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Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ

What denominations have advanced an explanation about what the "unity of the faith" spoken of by Paul in Ephesians 4:13 (above) means, and how it will be brought about?

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  • Man, I was gonna mod-hammer close this question. But then I saw "What denominations" in the question body. Can you add that to the title too so it doesn't read like an opinion question?
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Jan 23 at 15:41

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From a Reformed Presbyterian perspective, the Trinity forms the foundation for the unity of Christians, in faith, and in practice. This is what I gleaned from a book by a former teacher of Systematic Theology at the Free Church College in Edinburgh, Scotland.

He sets forth the biblical basis for the doctrine, showing the significance of there being three who are called god, and yet there is only one God. They share unity in relationship. Jesus said "I am in the Father and the Father is in me" (John 14:11), and this becomes the pattern for the way in which God dwells in his people: "That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us" (John 17:21). Then the case is developed to show how we are made for equality in diversity, community, commitment over independence, which enriches as we enter upon a life of mutual love and service.

"All this is within the Trinitarian pattern. The three persons of the Godhead share a common being, dominion and purpose. They have exclusive relationships (Jesus is the only-begotten). And they have irreversible commitments." Shared Life - the Trinity and the Fellowship of God's People, Donald Macleod, p.56, Christian Focus, 1994

He goes into the shared life of the unity of the church, being one of mutual love, and this is where grasping something of the unique unity in the Godhead should help us catch the vision for the unity of the faith Ephesians 4:12-13 says will be our experience through those who have been 'given' by Christ "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God."

"But there is something beyond fellowship and deeper even than fellowship. The great theologians of the early church had a special word for it, perichoresis, but unfortunately it is very difficult to translate into English. What they were trying to say was this. The persons of the Trinity are not only beside, with and towards one another: they dwell in each other. John 14:11, 17:21 & 23. Words such as these suggest a kind of union and interpenetration which is incredibly close and intimate, far beyond anything we can experience as human beings (John 14:9).

It is obviously impossible for us to have such a close relationship with any other human being. Yet in the Christian church, conceived of as the body of Christ, there is something more than mere sharing. There is such an involvement with one another and such a depth of affection and sympathy, that 'if one part suffers, every part suffers with it' (1 Corinthians 12:26)...

"What destroys Christian unity is not lack of uniformity but the absence of what we may call 'unifying power': love for God, love for each other and shared concern for the world. If we lack these, we turn in upon ourselves destructively. If we have these, we forget personal needs and interests and get on with expressing in our own distinctive way our obedience to Christ." (Ibid. pp 69 & 72)

It should be clear from the foregoing that those who deny the Trinity doctrine cannot base their unity on the unity in the Godhead. Indeed, the book gives examples of two non-Christian world religions, plus two particular denominations, that actively speak against the orthodox Trinity doctrine. In conclusion, on p. 127, he says:

"The doctrine of the Trinity has obviously not had an easy time in the world. Today, as ever, it attracts the antagonism of those who prefer unambiguous simplicity. But the objections have changed little over the centuries. And while we may feel uneasy with some of the terminology, we have yet to find better words to express the truth.

'This is the Catholic Faith: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Essence. For there is one Person of the Father, and another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, is all one: the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal.' (The Athanasian Creed)

My personal conclusion is that grasping the Trinity doctrine is no mere intellectual exercise. It has to translate into awe and wonder at what God has revealed of himself as this affects our love for God, who would have us love one another as Christ loved us. This is the unifying power we need now, and which we will experience in totality in heaven. Oh, how we will then wish we had loved and served more fully down below!

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  • "And they have irreversible commitments". How ironic that the married Donald Macleod should write that! See "When justice failed in Church and State", co authored Iain H Murray, about a sexual predator, allegedly. (Perhaps his books should be binned rather than read??) Commented Mar 12 at 8:54
  • @AndrewShanks I'm surprised you speak ill of the dead, given that decades ago the Court decreed that he had no case to answer; his accusers should have been silenced when their claims were flung out of Court. Claims trivial by comparison with the world-wide sexual abuse expose of thousands of denominational leaders. Is there any denomination free from such actual guilt? Anyway, Macleod spoke of the irreversible commitments within the Godhead. Why resort to ad hominem attacks? That's what undermines the unity of the faith.
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 12 at 10:15
  • Unfortunately, it's not as simple as that. I put in "allegedly", not because I have any doubt about who to believe, but because I am not a first hand witness. To believe he had no guilt is to believe Iain Murray was sinning in co-authoring the book. Not to mention the 4 young women studying theology who had their reputation dragged through the mud by the judge Mr Prejudiced. To conclude they conspired in their accusations because they did not like his modernizing efforts for the Free Church is scandalous. You either malign one or the other. His continuing good reputation is not deserved. Commented Mar 12 at 11:44
  • If he had owned up and repented I would certainly not have mentioned it. Commented Mar 12 at 11:47
  • @AndrewShanks Of course he was guilty - of many things - as are we all. God is his judge. As with another former Moderator of his denomination, recently discovered to have been a serial adulterer, who could not cope with the shame of being discovered and is now dead. I won't mention his name but Iain Murray will certainly know it, and perhaps a book indicting him is already in process, with lots of salacious details. I never read any such literature, and only mention this because you raised the unsavoury topic, which detracts from this proper question. No more from me.
    – Anne
    Commented Mar 12 at 12:01
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Irenaeus following the apostles and their disciples some 1800 years ago well defined the Christian faith and its unity.

  1. The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations2786of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father “to gather all things in one,”2787 and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, “every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess”2788 to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send “spiritual wickednesses,”2789 and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory. Against Heresies Book I Chapter X (my emphasis)

Here's the first Nicene Creed of 325 CE.

English translation of the Armenian version We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of things visible and invisible. And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the begotten of God the Father, the Only-begotten, that is of the substance of the Father. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten and not made; of the very same nature of the Father, by Whom all things came into being, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. Who for us humanity and for our salvation came down from heaven, was incarnate, became human, was born perfectly of the holy virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit. By whom He took body, soul, and mind, and everything that is in man, truly and not in semblance. He suffered, was crucified, was buried, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven with the same body, [and] sat at the right hand of the Father. He is to come with the same body and with the glory of the Father, to judge the living and the dead; of His kingdom there is no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the uncreate and the perfect; Who spoke through the Law, the prophets, and the Gospels; Who came down upon the Jordan, preached through the apostles, and lived in the saints. We believe also in only One, Universal, Apostolic, and [Holy] Church; in one baptism with repentance for the remission and forgiveness of sins; and in the resurrection of the dead, in the everlasting judgement of souls and bodies, in the Kingdom of Heaven and in the everlasting life. Nicene Creed Wiki

Pretty clear.

From that simple unified beginning, however, the filioque became an issue. And related to that the question of who's in charge surfaced; in other words, does a Council have authority to define doctrine or someone else?

Subsequently, other issues that some deem salvific have risen to further divide the Body of Christ.

What's the path to unity?

The Nicene Creed is the most widely accepted statement of faith among Christian churches. It is used by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, and most Protestant churches.

The Nicene Creed was established to identify conformity of beliefs among Christians, as a means of recognizing heresy or deviations from orthodox biblical doctrines, and as a public profession of faith. Source

So, unity of the faith seems like an easy accomplishment, as we agree with the Nicene Creed. But, we would also need to agree not to add to and not to subtract from that initial widely agreed to statement of faith.

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