Associations or Unity
by William Bayliss

A MAJOR problem among the saints is that of association. As there are so few with whom we may have really close fellowship, there is a great temptation to consider that the ecclesia is indeed a very exclusive affair. We are sure that WE have the truth; that WE are of the ecclesia, but others so disagree with our beliefs and sentiments that we (like the old Scotswoman) are not quite sure about their standing. The differences appear so great that many do believe that they are a peculiar people apart from othrs in our call. How this has been a problem throughout the age is proved by the divisions of, and in, the church. Quite early it was realized that certain ones had greater capabilities than others and that led very humanly into a division in the church; the clergy were the chosen, the laity picked the crumbs. This type of division is still perpetuated today among believers who have long felt these ideas: believers to many are divided into the church, and the great company. There is not much difference in these two groups of ideas. It is to be noticed that what has gone before is a statement of men's actions and thoughts. Departure from the Scriptures, honestly treated, is the root of the trouble. That is a strange part of this problem. A simple adherence to the scriptures that deal with the subject cuts out the 'problem' and in its place gives an outstanding example of how God does work. He does not need anyone to tell Him who is worthy to be in the church: that is definitely stated in 2 Tim. 2:19: “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His. And, let everyone that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” Here in a word is God's seal and the saint's service.


Even more definite, if possible, and seven times more emphasized is the statement of the unity of the spirit. God has made a unity and to do this He had to solve the greatest problems of division that the world has known. The first division of man was into sexes, Gen. 2:2 l-24. Even this division is resolved, Gal. 8:28. The next most important division is when God chooses a nation from all the nations of the world to be for Him “a peculiar people.” This nation was the recipient of immeasurable blessings, Deut. 4:7,20, Rom. 9:4-5, while the rest of mankind was left to go its own ways, though God left Himself not without witnesses, Acts 14:16. Paul speaks of the nations, during this period, as being ‘without God,’ Eph. 2:12. Such divisions were indeed worthy problems to solve, yet God did not fail to make peace between the two nearly irreconcilable sections of mankind. He has provided the means of peace, Eph. 2:14; He may now deal with mankind in solidarity. His grace may thus be gratuitously dispensed. So God may now choose (those who shall be HIS ACHIEVEMENT, Eph. 2:10, c.v.) from a mankind that for His immediate purpose is being treated as a solidarity. Those who are called, are called to one body; race, sex or qualifications give no superiority. The unity that God has made is one of strict equality for alI those who are in Christ Jesus. Those who are called and given to the ecclesia, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, are not in a position to claim a superior place. The office is great and to be desired but the officer is there as a servant of the ecclesia - not as a master. Each one is blessed with every spiritual blessing among the celestials, Eph. 1:3, C.V. The important point to realize in this matter of unity is the significance of ONE Lord. Irrespective of any attainments or endowments each saint has ONE Lord and ONE onIy. No teacher, leader or organizer can claim this place. There is one Lord and He is Lord of those who agree and of those who disagree with us. This is fundamental in ensuring the success of “endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit.”


It is interesting to notice that the statement of the unity of the spirit is not found in the part of the Ephesian epistle that primarily deals with doctrine. On the contrary it is prefaced by a heart-moving appeal by Paul to “walk worthily.” To endeavour to keep the unity is a work to be done - not a thing to be dreamed of. God has made peace, and the bond of peace aught always to be in evidence in our endeavour. There is a confusing arrangement in the A.V. rendering of Eph. 4:3-4; verse 3 ends with a full stop, yet what follows is obviously related to what has passed. Verse 4 inserts ‘there is’ in order to cover some of the confusion. Now, if we place a colon after v.3 and remove the inserted ‘there is’ we find the seven features of the spirit’s unity set out in correct style; we know what is being treated, but the untouched A.V. rendering leads to ambiguity. The unity of the spirit is based upon these seven features. It is also defined by them. These are the fundamental requirements of the saints in this economy of grace. It is vitally necessary for the saint to grasp these seven points if he is to walk worthily or to appreciate clearly what God has done for him. These seven features embody all that is concerned with the saint and his Lord and his God and Father in the present economy. Each of the features is prefixed by the word ONE. This gives them the quality of uniqueness; they have no correspondence with any other 'unities.' They may be admired as seven precious stones forming a perfect cluster, each stone emphasizing the beauty of its neighbours, and all contributing to bring out the splendour of the fmal piece. We may for the purpose of closer consideration note that while each item is concerned with the relationship of the saints to each other and of the saints to the Lord, yet we may particularly refer the first three items as having predominant application to the saints relation to each other. The central feature is ONE Lord. This ought to emphasize its importance to our minds. It is followed by one faith and one baptism which are links that bind us to our Lord and to our God and Father. One God and Father and one Lord are the creators of the one body: is not this a Guarantee of the quality of the spirit’s unity that is made?


