Lately, as is so often the case, when I turn to read Ephesians, I inevitably get to chapter 4. It is honestly the oddest thing I experience. I read chapter 1…then chapter 2…then chapter 3…and then bam! there is chapter 4. Again. Happens all the time.
This particular chapter is immensely important because the author lays out the hierarchy of the Church, then giving the purpose of those ministers. More than that, it is a chapter given almost completely to the idea of Christian unity.
Oddly enough, Scripture is not used here to denote what causes unity — only ministers standing in the Great Tradition. Of course, Scripture is not left out. You are literally reading something that tells you something…and the author prefaces the section with a quote from the Old Testament.
The author begins by calling for a general Christian unity, based in the Spirit. Indeed, only the Spirit can give unity. More than that, unity is also in practice — so that rebaptisms aren’t needed. Further, there aren’t Christianity, but Christianity. I’m being a bit anachronistic here, but you get the point. The author is looking forward in hopes that we can unite on Christ.
What I find interesting here is the work of the Father (Ephesians 1.15–23), the work of Jesus (Ephesians 2), and the work of the Spirit (Ephesians 4). Of course the Trinity was not fully defined until later, but it is easily drawn from the New Testament.
Indeed, that is the goal of Ephesians 4.9–16. This is why we are given leaders, in order to keep us connected to Christ and to one another…to keep us growing in and towards Christ.
Doctrine, we are told, matters — as does real teaching of who Jesus is as the Son of God. Further, the author declares that there is actually something called “the truth.”
It really is one of my favorite chapters.
Anyway, we are often lied to by self-proclaimed Wesleyans and told Wesley didn’t care for doctrine. But, you see, he did. And, what’s more, he gets what the author of Ephesians 4 is actually trying to say. He writes,
Till we all—And every one of us, come to the unity of the faith and knowledge of the Son of God—To both an exact agreement in the Christian doctrine, and an experimental knowledge of Christ as the Son of God; to a perfect man—To a state of spiritual manhood both in understanding and strength, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ—To that maturity of age and spiritual stature wherein we shall be filled with Christ, so that he will be all in all.1
Of course, we know that his explanatory notes on the NT are considered a doctrinal standard of the United Methodist Church — so this part is actually something we have to listen to. I mean, those with integrity to their vows and all.
[tweetthis]Wesley didn’t say that we had to agree to what Christian doctrine was…[/tweetthis]
Wesley didn’t say that we had to agree to what Christian doctrine was, but clearly sees it as an external force, and something we come to.
Wesley’s hope is that we reach an exact agreement… along with an internal knowledge…
If only Methodists were really Wesleyans…
- John Wesley, Explanatory Notes upon the New Testament (Fourth American Edition.; New York: J. Soule and T. Mason, 1818), 513. ↩