At the beginning of one of his earliest letters, Saint Paul already began to stress the need for unity in the church. He urged: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose” (1 Corinthians 1:10). Saint Paul also encourages the people of Ephesus to make “every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). He tells the people of Philippi to stand “firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).
Saint Paul uses the great analogy of the body to describe the unity that should characterize the Church. Though we are many, we “are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another” (Romans 12:5). This unity does not mean that we are all the same, instead, “as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body” (Romans 12:4-5). In fact, the Holy Spirit recognizes and wants this beautiful diversity of members and “we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us” (Romans 12:6).
This diversity of members and of gifts does not threaten the unity of the Church so long as we remember that we are “all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26). We become children of God in baptism. In baptism we become “members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2:19). We are joined together and grow “into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:21).
By sharing in the same baptism and believing that there is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” then our unity is assured (Ephesians 4:5-6). By holding firm to the Faith we have received we build up the Church in love (cf. Ephesians 4:16). This unity of faith and baptism binds us together so strongly that “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female” (Galatians 2:28). This does not mean that our differences are obliterated, but that there is something even more powerful that holds us together in one Church and what holds us together is that all of us “are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 2:28).
(This is a part of a series on St. Paul that will appear in the bulletin over the course of this year.)