There is One Body
Ask a handful of people on the street what they think of the church, and while I’m sure you would hear an array of answers, at least a few would lament or mock the divisiveness of the church. If it’s true, it’s a tragedy, considering Jesus prayed for his disciples to be “one,” and not just for the sake of unity, but “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:21). Even in the ancient creeds, we confess, “I believe in one…church.” Unity presents the gospel to the world with incomparable splendor.
Aside from a deeper dive into John 17 or a proof text like Ephesians 4:4 that simply says, “there is one body,” Peter paints three pictures of the churches’ identity (1 Peter 2:4-12) that can offer us helpful reflections on church unity. Seeing what the whole church is, can give us a map for seeing each local congregation for what it is.
4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices sacceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
First, Peter addresses the church in light of their relationships to Jesus. He paints them a picture of a house. Jesus is the living stone, the cornerstone, the foundation stone, the most important stone! He makes the church what it is. The church is what it is because it is united in Jesus. The image of the house highlights this connection between Jesus (the singular foundation stone) and his church (the stones). This is what the church is. Then he tells us what the church is for. We aren’t just built up into a house to look nice. God doesn’t take raggedy stone houses and flip them for a profit. The reason he calls us a house is because we become the dwelling place of God. Not only are individual Christians filled with the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19), but so is the church as a whole (Ephesians 2:22).
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
The apostle goes on to quote Exodus 19 and Hosea 2 to prove to the people that they are not just a religious social club, but the chosen and beloved people of God. In Exodus 19, God rescues Israel. They cross the Red Sea. Their slaveholders are drowned, and God sets them safely on a mountain. Israel was adopted as the family of God, saved by his holy love. Peter declares the same identity over the church, the new covenant people of God who share that gracious history.
And then Peter quotes Hosea 2. Israel was not just a beloved child of God, but they were a rebellious child. Their priests robbed temples. Their kings set up idols. So they went into national exile under divine punishment, but God offsets his own punishment with abundant grace. And the message for God’s beloved Israel in Hosea is recounted in 1 Peter and declared over the church itself. The church is the people of God and the recipient of God’s mercy.
11 Beloved, I urge you has sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.
Name some common images of the church that come to mind: social club, community service center, choir cult. But what does God say? My spiritual house, my chosen people, my beloved sojourners to the heavenly city.
If this is true, how can this help build unity between various congregations? We can begin to see each other differently. We can see the church down the street differently. If the church down the street has abandoned the faith or doesn’t preach the Bible, that’s a different issue. But true Christ-following churches, we will see with new eyes. No longer will we see the First Church of Somewhere. No longer will we see the church that has the bigger budget or the nicer facilities that we envy. Now we see God’s spiritual house, God’s chosen people, God’s beloved fellow-travelers.
“Here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14). We journey onward, and we live out our calling along the way, as God’s people. We do good to our neighbors and our neighboring churches. We pray they would know the God of grace and give him glory.