February / March - 2020 Vol. 108

 Jesus Christ
                  Lord and Teacher mosaic
No Other Gospel: “One Lord, One Faith,
One Baptism”
  by Donald Bloesch

Introduction: The following essay by Donald Bloesch (1928-2010), a noted American evangelical theologian, has been adapted from a presentation offered at the Allies for Faith and Renewal Conference held in 1987, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. The sponsor of the Allies Conferences was the Center for Pastoral Renewal, an office representing the Sword of the Spirit, an international, inter-confessional network of Christian communities. The theme of the conference was on Courage in Leadership. The purpose for the Allies conferences was to help one another understand the battles between contemporary de-Christianized culture and Christian life and thought, and to respond in faithfulness to the word of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit.While holding their respective confessional positions firmly, the Allies conference participants were united in a conviction of the urgency of standing for historic, biblical Christianity.

In this essay Donald Bloesch reflected on Paul the Apostle's  implicitly trinitarian teaching in the Letter to the Ephesians. Bloesch distinguishes that teaching from post-modern distortions that attempt to capture the Gospel from this-worldly causes and end finally in giving God a new identity. Bloesch maintains Christians must unite in acknowledging one Lord and one faith.

In language that is both eloquent and unequivocal the apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).

When Paul speaks of “one body,” he has in mind the church as Christ's own self-manifestation, the mystical body of Christ. He is describing the Holy Catholic Church, which is not identical with any visible institution but present in many ecclesial bodies, though not necessarily to the same degree. I am reminded of Augustine's words, "Many whom God has, the church does not have; and many whom the church has, God does not have."

The "one Spirit" Paul is speaking of is the Holy Spirit. This Spirit is not an impersonal power but a personal agency. The Holy Spirit is God in action, not a force that emanates from the being of God.

When he refers to "the one hope that belongs to your call," he is indubitably thinking of our vocation to be witnesses and ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ. By "one hope" he means salvation through the one mediator, Jesus Christ. This one hope becomes ours through the empowering of the Spirit.

"One faith" probably refers to an objective doctrine, the faith "once delivered to the saints," rather than faith as a subjective instrument of justification. But the apostle might also have in mind the act of laying hold of the treasure of salvation, Jesus Christ.

The "one Lord" Paul is acclaiming is, of course, Jesus Christ, the Lord of all creation. This is even more clear in Romans 10:9: "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Peter makes a similar confession in Acts 4:12: "There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."

Paul goes on to acknowledge "one baptism," and most scholars agree that he is referring to sacramental baptism. It is at our baptism that we make the joyous confession that there is one Lord and one faith. Faith is the inward disposition of the heart. Baptism is the external sign of the authenticity of our faith.

The apostle next focuses on the being of God. He declares that there is "one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all." "Above all" indicates God's utter transcendence. "Through all" signifies his omnipresence. "In all" is a reminder of his immanence. Yet it is well to bear in mind that God is transcendent before he is immanent, for he has created the world out of nothing.

We have in this passage the Trinitarian confession of the early church – one Spirit, one Lord, one God. There is firm biblical ground for contending that Father-Son-Spirit is the proper name for God in the apostolic church, equivalent to Yahweh in the Old Testament. The source of our faith lies in God the  Father. The object of our faith is the Son, Jesus Christ. The giver of faith is the Holy Spirit. The goal of faith is union with God in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
This confession represented a potent challenge to the pervasive polytheism of that time. In the Graeco-Roman world there were many initiatory rites, but Paul declares that there is only one baptism. There were many lords, but the church confessed that there is only one Lord. There were many gods, but Christian faith recognized only "one God and Father of us all." There were many religious associations and cults, but our text speaks of only one body and one Spirit.

The religious conflict that the church precipitated in the ancient world was that between monotheism and polytheism. This was, moreover, an exclusive monotheism as opposed to henotheism, entertained in some circles, in which one god was worshiped without denying the existence of others. Paul stoutly reaffirmed the ancient Hebrew confession: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord" (Deuteronomy 6:4). The church upheld a trinitarian monotheism, a Creative Oneness, versus a mystical monotheism in which all distinctions disappear in a higher unity.

No Other Lord
The Christian faith proclaims Jesus Christ as Lord of the church, the state, and indeed of all creation. As the apostle Peter confessed, "He is Lord of all" (Acts 10:36). In the perspective of New Testament faith, the world belongs no longer to the devil but now exclusively to Jesus Christ. We need to ponder seriously Jesus' words to his disciples, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (Luke 10:18), a prescient depiction of his cross-and-resurrection victory over the powers of darkness.

Yet the powers of death and destruction continue to rule, but through deception. Their ontological power has been taken from them, but they still exert the power to deceive. It is no wonder that Satan has been called "the father of lies" John 8:44).

