Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when your were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:3-6).
As members of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), we treasure the unity we share as members of one church body, walking together in doctrine and practice. Our confessional and practical unity is something that is very precious to us.
But what exactly is the kind of unity we enjoy? What do we mean (and not mean) by “unity”? As we strive with every effort to preserve our cherished unity in the Spirit, how can we remain truly united in our faith and actions?
In years past people remarked about the notable consistency in style and outward form that existed among WELS churches. “It doesn’t matter whether we go to a WELS church in Wisconsin, Tennessee, or Arizona. Every church follows the same order of worship.” That was more true in the past than it is now, when The Lutheran Hymnal (© 1941) and Christian Worship (© 1993) offered standard orders of service to follow, and congregations typically followed one of several hymnal liturgies. Today, access to the Internet and in-house desktop publishing enables churches to inject much more variety in style and form into worship. But does this undercut our unity?
It’s important to understand that “unity” is not the same as “uniformity.” Unity doesn’t mean that we march like goose-stepping soldiers on parade in lockstep sameness. Differences in form and outward style can inject a healthy variety into our worship. Some congregations sing hymns accompanied by an organ; others use piano, electronic keyboard, or other instrumentation. Different worship elements—some ancient, some modern—inject freshness and variety into our worship services. Variety by itself doesn’t break the bonds of unity that join us.
St. Paul highlights the foundation of our unity when he reminds us that we were called to one hope, by one Lord, to one faith, through one baptism, as members of the family of one God and Father.
Our unity centers in our connection to Jesus Christ, our one Savior. We are united by complete agreement in our teaching. We are united in God’s Word and in complete agreement with everything it says. We hold unswervingly to God’s teaching in the Holy Bible as the only reliable, unchanging source of truth. We do not wish to depart one iota from what God says.
Our teaching from God’s Word then shapes our practice. What we do reflects what we believe. Our common practices in worship, reflect an understanding that God works in people’s hearts through his Word and Sacrament, and that we meet Jesus in the gospel, not in our emotions, our feelings or our preferences. We understand that our practices of baptism, communion, evangelism, giving of offerings, management of our time and other blessings—every practice flows from a shared understanding of God’s Word.
We celebrate our unity in freedom, and we celebrate our freedom in love. With love and concern for our brothers and sisters, we make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.
- Pastor Jon D. Buchholz