Commanded to be in Unity

MP3 Audio: WS330367_Dn-Joseph_Commanded-to-be-in-Unity.mp3

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 20, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services.

~

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One.

Our Epistle reading for today starts with a command: “Dearly beloved, be ye all of one mind” (cf. 1 Peter 3:8). This is not a suggestion. Saint [Peter] is not saying that this is something that would be nice to have theoretically. It’s a command! He says, “Do this. Be ye all of one mind.”

What does it mean to be of one mind? It means that you think the same way; you reason the same way; you understand in the same way. Being of one mind is the opposite of division, of sectarianism, of individualism. To have a whole group of people be of one mind is to say, “I need to conform to the truth.” It’s not to say that the truth needs to conform to me.

This is not the only place in Scripture that we see this requirement, this command given to us by God. It is throughout Scripture. We see it in today’s Epistle [in 1 Peter 3:8].

  • 1 Peter 3:8: “finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous”
  • Romans 15:5-6: “Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”
    — He doesn’t say “glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ with many different ideas, many different minds, many different mouths.” He says to do it with one mouth and one mind.
    2 Corinthians 13:11: “Finally, brethren, farewell. Become complete. Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you”
  • Philippians 1:27: “Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel”
  • Philippians 2:2: “Fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind”
  • Ephesians 4:4-5: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism”
    — There are not many bodies of Christ; there is only one. There are not many Lords; there is only One. There are not many Christian faiths; there is only one. There are not many different baptisms; there is one.
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10: And as if all of that were not clear enough, Saint Paul really drives the point home in Scripture in 1 Corinthians 1:10. Listen to this: “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”

This is the word of the Lord. This is the word of God. This is Scripture. They are not suggestions. They are commands. Unity of belief, unity of faith, even unity of thought and understanding and judgment, is actually a requirement from God.

So when we look out across this country today, and we see 30,000 different understandings, different faiths, different ways to understand God, and Christ, and the Scriptures, and the faith, when we see people radically disagreeing with each other over how baptisms should be done, radically disagreeing with each other over how sins are forgiven, how salvation is obtained, whether the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ or merely symbolic. . . We have the Baptists arguing with the Presbyterians, arguing with the Lutherans, arguing with the Anglicans, arguing with the Catholics, arguing with the Orthodox. This is division. This is sectarianism, and it is direct disobedience to what has been commanded in Scripture.

God never left the option open to us to come up with our own ideas for what the Christian faith is supposed to look like. He didn’t leave it up to us. He taught the Twelve Apostles the same doctrine. He gave them the same practices. He started one Church, not 30,000 different churches. And throughout Scripture, as we have just read, over and over and over, we are commanded by the Word of God to be of one mind, to think the same way, to believe the same things, to speak the same way, to understand the same way.

There is no point at anywhere in the Bible that you can turn, where Jesus or any of the Apostles say, “Hey, do whatever is most comfortable for you. Believe whatever you want to believe, and God will be with you.” That’s not biblical. That’s not scriptural. Scripture says that if we are to be Christians, then we are all to be of one mind.

Now, according to the Word of God, if everyone in the Church is supposed to think and believe the same, that means everyone — including me, and including you — has to change. Thus, we see two radically different versions: one on this side, and one on this side. Two versions of thinking:

One [says], “When you get a church going, what you need to do is bring everybody in, realize that they’re from different backgrounds, realize that they have different ideas, different interpretations, different understandings, and just don’t worry about all that. We just get together for fellowship, to be kind and nice to one another, to eat together, to be friendly, to go quilting together, to go hunting together, to play basketball together. We enjoy our face-to-face time. We enjoy our fellowship. We enjoy worshiping together. Oh, but everybody is still going to believe differently, because everybody has different ideas; everybody thinks differently.”

Then you have what Scripture says, where everybody is supposed to be of one mind, one doctrine, one faith, one belief. Unity — no division whatsoever!

To stay this way, like some churches think that we should do, where everybody just has different beliefs, different faiths, different interpretations: that’s disobedience to God’s Word. To leave a congregation or to leave a church in that state is to say, “Division is fine; difference of thought is fine; different beliefs are fine. It doesn’t really matter.”

