It will be evident from all that we said about the unity of the church that it is in no sense the work of man. The unity of the church cannot be established by man. The unity of the church is not sustained or continued by man. Nor can it ever be destroyed by man. The unity of the church does not come into existence through the fact that men congregate and agree upon a certain platform of principles, upon a confession of faith and upon certain principles of church government, or upon a certain form of worship. All these may be manifestations and expressions of the unity of the church, but they themselves do not constitute that unity. The fellowship of the church is not established by the will and efforts of men, like that of a mere human society. On the, contrary, it is established only by Christ. Men cannot organize a church and establish its spiritual fellowship, except where it pleases Christ to dwell through His Spirit in the hearts of men. Nor is it in the power of any man to join himself to this communion and make himself a member of this fellowship. One becomes a member of this union only by the act of Christ whereby He receives him into the organism of the body. The unity of the church is based on the fellowship of the church with Christ. This fellowship is not established and can never be established by the will of the members; neither can it ever be dissolved by them. It is dependent only on the will of Christ. When, therefore, we confess to believe that the church is one, that it is the communion of saints, we do not mean that we must strive for such unity, but that it actually exists and that its existence rests solely on the will of Christ, Who by His Spirit dwells in the whole church and in all the members of the body of Christ.
Moreover, it follows from this same truth that the unity of the church is spiritual. There is also, as I have already expressed, a natural unity of the human race in Adam. For God hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth. Cf. Acts 17:26. And in virtue of this natural unity of the human race, there is a natural affinity and fellowship of men, which has its center in the family and which expresses itself in various ways. There are ties of nature, ties of natural love,—of man and wife, of parents and children. There are ties of social fellowship and friendship. There is affinity of character. There are common aims and pursuits that unite men. There is the unity of nations that dwell in the same country, under a common government, and whose citizens speak the same language. There is, therefore, a natural unity among men. However, even though there is a small remnant of this among men, we must never forget or overlook the fact that this natural unity and fellowship is spiritually corrupt because of sin. In Adam the whole human race, in all its natural relationships, lies in sin and death. Men have become darkness. Their nature is become perverse. They are not motivated by natural love any more, but rather, in the first place,- by enmity against God; and in this enmity against God they hate one another. They are lovers of self, and they pursue the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eye and the pride of life. Hence, the natural affinity of the race is corrupted by spiritual hatred and enmity. And the result is war, revolution, deceit, covetousness, murder and destruction.
However, as I already mentioned, the unity of the church is not natural, but spiritual. It is not the brotherhood of natural man, but the fellowship of: the saints in Christ. It is a fellowship that is spiritual because it is entirely controlled by the Holy Spirit. It is in no wise a unity that is based on blood relationships or on social standing or on similarity in character, or on national or racial affinity. It transcends all these, and it is based on the oneness of the Spirit of Christ, Who bestows the fullness of Christ on the members of His body. Hence, they all partake of the same blessings. By the Holy Spirit they are called out of darkness, out of the darkness of their natural corruption and death, into the marvelous light of righteousness and life. The life they receive through the Spirit is not of this present world. It is the life of Christ, which is free from sin, free from corruption, free from death. It is the resurrection life of their risen Lord. It is the life from above. Their life is hid with Christ in God. The world is crucified to them, and they are crucified unto the world. The Spirit of Christ works in all the same faith, the faith in Christ, Who is the revelation of the God of their salvation. The same righteousness, the righteousness of God in Christ, dwells in them. The same holiness,—consecration to God in Christ,—the same spiritual knowledge of God,—which is life eternal,—the same love,—the love of God in Christ,—the same obedience,—whereby they hate and flee from sin and keep the Word of Christ,—the same meekness, the same lowliness of mind, the same humility, the same repentance, the same patience, the same hope,—for they are begotten again unto a lively hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; and they look for the city that hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God,—all this dwells in the whole church and in all the members. One faith they have, one hope, one love, one purpose,—the glory of God in Christ. And all these spiritual virtues are wrought and maintained in them all by one and the same Spirit of one and the same Lord, the Spirit of Christ. And therefore, the unity of the church is not of this world. It is not natural. It is a spiritual unity. In the good sense of the word, the fellowship of the body of Christ is other-worldly.
