From a sermon on Ephesians 4The Letter to the Ephesians tells us what it means to grow up — to be no longer a child blown about by every wind of doctrine, but being firm in the truth that God has provided us in the person of Christ. The wonderful thing about growing in unity in Christ is that it isn’t about uniformity: the various members of the church are completely united but individually gifted: as they grow they diversify!
This is what lies behind Paul’s baptismal language — beginning with unity, passing through universality, and ending with diversity: there is one body and one Spirit, one call, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father — of all — who is above all and through all and in all. But to each — to each — he gave grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift: and each individual’s gift is different yet works together for the unity of the body.
There is a biological reality to this movement from one to all to each: every human being starts as one single cell, a fertilized egg. As it divides into additional cells they specialize under the direction of that amazing DNA molecule that is identical in all the cells but directs each in its own way — this one becomes a nerve, another a blood cell, another skin, another bone. If all of the cells were the same, we would not and could not be what we are: we would be like the Blob — a giant amoeba that can only digest. But instead the body grows with differentiation — different cells equally part of the one body, all directed by the same DNA, but each doing different things for the good of the whole body, knit together in every ligament and joint, each part working together as one. Maturity requires differentiation as much as it requires unity.
So part of maturity means being an individual — as a psychologist would say, being individuated — not being tossed about by what other people say or think or feel, but having one's own identity. To be mature is to have one’s own sense of self, and the ability to exercise one’s own gifts but not to keep them for oneself alone, but to use them to the benefit of the good of the larger body, and its growth towards the end that God intends. Rabbi Hillel, who was the teacher of Saint Paul’s teacher Gamaliel, once said something along these lines: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” Each individual will have the maturity to stand for him or herself — but not to stand for him or herself alone, but in unity with all — and this happens in the now that is given to us anew each day. Perhaps Paul learned this lesson from his spiritual grandfather Rabbi Hillel.
For what is important in all of this is the direction of the growth: it is not growth away from God or from others, but growth into Christ, and for the good of the whole church.
There is obviously a lesson for us in all of this as we deal with our differences in the Anglican Communion — for differences there are. The church grows through diversity, united in Christ, preaching one Lord, but with each of its many members in the body making their unique contribution to its well-being. To use the biological language once again, ontogeny recapitulates ecclesiology: the process of differentiation and growth from one through all to each is what makes us who we are as individuals and as the church.
So let us learn to celebrate our differences as part of God's gift, rather than seeing them only as wounds in the body; perhaps they are not wounds at all, but the marks of difference that empower mission in ways we might not be able to serve if we were all alike.
Tobias S Haller BSG