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Ephesians 4:5 states there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." Some Christians interpret this to mean that a single denomination (with its beliefs, doctrines, and practices) constitutes the "one true faith." Other Christians interpret this to mean that a group of denominations (with their collective beliefs, doctrines, and practices, which are sometimes different or even contradictory) constitutes a collective "one true faith."

What are the respective arguments for these two interpretations of the scripture?

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It may be a bit off topic, but is Saint Augustine's exegesis of the 2nd and 3rd chapters of Genesis correct? Do a search: First Scandal. –  user379 Sep 2 '11 at 1:59
    
The passage says the complete opposite of these interpretation. God says there is one. Denominations is many. The name of a church is irrelevant. But not all people follow Jesus. Knowing what they call them self will not help you determine what they believe, or what they do. –  richard Dec 19 '13 at 14:44
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3 Answers

The Bible doesn't talk about denominations, nor did Jesus or any of the disciples start any denominations. Denominations came from the disagreement of men on the interpretation of the Word of God. For this reason, I do not believe this passage can refer to denominations, which didn't exist when Paul wrote it.

Paul insisted in various places on the unity of the doctrine. For example in 1 Timothy 6:3, he insisted on the supremacy of the teachings of Jesus:

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching,

In Galatians 1, he warned against false teachings:

6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! 9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

In 1 Corinthians 1, he warned again about disagreements between teachers and the importance of recognizing yourself as a disciple of Christ rather than as belonging to a specific teacher (or "denomination", as we would call it today):

13 Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

I think Ephesians 4:5 is then quite clear.

  • There is one Lord, the Lord Jesus Christ;
  • There is one faith, the faith transmitted by the apostles (that includes Paul);
  • there is one baptism, the one transmitted by the apostles.

All other teachings are to be rejected.

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While this is correct, it's not particularly useful, as different denominations have very different interpretations of the faith of the apostles and the baptism of the apostles. Rejecting all other teachings first requires determining which one is right, and it's difficult to answer this by an appeal to the Bible when everyone interprets the Bible differently. –  Mason Wheeler Aug 24 '11 at 16:27
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Right. Obviously, the denominations that believe that the "one faith" refers to one denomination all believe it refers to them in particular. My point is that Paul insists on the fact that the Church cannot be divided, because Christ is not divided. You could conclude that the denominations who insist on division (or on stating that they are the only ones with the one true faith) are the ones that are wrong about the matter. –  ℝaphink Aug 24 '11 at 16:37
    
And yes, I reckon it's very easy to think you're the only one to be right when you're convinced of what you believe (it's easily my case, too ;-)) –  ℝaphink Aug 24 '11 at 16:38
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Yes, but is Paul declaring a fact, or should it be understood as a warning? It's easy to interpret that as "do not divide the church or you will cease to be part of the true church and fall into apostasy, because the true church is not divided, even as Christ is not divided." –  Mason Wheeler Aug 24 '11 at 16:46
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I'll answer from the perspective of a member of one denomination within a larger church.

We are all part of one body, Christ's church. But not every part of the body has the same function.

For 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 in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. —Romans 12:4-5

Just as individual believers have different roles within the work of the Kingdom of God, individual congregations may be stronger in certain areas than others. But if we recognize that we are all part of the same body, we can each contribute our part.

I don't know who first said it—I've seen it attributed to many Christian leaders from the past—but this quote captures the ecumenical spirit:

In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

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One Lord is Jesus. One faith is that faith that every man has been dealt. One baptism refers to the baptism into Christ's death, whereby we are buried with Him, and are raised to walk in newness of life. It is referring to water baptism, and when Rightly understood it will be done calling on the name of Jesus. It is "where" your sins are remitted. It will make more sense when you read what Paul spoke to the Ephesians in the 19th chapter of Acts. Also consider what Paul said of baptism in the sixth chapter of Romans. Most people consider baptism to be your profession of faith, however, that explanation of baptism is foreign to the Scriptures, and the Apostles.

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This answer would be a lot better if you could add references showing that this is a common understanding, and who teaches/believes it. See How we are different than other sites? and What makes a good supported answer? –  David Stratton Dec 18 '13 at 3:48
    
We know the basis for the question is the book of Ephesians, the fourth chapter; which is in the New Testament of the Bible. Within the answer I referenced the books of Acts, and Romans. I also gave the chapters. I appealed only to Scripture for an explanation, and not outside sources. If one compares Scripture with Scripture in order to interpret Scripture, one does not need outside sources. –  Billy Martin Dec 18 '13 at 12:51
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