However, this unity does not mean that all the members of the church are identical. On the contrary, this unity is characterized also by diversity. If it were not so, if all the saints were absolutely identical, there would be no body, no fellowship. The members of my body all partake fof the same life. They are all controlled by the same mind and will; but they are not all alike. They are not identical, so that they are all absolutely the same. If they were, each would be complete and self-sufficient. Now they have no significance in themselves. They exist only in the union with the whole body and to serve the whole. Each member has its own peculiar attribute, or virtue, place, and function in the body. It is exactly because of this diversity in their unity that together they constitute the organic whole of the body. When a chorus of 300 voices renders Handel’s “Messiah,” the whole choir is a unity and sing the same oratorio. Yet there is diversity of voices. And it is the harmonious blending of all these different voices that makes for the beauty of the rendering. And it is the harmonious blending of all these different voices that makes for the beauty of the rendering.
The same is true of the church. Her members are all one in Christ. They all have the same Spirit and the same spiritual blessings. They all live in the same faith. They all are motivated by the same hope, the hope of eternal life and glory which shall be theirs in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. And they all live from the same love, the love of God in Christ. Yet, although this is all true, and although they all have the same spiritual gifts principally, there is nevertheless in them and among them an endless variety of individual diversity. Even though they are all partaking of the same Christ, nevertheless each one of the individual members receives grace according to the measure of Christ. Each one of tire members manifests the glory of Christ in his own way. Each one sings the praises of God in Christ with his own voice. Each one serves the whole of the body of Christ in his own way and in his own place. Not one of the individual members has any significance apart from the body; yet not one of the members can be missed without marring the whole. When the church of which we are now speaking and which is conceived as the object of our faith will be completed and shall once be presented without spot or wrinkle before the face of God, it will be like a grand, heavenly choir, the millions upon millions of voices of which will blend together in one mighty harmony, to extol the praises of Him that called them out of darkness into His marvelous light.
Now in view of the unity and diversity of the church in the midst of the world, the question arises, surely: in what way does the church, living from the one faith and the one love manifest that she is really one? And in what way can and must she strive for the realization and manifestation of this true unity in the midst of the world? That the church is one, as we know her and as she appears in the midst of the world, is far from being actually realized. The church in the world is far from being in accord with this confession concerning the spiritual unity of the church. This is an undeniable fact. The church on earth is divided, not only because of the natural causes of separation, such as distances, language, differences in races and nationalities, but also in regard to doctrine, confession, form of worship, and church government. And the question is: how must this be remedied? What must be the attitude of the church and of the individual believer over against this failure of the church to realize her true unity and to manifest that there is one Lord, one Spirit, one faith, one doctrine, one calling?
Especially in our day there are indeed many who find the cause of all this dissension and division in the church in too much doctrine and in too many creeds that are too specific in their doctrinal declarations. They therefore advocate that all these specific declarations of faith, by which each church erects a wall of separation around itself, be forgotten, erased, eliminated. The creeds, or confessions, of the church must be broadened, must be generalized. And only on the basis of this broad declaration of general principles must the various denominations merge. In that way, and in that way only, according to them, can the unity of the church be realized.