Scripture says, “Be of one mind; think the same things; speak the same things. Let there be no divisions among you.” And the only way that you’re going to get from here [division] to here [unity] is for everybody to change, because naturally, when you bring 20 or 30 or 50 or 500 people into a single room, are they all unified? Do they all think exactly the same things about baptism, and the Eucharist, and salvation, and family life, and marriage, and child-raising? No! The only way that we are going to come to this unity of belief — this unity of faith that is commanded by God — is for every single one of us to be willing to change.

It is not a club where everyone hangs out and enjoys each other’s company while continuing to believe whatever they individually want to believe. Instead, each one of us needs to be challenged to repent so that our beliefs and thinking come into agreement with what the Church has historically taught on all things.

How are we not supposed to do this?

Personality Cult

We are not a personality cult. You should never, ever just say, “Here’s what I think, and here’s what I do, because we should do whatever the preacher says.” That is how cults get started. That’s where get the Jehovah’s Witness. That’s where we get Christian Science. That’s where we get Mormonism. There are many, many more examples that I could give. When you allow one person to stand up in front of you, and you simply [say], “I’m just going to do whatever the leader says. I’m just going to think whatever the preacher thinks. . . .”

That’s not how we do this, because he himself may be wrong on some things. Indeed, if we are all to be of one mind, that means that even the preacher needs to be humble enough to repent, humble enough to change his mind and bring his own mind into conformity with the truth. That means I don’t get off the hook; you don’t get off the hook. Every single one of us is challenged and required by God to be humble enough to change your mind and to repent.

Partial Agreement

We are also not supposed to think alike in the sense of the “least common denominator.” “Well, we may disagree on 98% of things, but at least we agree on two or three basics. I mean, you know, Jesus is God; the Bible is God’s Word; and Jesus is the only way to heaven. We have perfect unity on those three things. Isn’t that great?”

Paul did not say, “be of one mind on three basic things.” The Word of God does not say, “be perfectly in agreement and thinking on two or three basic things.”

What does it say in Scripture?

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you” (1 Corinthians 1:10).

He didn’t just say “no divisions on the basics.” He says “no divisions on anything.”
” . . . that there be no divisions among you but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment”

That is what Scripture says. As far-out as that seems, as unattainable as that may sound at first, that is what Scripture requires. That is the goal that we work towards.

So how do we do this? If you can’t just listen to me and do whatever I say, then what do we do? Scripture gives this high and lofty command. It gives this command over and over and over. How do we fulfill it? How do we do what God requires of us?

Look at Scripture

One of the things that we do is that we look at Scripture. But there are two different ways to look at it:

Interpret for Yourself?

You can take all of your own backgrounds, and prejudices, and ideas, and you can sit in a corner by yourself with the Bible and not pay attention to anybody else but just read the Bible for yourself and come to conclusions. Then Betty can do the same, and I can do the same, and Jon can do the same. If all of us in this room do that, we’ll come up with thirty different interpretations of what the Word of God says. Just reading the Bible for yourself, setting yourself up as the interpreter of Scripture, is how we got into the mess in the first place. That’s how we ended up with the divisions between Orthodox, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians. So that can’t be the correct route.

Interpret through the Church.

The way we must read Scripture and interpret it must be in line and in agreement with how the Church historically has interpreted Scripture, even before these divisions took place. That means that you go back and you say, “In the first thousand years of the Church, before any of these divisions existed, how did the Church interpret Scripture?”

In the first thousand years of the Church, did the Church interpret baptism as being efficacious? Yes. Did the Church interpret Scripture as saying that baptism should be given, not only to adults, but also to infants? Yes.

This is how we do it on every doctrine: We read Scripture. We study Scripture. But we make sure that we are seeking Scripture as it in interpreted historically by the Church – not just in our own minds when we are reading it by ourselves, but reading Scripture in line with how the Church has historically interpreted it.

Ecumenical Councils

There are also seven Ecumenical Councils. It’s not only in the fourth century that a group of godly men got together, and the Holy Spirit led them to say, “Okay, which books belong in the New Testament, and which books do not? Which books belong in the Bible, and which books do not belong in Scripture?” But the Holy Spirit also, during that same period of time, drew holy men of God together into what are called the “Ecumenical Councils.”