Believers are members of one body, each believer is a part of this organism and as each one feels the constraint of love so should each one help and sustain or as it often occurs, be dependent on one another. The body is called a joint body, Eph. 3:6 C.V. It is based on the peace that is in Christ Jesus, Eph. 2:13-14. For God’s purpose the divisions of humanity are reconciled, that from a whole, an integrated humanity He may choose those who will be His achievement, the one body. The chosen ones will have the joy of being ‘vivified, roused, and seated’ TO-GETHER with Christ Jesus. Eph. 2:5-6 . Thus God makes peace where peace appears impossible. Ought not the saints to strive earnestly, always, to keep the unity of the spirit? Ignoring outward associations may we ever recognize that God has made a unity and for that unity only ONE body; not by any means bodies, but ONE body. This surely calls for love to each other.


This term, one spirit, has often raised a spirit of controversy among those who should know better. In the A.V. a capital S is placed on the word. If we remove this interpretive S ,and place a neutral s in its place we shall have moved far towards clear thinking on this subject. Is this the holy spirit, or God’s spirit, or is it some other spirit? We definitely must regard it as ONE spirit. The saints as members of humanity have the spirit of humanity, 1 Cor. 12. They also have the spirit which is of God, v.12; the holy spirit is also given to them, Rom. 5:5; they also have the spirit of Christ, Rom. 8:9; and the spirit of adoption, Rom. 8:15; and their own spirit, v.16, so that if the spirit in Eph. 4 is ONE spirit we may be sure it is apart from these.

The ONE spirit is the gracious and loving spirit inculcated by the realization of the transcendent doctrine of the present economy. How very few saints do realize what grace and love is shewn to them by their God and Father! As we do realize this love and grace so we should show it out.

So great is this doctrine that Paul prays in Eph. 3:14-21 that the saints may be able to comprehend what is its breath and length and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ as well. So great is the revelation that prayer is needed that we may hold it. Is not this a marvellous spirit? Is it not aptly prefixed--ONE? This one spirit then should fill our hearts and flow through our lives; it should be in particular evidence in our dealings with fellow saints; it is a loving and gracious spirit, a spirit of appreciation of God's grace that is shown to our fellows. Jesus told His disciples, “Freely ye received, freely give”; if this is told in that restricted economy, what should be our attitude now? One body then with members in equality; one spirit energizing that body; these are the close relationships of the saints. To realize this is to lead naturally to --


There is a close harmony in these three features. They all concern the relationship of saint to saint. In Eph. 1:18 we read of ‘the hope of his calling’ (c.v. prospect of ITS call) and it is something to be perceived by the enlightened eyes of our hearts. Thus it is not a surface perception but is a prospect to be viewed from the very centre of our being. In realizing the prospect of our call, we KNOW that there must be a prior expectancy in the Christ. Our call is in grace and is heavenly both in character and location. Thus there is no need to pass through the tribulation. We are then saved from the tribulation. I Thess. 1:10. So then we have a hope to meet the Lord in the air (1 Thess. 4:13-18) and await our change (Phil. 3:20-21) , and be enabled to fulfill our destiny which is revealed to us in prospect. One body are we; one spirit have we; one hope is in our hearts, soon, we hope, to be realized. These three are the essential relationships of the saints to each other.


The central feature of the unity of the spirit is one Lord. We await one Lord from heaven but how much trouble would be avoided if believers would only realize one Lord in their lives NOW! The believers all belong to Christ. They are His and as He is Owner; it does not require demonstration to show that He is Master. This Lordship is not a sentimental Sunday pose; it is a real and vital part of the saint’s life. There is only one authority in the spirit’s unity. No pope, or bishop, or organizer, or leader can claim mastery over the saints. Some indeed are called to fill the offices of pastor, evangelist or teacher, but if they accurately understand their position and honour their offices, they will appreciate that they have no authority over the saints, Eph. 4:11. They are labourers and their labour is to dispense to and to uphold the saints. These are special offices, and are greatly to be sought after, but they do not give any authority to the holders over any other saints. The saints have strict equality in Christ; each is seated with Him; all are saved by Him and He is Lord of all and of each. It should be obvious to the saint that ONE Lord is the centre of the spirit’s unity, (all other lords and masters are self-deceived), one Lord only. He is worthy to be Lord; to Him we owe allegiance. We should accord Him all rights and all authority over us. Conversely He is the One from whom is our discipline.