In our time, as in biblical times, there are other faiths, other gods that seek to turn us away from the worship of the one true God. One of these new salvations is nationalism, in which sovereignty is assigned to the voice of the people or nation. The court of final appeal is not holy Scripture but the "general will" or the "common good." National security is prized more highly than eternal security. Religion is valued for its social utility, for its contribution to national unity. The church is important because it provides a moral consensus that makes our country strong. The individual is ultimately sacrificed to the collectivity, and we then have the sinister phenomenon of statism.

Another secular salvation is racism, in which race becomes the criterion for assessing the intelligence, motives, and aspirations of people. It invariably involves elevating some particular racial or ethnic group over others. The Spirit of God becomes virtually identical with the soul of the race. Racism is alive and well in this country, but in prewar Germany it became the driving force in national politics. The German Christians, that group within the German churches in the 1930s that sought to accommodate the faith to the ideology of National Socialism, spoke of "one body," but they meant not the church but the German people or the Aryan race. In South Africa, Iran, Lebanon, Sri Lanka, India, and many other nations what is celebrated is either a racial or an ethnocentric unity rather than a spiritual unity.

Still another pseudo-religion of our time is militarism, in which military might rather than the living God becomes the anchor of our hope. I see in America today many people, including evangelicals, placing their faith in the power of nuclear deterrence rather than in the infinitely greater power of God. A nation is justified in defending itself by force, but it often does so at a price—the price of idolatry. A disturbing report in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald reveals that nearly 50,000 Americans each week play combat games at 600 commercial sites in the United States, "gunning down numbers of the opposing team with air guns that shoot paint pellets" (May 11, 1986, p. 2). Militarism is indeed becoming a way of life for a growing number of Americans. A 1986 Gallup poll revealed that for the first time the military establishment rather than the church was ranked as our most-trusted institution. We need again to pay heed to the words of the psalmist: "A king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a vain hope for victory, and by its great might it cannot save" (Ps 33:16, 17).

One of the alluring salvations of our time, Baalism, is a repristination of the paganism of ancient times. It signifies a rebirth of the gods of nature and fertility. Sexual gratification is celebrated as the pathway to divinity. Baalism is a manifestation of that broader stream of devotion, Dionysian mysticism, which enthrones the instinctual drives or the will to power. This new kind of mysticism, in which we immerse ourselves in the world rather than detach ourselves from it, is glaringly evident in the writings of Carl Jung, Teilhard de Chardin, D.H. Lawrence, Alan Watts, Nikos Kazantzakis, Matthew Fox, and Friedrich Nietzsche.

Finally, it is important to mention what I have chosen to call technological liberalism, in which technique is divinized. When Richard Nixon hailed the landing of man on the moon during his presidency as the most significant event in world history, he was giving graphic utterance to the modern faith in human technology. Technological liberalism has regrettably penetrated the circles of conservative religion, where worship and prayer are often reduced to techniques for bending the will of God or gaining spiritual consolation.

No Other Gospel
When Paul declares that there is one faith, he means that there is only one gospel. Most Christians would agree, and yet the term gospel as it is used today, especially in academic religious circles, has ambiguous meanings. In one seminary class I know of students were asked to define the gospel, and there were as many definitions as students. But what is ominous is that most of these definitions could not be harmonized.

Theology that has broken loose from its biblical moorings will inevitably drift into an understanding of the gospel antithetical to the apostolic conception. In the old liberalism the gospel was sometimes described as "the fatherhood of God," "the brotherhood of man," and "the infinite value of the human soul" (Harnack).

In liberation theology today the gospel is conceived as the call to solidarity with the oppressed of the world. The gospel in this sense then becomes a new law. Sometimes it is said that the gospel is God's act of solidarity with the poor in Jesus Christ. But we are prone to forget that God not only identified himself with our plight but also acted to satisfy the claims of his holiness.

In feminist theology the gospel is the promise of liberation to women who are allegedly exploited and oppressed by a patriarchal society. This is a promise that can be realized through political action, education, even social revolution. Certainly the gospel brings hope to all who are oppressed and downtrodden, but this is what the gospel does rather than what it is.

For existentialist theology the gospel is the breakthrough into freedom (Bultmann) or the courage to be in the face of nothingness and despair (Tillich). The gospel does indeed bring freedom, but only because God has acted decisively to deliver us from spiritual slavery. This freedom that the Spirit brings, moreover, is not the freedom to realize our authentic selfhood but the freedom to follow Christ in costly discipleship. In process theology, which is probably stronger in American theological schools than in any other place, the gospel is the availability of the power of creative transformation, which is present around us and within us. This power was manifest above all in the Jesus of history, but it is also evident in other charismatic figures in history such as Plato and Buddha. The gospel is the good news that we can become one with the surge of creative power that carries the world to a higher level of consciousness.