In the first two Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople I, we receive a clear articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity. If you believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, you can thank the men at the first two Ecumenical Councils. If you believe the Nicene Creed, you can thank the men full of the Holy Ghost at the first two Ecumenical Councils.

But there are not only two. There were seven of them, and all seven were centered around “who is Jesus Christ?” and “how do we receive Salvation through Jesus Christ?”. The first two councils focused on His deity, putting down the Arians, putting down this blasphemous idea that Jesus is not God, lifting Him up as the second Person of the Trinity, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten not made, of one essence with the Father.

The first two councils focused on his deity, and then the next five councils focused on different aspects of Christ’s humanity — that Jesus is one person, not two; that Jesus has two natures, not one. He has a divine nature and a human nature. He’s fully God, and He’s fully man. He has two wills: a human will and a divine will. Then finally, in the Seventh Council: if you are human, then you have a physical appearance; and if you have a physical appearance, then your image can be painted. To say that we cannot or should not paint icons, have images of Jesus Christ, is tantamount to denying His full humanity.

The first two Ecumenical Councils focused on the deity of Christ. The next five Ecumenical Councils focused on the humanity of Christ. They directly affect our doctrine in a number of ways. There are multiple doctrines in which we can go back to these seven Councils and say, “Here’s what we decided.” For example, in the Third Ecumenical Council, Mary is called the Mother of God. This wasn’t even intended to be an exaltation for Mary.

Calling Mary the Mother of God is a protection of the deity of Christ, because Who was born of Mary? Jesus. Well, is He God or not? If she is not the Mother of God, then Jesus is not God. You cannot fully believe in the deity of Christ if you’re not willing to call His Mother the “Mother of God.”

Now, does that mean that she is pre-existent and that she gave birth to God the Father? Of course not! Calling Mary the Theotokos, calling her the Mother of God, simply means that the Person she gave birth to in Bethlehem on that first Christmas is God. When you call her the Mother of God, you are making a statement about who her Son is.

In the Fifth Ecumenical Council, she is called the Ever-Virgin Mary. She was a virgin both before and after giving birth to Christ.

In the Seventh Council, there is an anathema given to iconoclasts, to anybody who says, “No! Absolutely no icons, no paintings. We don’t need any of that.”

Patristics

We look at Scripture the way it has been interpreted by the historic Church. We look at the seven Ecumenical Councils through which the Holy Spirit has spoken to His Church. We also look at the writings of the early Church Fathers.

Now, who are the early Church Fathers? These are simply early Christians who were faithful to Christ and followed the teachings of the Apostles. Examples would be: Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He was ordained to the priesthood by Saint Peter the Apostle himself. There’s Saint Polycarp. He was a disciple of John the Apostle. Honestly, who are you going to trust more: preachers who knew the apostles face to face, or some random guy when you turn on the TV? As for me, as for this church, we will trust the guys who knew the apostles and their disciples — those first few hundred years of faithful Christians who were so near in time to the apostles that they faithfully kept what had been taught.

An example of this would be a book that was written about the year 120 AD, called the Didache, “The Teachings.” You look throughout Scripture, and you find that Christians are commanded to fast. We even see the indication in Scripture that the example set in the early days was fasting twice a week. But search the whole Bible, and you will never find out which days it’s supposed to be. Do we fast on Monday and Tuesday? Do we fast on Saturday and Wednesday? If you read the Didache, in the year 120 — written just a few years after the passing of the apostles — it explicitly says that our fasting every week is to be on Wednesday and Friday. There are numerous other early Church Fathers that write the same thing.

So we know from Scripture that we should fast. We assume it should be twice a week. But it is from the writings of the early Church Fathers and through the traditions of the Church that we learn which days of the week. It’s Wednesday and Friday.

Liturgies

We are also brought into a conformity of belief in the truth by looking at the historic liturgies of the Church. The Holy Spirit speaks through His Church in Scripture, in the Councils, in the writings of the Fathers, and in the liturgies that we use every week to worship God. As one example of this: What do we believe about the Eucharist? Well, you can go to Scripture and see that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Christ. That’s clearly set forth. But you can also go to the liturgy.

