This reflection is drawn from Ephesians 4:1-16 and Rev. John Shearman’s Lectionary Analysis for Year B Proper 13.
Both literalists and atheists claim that passages like this one in Ephesians makes an exclusive claim for Christianity as the only way to “salvation.”
They’re probably right.
Literalists say it to “prove” that their form of Christianity is better than any other religion. Atheists say it to “prove” that Christianity is just another superstitious cult.
If the texts we call “sacred” are to have meaning for us today, we need to move beyond either perspective.
The author of Ephesians was writing in the earliest periods of the church. Whether or not it was written by Paul, its author and other church founders were attempting to turn “the Way” into a religion. That was even more true a few hundred years later when the church’s leaders got together to decide which bits of writing would be included in what we now call the New Testament.
So Ephesians was written to a particular audience at a particular time for a particular reason.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But if we don’t either a) accept it at face value or b) dismiss it out of hand, what should we to do with it? How do we approach it so that it’s relevant to our faith lives today?
The writer says that there is one Body (soma) and one Spirit (pneuma) and one God (Theos). And that we are all part of that Body, and endowed with that Spirit. No exceptions.
“one God and ‘pater’ (Parent/Source, not “Father”) of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
All of us. All of Creation. Always.
When I read passages like this one, I don’t hear a preacher trying to convert people to a new religion. I hear a follower of “the Way” trying to awaken people to the reality of the agapé relationship with Theos – with all of Creation – that the Message of the Christ embodies.
A relationship that, far from being broken, was, and is, inseverable.
The author of Ephesians goes on to say that some people are called to be “apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.”
But only “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”
Not the unity of the religion; the unity of the faith. Not the acceptance of one dogma or another. The dismissal of all doctrine and dogma; replaced by our maturity to the full measure of the Christ.
We’re told that we need to speak the truth in love. And that, as we grow into the Christ, we will no longer follow one leader or another, or let others interpret our living relationship with God. In fact, we’re told that we shouldn’t let ourselves be “blown about by doctrine.” We’ll act in unity because the Spirit that dwells in each of us will allow us to see the unity that’s always existed between us all.
Writings such as Ephesians may have originally been intended to encourage the growth of the church. But the growth of our agapé relationship was never dependent on the “supremacy” of any religion, Christianity or any other.
Rather, it has always been dependent on our individual recognition of the Spirit of God within all of those around us and within all of Creation.
Once we recognize the reality of that, we become immune to the “trickery” and “scheming” of those who want to incite hatred and bigotry, persecution or exploitation. We become one with each other, with Creation, and with God.