One faith cannot mean ‘that which all believe’ for everyone’s beliefs are coloured by whatever experience he or she has had. There is always the colour of environment in all that one believes. So that belief will vary in intensity and quantity in each believer. But one faith is the specific doctrine of the present and it is that which all saints ought to believe. It is spoken of in Eph. 1:15. The various versions are confused in rendering this verse, but the close translation in the Concordant Version gives us the ‘the faith which relates to you.’ This is an important ‘one.’ It means that all the saints ought to believe the same, and so they would if each saint accurately appreciated the body of teaching for the present; for it establishes Christ Jesus as Lord. The oneness of faith should be obtained through this teaching and through the teachers. Both the teaching and the teachers should direct us to the Lord, to tell us who He is, what He is doing, and what He is now desiring from us. The teachers have little excuse for not giving out that which builds up; they have explicit directions regarding what conditions will prevail and what must be done, 2 Tim. 2:15; 4:1-4. The saints themselves must also discriminate in their reading of the Scriptures. They should rightly divide the word of truth. The aim of all believers should be to be good workmen -- and until the teachers and the taught do try to fulfill this exhortation, we shall still find division among the saints. Division of belief is the most prolific source of trouble among mankind. The saints themselves have especial tendency in this direction. Brother Knock writes truly that “The Greek church drove the faith upon the rocks, the Romans split it in two, the Protestants are so full of error that they broke it into a thousand fragments.” Yet this is the one faith given to the saints by their God. May God give us grace to apprehend the one faith in its pristine unity.


The one faith together with one baptism link the believers with their Lord. One baptism is not a ceremonial matter. No one is commissioned to be baptizing in the present economy. This one baptism is a vital union with Christ, Rom. 6:3. If in spirit we are baptized into His death, we are also baptized into the life we have with Him. Thus in spirit we are cleansed, in spirit we are unified (Eph. 1: 13) ; we are sealed and made safe, the spirit makes its home in us (Rom. 8:11); we are able to acknowledge Him as Lord (1 Cor. 12:3), and we may follow the lead of the spirit, Gal. 5:25. We must read Gal. 3:27 “as many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ.” What a privilege? What accountability? So far the seven fold unity has pointed to us a relationship between saint and saint; one body, one spirit, one hope; it has shown us the means of union with our one Lord, i.e. through one faith and one baptism.


Now we reach the apex of the unity; one Lord and those who His are joined to one God and Father. The truth of ONE God should be of particular value to those of the nations. Its reception should dispel the mysticism of the trinity theory. But the nations are loath to believe ONE God. Those of Israel were already instructed in one God (Deut. 6:4); to them it was an extension of the instruction beyond the bounds of Israel. It is to be noted that this is really One God. He is not the weak travesty of God that is believed in by the majority but He really is the Placer. He is the one who is “working all things in accord with the counsel of His will,” Eph. 1:11. He is also our Father. This opens to us a marvellous study in God’s ways. God reveals in His Scriptures His methods of production. God creates; there is also birth and new birth, but as our Father He exercises the power of God and He SON-PLACES us. We thus anticipate the new creation. This son-placing (Eph. 1:5, A.V. “adoption”) is a marvellous privilege. As God’s sons we look to Him for sustenance and care, we expect His love. And we who receive these rich blessings should conduct ourselves ever as in His sight. God has children but He desired sons, those who will show maturity. As maturity is the strength and joy of man, so it should be the strength and joy of the saint. The greatest glory of our Lord is His subrmssron to His God and Father. We should emulate Him. Thus we will attain unity with our Lord, and with His and our God and Father.

TO sum up: God has made a unity; He knows those who are His; He has richly blessed those who are His with every spiritual blessing among; the celestials.

We must not deceive ourselves that because He has given us a deeper realization of Himself and His purpose that we are a special “ecclesia” apart from that which He has achieved, nor if we are blessed with spiritual office must we assume authority over His saints. Our duty is plain. Our instructions are clear. We must hold fast the seven fold unity He has shown us; give our service to our Master, our one Master; show love to our fellow believer; and rejoice in our one God and Father. Surely Paul’s exhortation is worthy to be engraved on our hearts. Then we would join in fellowship with all our fellow saints:


William Bayliss, England.

[Return to main indexpage]