However, it should be very evident that in this fashion a certain outward unity may indeed be attained and effected, but only at the expense of the truth, at the cost of the church’s faith, which is the same as saying that it is a unity without the Christ of the Scriptures. We must remember that the church, the true church, even in the midst of the world, is not interested in a mere external unity that reveals itself in a mighty human institution, as, for instance, in the presently existing World Council of Churches. Such a so-called external unity has nothing to do with the true, spiritual unity of the church in Christ. The church, the true church in the world, can never cooperate with such humanisting, faith-destroying, Christ-despising movements of amalgamation. The true unity of the church is always a unity in Christ. And therefore, if the church is to grow in this true unity, she must certainly grow in Christ, and in Him only. She must not have less of Christ, but rather more, as she grows in the grace and knowledge of our Savior. Always she must appropriate the Christ of the Scriptures. And therefore, she must always instruct and be instructed in the truth as it is revealed in Holy Writ. She certainly must not seek her union in the way of less, but rather in the way of more and richer doctrine. Always she must set aside all doctrines of men; and she must ever grow in the doctrine of Christ. Let the true church be ever so small in the world: she dare not and may not seek the realization of her unity in any other direction than that of growing in the knowledge and grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who is the only head of the church, “till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Only they that strive to approach that stature are really working for the manifestation of the unity of the church. And whatsoever is more than these is of the Evil One.
The true unity and the true catholicity of the church are closely related. When we confess that the church is catholic, we do, of course, not refer to any particular instituted church in the world that may claim the sole and exclusive right to the name “Catholic,” as is the case with the Roman Catholic Church; but we are still speaking of the church as an object of faith, the spiritual body of Christ, her Lord. The church of which in any period of history there is but a very small part and imperfect manifestation on earth is strictly catholic in character, and is also catholic in scope. When we confess that the church is catholic, or, if you please, universal, in character and in her very essence, we mean that in her very nature she is such that she is capable of transcending all natural differences and distinctions,—racial, national, social, or even sexual. Men and women of every class, standing, race, tribe, or nation the church is capable of embracing, of receiving into her communion, and of uniting them in a higher, spiritual bond of fellowship. The confession concerning the catholicity of the church does not mean, to be sure, that she actually receives all men individually in her communion. We must remember that the church is limited by election from God’s viewpoint, and by faith on the part of her members. But it does mean that the church extends over all the world, embraces the entire human race, is gathered from the beginning of the world even unto the end, and from every nation, tribe, and tongue.
The human race as such is, of course, also an organic whole. But from that organism of the human race the organism of the church is gathered, and that too, in spite of the fact that many members of the original organism of the human race are cut off and lost. From this fundamental truth we must proceed if we would understand the true catholicity of the church of Christ. Suppose that we compare the human race in Adam to a tree, with Adam as its root, and its descendants developing into families, tribes, and nations, as the trunk and the branches. When Adam falls, through his willful disobedience, and becomes subject to the wrath of God and to death, the whole tree of the human race became corrupt in its root. And from its root corruption and death entered into all its branches, so that it can no longer bring forth any good fruit. But this tree of the human race receives a new root; and that root is Christ. Grafted on that new root, the tree is saved, is transformed into a far more glorious tree than the original or than the original could ever have become in Adam. But the life of this new root does not flow through or permeate the whole tree, but only the organism of the body of Christ, that is, the elect. But this does not change the fact that the tree on the whole is saved, even though many branches are cut off. The church, therefore, is not a gathering of a few or of many individual human beings, while the race is lost; but, on the contrary, it is the saved human race, redeemed, delivered, sanctified, and glorified, holy unto God, as God conceived of that race even before the world was. And it is the lost that represent the members that are cut off. This is the fundamental idea of the true catholicity of the church.
Even as the unity of the church is rooted in the one Christ, so the catholicity of the church, the universal, all-embracing, all-natural-relations-transcending character of the church, is determined by Christ her head. Christ is strictly catholic. For, as we already quoted, “The same Lord is rich unto all that call upon him,” and therefore, “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek,” and, “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” That one Lord, our Lord Jesus Christ, is rich with salvation for all the nations of the earth. In that Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ.” Gal. 3:28. So catholic, so all-comprehensive, so universal, is our Lord Jesus Christ that “it pleased the Father that in him should all the foulness dwell; and having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself, whether they be things in earth or things in heaven.” Col. 1:19, 20. And again, it is the good pleasure of God’s will “that in the dispensation of the fullness of time he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.” Eph. 1:10. That strictly catholic Christ is the head of the church; and in Him the church is truly universal, or catholic.