In almost every Orthodox liturgy that is used on Sunday mornings throughout the world, there is this prayer: “I believe, O Lord, and I confess . . .”[1] Do you remember the rest of it? In this prayer, we confess that this is “truly [Christ’s] own precious Body” and that “this is truly [Christ’s] own precious Blood.” We confess that in our prayer with our mouth every Sunday before we come to take the Eucharist. This is the Body and Blood of Christ.

It’s not only in Scripture; it’s not only in the writings of the Church Fathers; but it’s also in our liturgies.

Ancient Hymnography

We can also look at the ancient hymnography of the Church — the hymns, the songs that the saints of old have written and that have been sung for hundreds of years in the liturgies of the Church.

This is one example: A few weeks ago, I preached on the Ascension of Christ, when Christ Ascended into Heaven. Remember, I told you that for the thirty years prior to that, the Father and the Spirit were not twiddling Their thumbs up in Heaven just waiting for the Son to get back home. No, the Trinity was never separated. As God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were always together in Heaven. Even when Jesus became Incarnate and walked on the earth, the Son of God was not absent from Heaven; He didn’t leave Heaven. At the Ascension, it was not a return of the Son of God to Heaven. At the Ascension, as deity, He was already in Heaven, but His human body was on earth. What happened at the Ascension was that his human body, his humanity, was taken up into Heaven.

I didn’t just make that up. One of the main sources I went to for understanding this and talking about it were some of the ancient hymns of the Orthodox Church, which explicitly say this: that the Son was not absent from Heaven; but that it was in His humanity, His human nature, His human body, His human will, His human mind, His human soul — the humanity of Jesus was caught up into Heaven at the Ascension. This is something we learn doctrinally from the very hymnography of our Church.

Iconography

We are also brought to a oneness of faith, a oneness of mind, and a oneness of understanding of the truth through the icons — the historic iconography that has been used throughout the history of the Orthodox Church.

Just as one example, think of the Harrowing of Hell. After Good Friday but before Easter Sunday, before Pascha, on Holy Saturday, Jesus was in Hades preaching to the spirits in prison. Ultimately, He conquered death, and hell, and the grave, and there are many people who were in Hades that he took with him out of Hades as he conquered hell, and many people of old, trusting in Christ, went to be in joy in Paradise.

In the icon of the Resurrection, there is a painting of Jesus Christ clothed in shining white, standing above the broken gates of hell, utterly conquering death. With one hand, he is pulling Adam up out of the pit. With the other hand, he is pulling Eve up out of the pit. This isn’t just a pretty picture. This is our faith! This is what we all, in unity, believe.

God commands us to be of one mind. He commands us to have one faith. The way that He does this is to give us the Scriptures interpreted historically by the Church. He gives us the seven Ecumenical Councils. He gives us the writings of the Church Fathers. He gives us the liturgies of the Church, the ancient hymnography of the Church, and the historic iconography of the Church. That is why you can go to Orthodox Church after Orthodox Church across the world and find people who are of one mind, who believe one thing.

Now, some people would say, “This all sounds very good, but if you’re looking at the historic teachings of the Church about Scripture, you’re just looking at the teachings of men. If you look at the seven Ecumenical Councils, they’re impressive, but those are just the teachings of men, and we know men are fallible. Yes, it’s wonderful that you have all these writings of the early Church Fathers, but after all, they were just men. The liturgies of the church, those were written by fallen men. The hymns of the Church were written by men, and the icons were painted by men. So how can we really trust any of it?” They try to take the high ground by saying, “All I’m going to trust in is the Word of God. I don’t want the words of men. All I want is the Word of God.”

So I invite you on a little experiment. Get your Bible out, and read it from cover to cover, from Genesis to Revelation. As you go through the Bible, I want you to keep a big notebook, and I want you to write down everything that was written by God. I mean, where did God, with His own hand, actually write anything?

I only know of two places: One was with the Ten Commandments. The finger of God wrote in the stone, and the children of Israel received the Ten Commandments. Okay, that counts. God wrote that for sure. He sure did! Then in Daniel chapter five, at Belshazzar’s feast, when he was committing idolatry, lewd acts, and blaspheming God, this disembodied hand appears in the wall and writes, “MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.”[2] That very night, his life was taken from him, and he died, and the kingdom passed to someone else. I’ll count that. God wrote that.

