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Furthermore, that in being baptized in that triune Name, we become fellow-‘citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God’. We confess the one faith in the one Lord Jesus and, because we become part of his one Body, we hear God, the Creator of all say to us, as God said to Jesus at his baptism, ‘You are my beloved child’. This means we are boldly able to call God ‘Father’, as Jesus called God, and taught us to call God. And, as Paul reminds the Christians in Rome, the Spirit moves within us so that we too say, ‘Abba, Father’, and continually experience the Spirit moving and praying in us. In short, we get caught up in the eternal circle of love that is the God Christians confess.

That circle of love, however, is never confined just to us – neither individually, nor collectively as the Church. Just as the overflow of love between the three we call Father, Son and Spirit overflows into the act of creation and continuing renewal of the whole cosmos, so we, if we are to be true to who we are, get drawn out to those who we may wrongly regard as ‘strangers and aliens’. There are no longer ‘strangers and aliens’, because, we affirm, in Jesus God makes clear God’s purpose ‘to gather up all things, things in heaven and things on earth’ (Eph. 1: 10) in God’s loving embrace. Not only all people but all things – so we cannot ignore, shut out, reject any person or thing!

This is not some imperialistic overcoming of everything, however. ‘There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father’. But the ‘one Lord’ is both fully human and fully divine. Our ‘one faith’ affirms that the ‘one God’ is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, mysteriously three yet one. And, through ‘one baptism’, we, though many, are one Body, because we all share the one Bread. And we are one with all those of every time and place who share that one baptism. It is great and heart-warming news – even in the midst of what seems an ecumenical winter, and the seasonal chills we really feel throughout July!