Unity is a major theme in Paul’s epistles to the Ephesians, from describing how Christ abolishes the enmity between Jews and Gentiles, to this passage in chapter 4:
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in 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 you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men… And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 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 fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;”Ephesians 4:4-8, 11-14
The idea of a single Christian faith was the goal of the Catholic church. The very term “Catholic” comes from Greek καθολικός (katholikos), meaning “universal.”
Unfortunately, at the time when the church gathered its leaders from all around the Mediterranean in Nicaea in AD 325, the apostles were gone. The highest remaining authorities were local bishops of various congregations, lacking not only the office Jesus designated to lead his church but also the authority that extended to all places which they traveled – general authority.
As time progressed, the leadership of these men led to schisms and protests over centuries rather than “One Lord, one faith, one baptism” the apostle Paul taught.
Today, there are thousands of churches professing belief in Jesus Christ. There are numerous modes of baptism, including many sects who deny the need for baptism at all. Various Christian faiths still debate over the most fundamental requirements of salvation. Some claim the thousands of versions of faith, and of Christ himself, are all facets of a single church – if this were the case, it would be the greatest manifestation of the “house divided against itself” described by Jesus.
Claiming Christianity is united in a single church is like finding a shattered mirror at a store that has been partly pieced together with scotch tape and labeled “definitely not broken.” Even those with the best of intentions have found themselves “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” clutching only shattered pieces of the whole that Christ established with his apostles and prophets.
Is there a solution to unify Christianity? What would it take to achieve actual ecumenicism?
The apostle Paul explains how the Lord intended to accomplish this feat:
“…he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers… till we all come in the unity of the faith…“
Some people might misunderstand the passage to mean that He gave to some people apostles, and to other people prophets, and to others evangelists, and to others pastors and teachers – so long as you have one of these, you’re good. This is incorrect.
The word “some” is in the accusative case, meaning it is the direct object. In other words, it could be translated “he gave some to be apostles, and some to be prophets, and some to be evangelists…” He made available men with these offices, to accomplish that Paul described after.
As important as this understanding is, perhaps the most important understanding is the pronoun he… the one doing the giving… The He is the Lord himself… and as always… He is the solution.
THE LORD calls apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists. His Kingdom is not one of confusion, it is one of order. He spent great length prescribing the construction of Noah’s ark, of the Tabernacle of Moses, of the Ark of the Covenant, and of Nephite and Jaredite vessels. He detailed precise directions for the children of Israel in the wilderness, for Joshua’s men to march around Jericho, and for Brigham Young to lead the pioneers in the west. He patiently repeated his messages to Jonah regarding Nineveh, to Jerusalem regarding Babylon, and to Joseph Smith regarding the retrieval of the plates. He deliberately and carefully divided even His labors in forging the world on which we now stand. To suggest any old schmo could just say, “yeah, I’m going to be a pastor now,” is contrary to the way He has directed His work for thousands of years.
Fortunately, there are apostles and prophets, called by the Lord, who preside over His church today. Heeding their counsel will, as Paul suggested, lead to the perfecting of the saints, the work of the ministry, the edifying of the body of Christ. Following their teachings will aid all in coming to a unity of faith, a knowledge of the Son of God, and offer protection from those who would, by cunning craftiness, lie in wait to deceive.
What was inaccessible to the ancient bishops who assembled in Nicaea in AD 325, is now available to you freely. Do not neglect the privilege of your access to the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists He has called to help you find the one true Lord, the one true faith, and the one true baptism that will lead you on His strait and narrow covenant path.\
- “The Message of the Restoration” -Elder L. Tom Perry, April 2007
- “Signs of the True Church” -Elder Mark E. Petersen, April 1979
- “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators” -Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, October 2004