You may say, “But the rest of it is God’s Word, too! I mean, there’s a lot of things that Jesus said.” That’s true. Jesus said a lot of things, but He didn’t write them down. Look throughout all of Scripture and you will not find any case in which Jesus wrote something, except when he wrote in the sand, and we don’t even know what he wrote.

So there is the second category: Every time that God said something, but somebody else wrote it down, we’ll put that in a different category. God didn’t write this, but God did say it, and somebody else wrote it down, so we’ll count that. Okay. It will be sort of like a red letter Bible. Go to the Sermon on the Mount where somebody is taking a transcription of what Jesus is saying.

Well, the first notebook was very, very thin. There are very few things which God Himself wrote with His very own hand. This second notebook is going to be a little thicker. It’s going to include all the things that God Himself said that somebody else was writing down.

But by far, the thickest notebook is going to be the third one: where somebody else was talking, and somebody else was writing. Read through most of the New Testament. Read the Epistles of Paul. Read large portions of the Book of Revelation. Read large portions of the Gospels. In much of that, it is not God talking; it’s not Jesus talking; but it’s His followers. It’s his apostles. It’s men! Fallen, sinful men!

Then you say,

“Wait a minute! That’s still the Word of God! Scripture is still trustworthy. It’s still the Word of God.”

And I say,

“How is it the Word of God? God didn’t say it. God didn’t write it with His own hand. How is it the Word of God?”

Then you say,

“Well, those men were filled with the Holy Spirit. Yes, they may have been sinful, fallen men, but they were full of the Holy Spirit; and when they were speaking, when they were writing, God made sure that they said the right thing.”

And I say,

“I rest my case.”

That’s exactly how it works. A group of men wrote the books of the Bible. We can trust that the Holy Spirit led them to write it correctly. That’s why we believe it’s the inspired Word of God. A group of men put the books of the Bible together so that we would have a Bible. We can trust that the Holy Spirit led them to do it correctly. That’s why we trust in the Bible. And a group of men met together in each of the seven Ecumenical Councils. We can trust that the Holy Spirit led them to come to correct conclusions. If you can trust in the majority of the Scriptures because you believe that the Holy Spirit is able to keep fallen men from speaking error or writing error, then we can trust the Holy Spirit to lead people into truth under other circumstances too — such as the compilation of Scripture or the seven Ecumenical Councils.

In Scripture, God commands us to be of one mind in unity of faith with no divisions among ourselves. We are all commanded to believe and teach the same things. We cannot fulfill this command as long as we hold on to personal pride. The only way we can come to a unity of belief is by humbly submitting to what Christ has taught through His Church for the past 2,000 years.

In this country, it is common for people to say, “I’m looking for a church that believes the same way I do.” In other words, they are saying, “I am right, and for a church to be right, that church has to agree with me.” That is pride.

What should we do? What we should do is join the Orthodox Church, and then ask the Church, “What do I need to believe?” In other words, the Church is right, and we are the humble students who are coming to learn. This is the humble path.

1 Corinthians 1:10:

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

1 Peter 3:8:

“Finally, all of you be of one mind”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. God is One.

~

[1] A prayer of Saint John Chrysostom before receiving Holy Communion. Text available here: http://orthodoxfaith.co.uk/prayer.html http://www.orthodoxprayer.org/Communion_Prayers.html http://www.gometropolis.org/orthodox-faith/church-and-sacraments/holy-eucharist/prayers-before-and-after-communion/ etc.

[2] Daniel 5:25, translated thus in Daniel 5:26-28 (KJV):
MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it.
TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and found wanting.
PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians

~

This homily was preached on Sunday morning, July 20, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.

Transcription by Maria Powell of Dormition Text Services. Dormition Text Services offers full-service secretarial support, including transcription and publishing services, to Orthodox clergy and communities. 

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About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
This entry was posted in 1 Corinthians 1:10, 1 Peter 3:8, 2 Corinthians 13:11, 2014 Homilies, Ephesians 4:4-5, Fr. Joseph Gleason, Orthodox Homilies, Philippians 1:27, Philippians 2:2, Romans 15:5-6. Bookmark the permalink.

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