Why is the Church Described as One?
Theology Matters: Why is the Church described as one?
Our diversity as people is a gift, but it can make it very difficult for us to perceive the unity and the harmony that is the heart of the Creation. Simply put, we need God and we need each other. That is why the Catechism says “…the Church is one, because it is one Body, under one Head, our Lord Jesus Christ…” 1st Corinthians Chapter 12 is a wise meditation on this matter. We are told the common good depends upon the mutual sharing of our many and diverse talents. These “gifts of the Spirit” come from God and, in turn, are meant to be given in service to others. Individuals receive the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, and languages, yet collectively we all benefit from the expression of said gifts. This reciprocity means we experience unity through our God given diversity. Hence, verse 12 tells us that “…just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ…”
The Holy Spirit, our comforter and our guide, provides the energy that makes this possible and binds us all together. By virtue of our Baptism, we are given new life and marked as Christ’s own forever, so that the world’s divisions and distinctions no longer matter. By virtue of Holy Communion, we drink of one Spirit and are re-membered as the Body of Christ. When we assemble together, many are made one as we enact the Divine intent for all of creation: harmony with God, self, and others. Just as a human body has feet, hands, eyes, and ears that are interdependent as well as individuated, so the church has a vestry, a choir, an altar guild, a stewardship committee, etc. A body without feet finds it difficult to move forward. A body without hands finds it hard to hold on or to grasp. A body without ears or eyes cannot hear or cannot see. The point is we cannot say we do not need each other. As a matter of fact, we can only be made whole as we effort and function together. Unlike many of the organizations that govern our daily lives, be it work, school, or government, whose machinery marches on with or without us, the church is diminished when any of its brothers or sisters are absent.
Everyone matters all of the time. Our shared life together is meant to be a model for this good, but fallen world. Rather than dissension, we are to be marked by harmony and care as well as regard for each other. We are to share each other’s burdens and joys, knowing that we walk on the path of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. So, some of us will serve as apostles while others are prophets. Some will be teachers, some will work miracles, some will be healers, helpers, and leaders. But all of us will be witnesses to the risen Christ. This is why Ephesians 4 proclaims “…there is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all…” Amen.
Christopher Rodgers is a Candidate for Holy Orders and a Senior at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.