I wonder vaguely if the letter to the Ephesians wasn’t some sort of experiment by Paul to see just how long he could make a sentence. After the short, sharp, shiny (and a little bit angry) sentences he used in 2 Corinthians and Galatians, the long-winded ten-verse whoppers which make up the majority of Ephesians are a little hardgoing. I had to read some of them twice to work out what was happening – by the time I got to the end of the sentence, I had forgotten how it had begun! However, after a few books correcting theological issues which had arisen in the churches, it’s nice to be back in a more pastoral book. Paul spends a little time in Ephesians talking about grace, faith, and the mystery of Christ, but quickly moves on by Chapter 3 to talk about walking in unity and love, use of spiritual gifts, how everyone should treat everyone else, and – perhaps the letter’s most famous topic – the Armour of God.
The first three chapters are almost bookended – almost – by desperate urgings against sectarianism (1:10-17 and 3:1-4). It’s funny how Protestants claim to be following the Bible and only the Bible and not allowing human traditions to get in the way, and yet if any Christian group can be accused of sectarianism, it’s the Protestants. Just the fact that I can use the words “Christian group” should be something of a tip-off. I’ve said for a while that I find the whole concept of denominations petty and unbiblical – that’s why I won’t give a denomination for my own identity and regularly attend three or four completely different churches – but if there’s one thing that could ever lure me to Catholicism or Orthodoxy, it would be the lack of sectarianism.
(10) I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (11) My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. (12) What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ”.
(13) Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptised into the name of Paul? (14) I am thankful that I did not baptise any of you except Crispus and Gaius, (15) so no-one can say that you were baptised into my name. (16) (Yes, I also baptised the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptised anyone else). (17) For Christ did not send me to baptise, but to preach the gospel – not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.
I like these verses. It’s basically one great big warning not to divide off into little groups with slightly differing teachings – and Paul repeats this warning in Chapter 3. Thus, we can surmise that it’s probably something Paul felt strongly about – especially as my Bible gives me references to other books (letters) where Paul says the same thing. So one has really got to wonder why the Church has splintered into so many denominations today.
Anyone who’d known me for any great period of time has probably heard me say that I don’t understand the point of having denominations. To me, it seems a lot like drawing inconsequential lines in the sand and then arguing – bitterly – over them. In other words, childish and pointless.
Of course, I understand why there are different denominations – it stems from differences in interpretation of the Scriptures, differences in traditions, and all sorts of things. But the fundamentals never change: that God came to earth as a human (Jesus) and was killed in a gruesome way so that we had a chance to be with Him in Heaven. Some denominations get caught up in their differences and refuse to accept that people in other churches might be Christians. But most – most Protestant denominations, at least – will view people from other denominations as being Christians, too.
However, the whole thing – mutual acceptance of Christianity aside – is certainly nothing like what Paul was intending when he said for us to all “agree with one another, so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united”. But it just goes to show that even back in the early days of the Church, people were splintering off to follow different leaders who probably had slightly different ideas of how Christians should live. For those who are wondering, the notes in my Bible tell me that Cephas was another name for Peter.
I had to chuckle over verse sixteen. It seems as though Paul kept adding in afterthoughts as he remembered other he had baptised. The Bible – particularly the New Testament – is full of little things like this; human quirks and comments which simultaneously bring it to life and show us that, just like us, these early Christians weren’t perfect. You can also see this in verse eleven, which does little other than let us know that some people from Chloe’s house were tittle-tattles and that the Church in Corinth often got into arguments with each other.
In the second paragraph, Paul goes on to ask a bunch of rhetorical questions, all of which should be answered “no”, and all very good reasons why people shouldn’t divide off like that. Then he reminds us that the Gospel isn’t human wisdom, it’s from God, it’s about the cross, and really, that’s what we should focus on. Not on tiny differences, but on what Jesus did for us.