It seems that in the old dispensation this catholicity of the church does not appear, at least not very clearly. We might say, in fact, that it is a mystery in those days. In that dispensation it appears as if the church is destined to be limited to a particular family, to a single line of generations, to one nation. Before the flood the church runs in the line of the generations of Seth. Sharply the sons of God in the generations of Seth are distinguished from the daughters of men in the generations of Cain. And toward the close of that period the church is almost extinguished; and few, that is, eight, souls are saved by water, by the water of the flood. After the flood God does indeed establish His covenant with Noah and his seed. But the line of Ham is cursed in Canaan; and Shem is singled out as the one in whose generations the Lord will continue His church and covenant. After the organism of the human race is forcibly torn apart into tribes and nations at the time of the building of the tower of Babel and of the confusion of tongues, and scattered over the earth, God calls Abraham out of Ur and Haran, and once more separates one family in their generations from all the families of the earth, that in them He may build His church. From Abraham, the father of believers, the line runs over Isaac and Jacob into the nation of the twelve tribes of Israel. And in Israel it appears that the church must indeed remain fixed within the narrow confines of national boundaries. For the church is placed under the law at Horeb, and all the forms in which the church is to become manifest are strictly Israelitish. By the shadows—the temple, the altar, the sacrifices, and the priesthood—she is separated from the nations. Salvation is of the Jews, but it is also strictly limited to the Jews. That the same Lord is rich over all that call upon Him, and that in their Lord the church is catholic certainly seems hopelessly in conflict with reality. Fact is, however, that even in the old dispensation the catholicity of the church, the truth that she will be gathered from the whole human race, is never completely hid. The promise of the gospel is always universal. Immediately after the fall God announces the devil’s defeat in the well-known protevangel: “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, but thou shalt bruise his heel.” Gen. 3:15. This universal promise is for the seed of the woman. It is therefore catholic in scope. True, after the flood Shem is separated from the rest of his brethren. But before this God had established His covenant with Noah and his sons and their seed, and even comprehended all creation within the scope of that covenant, giving His bow in the clouds as the visible pledge of this universal promise. For thus we read in Genesis 9:8-17: “And God spake unto Noah, and to his sons with him, saying, And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you; And with every living creature that is with you, of the fowl, of the cattle, and of every beast of the earth with you; from all that go out of the ark, to every beast of the earth. And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth. And God said, This is the token of the covenant which I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I do set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be for a token of a covenant between me and the earth. And it shall come to pass, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the bow shall be seen in the cloud: And I will remember my covenant, which is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh. And the bow shall be in the cloud; and I will look upon it, that I may remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is upon the earth. And God said unto Noah, This is the token of the covenant, which I have established between me and all flesh that is upon the earth.” Here, therefore, the covenant, and therefore also the church, is presented as strictly catholic and universal in scope.
Moreover, also with Abraham and his seed God establishes His everlasting covenant. But to him was the catholic gospel preached, “In thee shall all the nations of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 12:3. Moreover, the vision of the prophets of Israel embraces in its scope the salvation of the Gentiles, and looks forward to the day when the mountain of Jehovah shall be exalted above the mountains, and many nations shall flow unto it, to worship the Lord their God. Isaiah proclaims a catholic gospel, although its fulfillment lay still in the future: “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall swear.” Isaiah 45:22, 23. Israel of the old dispensation sang of the glorious future, when all the earth should worship Jehovah, Psalm 66:4, when all the kings of the earth should fall down before the Messiah, all nations should serve Him and call Him blessed, Psalm 72:11, 17, and the Lord would count the sons of Rahab, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre, and Ethiopia, as being born in Zion, Psalm 87.