Process theology speaks much of love but what it has in mind is eros – the love of the good, the beautiful, and the true. This is the love that seeks its own perfection in union with the highest. How utterly different is the agape love of the New Testament, which drives us, out of compassion, to the sacrificial service of the lowliest. It is the difference between eudaemonism (self-realization ethics) and diakonia ( service) ethics.

Neo-gnosticism is another tantalizing movement in religion today that teaches another gospel and indeed another Christ. The gospel becomes the secret knowledge (gnosis) of the kingdom of God within us, accessible only to those who undergo the disciplines of inner purification and consciousness raising. Faith means an awakening to our essential divinity rather than a confession of the unique divinity of the Jesus Christ of history. Tillich reflected this new mood when he made self-discovery tantamount to God-discovery.

The evangelical movement has for the most part resisted these new gospels, and yet in some of its popular manifestations it too gravitates toward another gospel. The gospel in this hybrid evangelicalism becomes the promise of personal renewal through the power of faith. Our hope is placed in faith as a daring act or a positive attitude rather than in Christ who alone can satisfy our spiritual need. Faith is tapping into the pool of unlimited power or unbounded possibility, which, it is said, is directly available to us.

The gospel in biblical perspective is the good news of reconciliation and redemption through the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross and his glorious resurrection from the grave. It is the story of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ and will do in us through the power of his Spirit. Faith directs us away from ourselves to Jesus Christ. It is not a virtue by which we win God's favor but an empty vessel which receives God's undeserved mercy.

The major theological issue of our day is not demythologizing (as Bultmann urged) nor deliteralizing (as Tillich advocated) but resymbolizing. This in effect means renaming God, which amounts to giving God a new identity. We see this in existentialist theology where God becomes "the Unconditioned," "the Occurrence of Transcendence," or "the power of being." In liberation theology we encounter these dramatic symbols for deity: "the power of the future," "the event of self-liberating love," "the all-determining reality," "the dynamic of history," and "the courage to struggle." Process theologians have called God "the Power of Creative Transformation," "the Eros of the Universe," "the Directive of History," "the Creative Process," "the Creative Event," "the Power of Integration," and "the Principle of Concretion." One of my former teachers, an esteemed process theologian, described religious experience as "getting in touch with the Creative Passage."

The resymbolizing process is also conspicuous in other currents of theology. In feminist theology God becomes "the Immanent Mother," "the Womb of Being," and "the Empowering, or Primal, Matrix." Mystics in the classical tradition envision God as "the Eternal Now," "the Undifferentiated Unity," "The Dazzling Darkness," "the Silent Desert," or "the Infinite Ground and Depth of all Being." Among the so-called neomystics God is described as "the Life-Force," which is both creative and destructive; "the Creative Surge"; "the Vivifying Power"; "the Divine Energy" (Teilhard de Chardin); and "the Cosmic Whirlpool" (Kazantzalcis).

How, one must ask, can one pray to "the Life Force" or "the Eternal Now" or "the Creative Process" or "the Womb of Being?" The story is told of a Harvard University professor who, after a lecture on the "ground of being," was confronted with this embarrassing question: "Professor, do you ever pray?" The teacher thought for a moment and then gave this candid answer: "No, I do not. I meditate." One can meditate on the "ground and depth of being," but one cannot pour out one's soul to such a reality. The move toward the resymbolization of deity is a move toward depersonalization.

The resymbolizing process is even apparent in popular religion, in the electronic church, and in cultic evangelicalism. Influenced by the New Thought movement, many evangelical preachers have used these symbols in talking about God: "the Unfailing Resource," "the Pool of Unlimited Power," "Unlimited Possibility," "the Source of Supply," "the Spiritual Presence," and "the Slumbering Deep Within You."

Theologically, what is involved here is a move from trinitarianism to unitarianism, from particularism to universalism. God is no longer "Father, Son, and Spirit" but now "the God beyond God," the suprapersonal God beyond all anthropomorphisms, the higher unity beyond all multiplicity. The church may well be engaged in the not too distant future in a battle for the Trinity.

At a Methodist conference on hymnal revision in Chicago a year or so ago, one of the pastors whom I met vividly and, in my opinion, accurately described the differences between the United Church of Christ and the Unitarian-Universalist church. The Unitarian preacher says: "We do not believe in the Trinity, but we may believe if we wish." The U.C.C. preacher says: "We believe in the Trinity, but we do not have to." When the Trinity is made optional, we become in fact unitarians or mystics of one kind or other. I am not here impugning the great Christian mystics like Augustine or Bernard of Clairvaux, both of whom made a determined effort to subordinate Neoplatonic ideas to the biblical outlook, stoutly defending the holy Trinity. What bothers me is our contemporaries who blithely impose their ideological convictions on holy Scripture and on the church universal

Christian Faith versus Idolatry
The real conflict today is between the true God and idols, creations of our vain imagination. We are being placed in the position of having to choose between true prophets and false prophets, between the prophets of Yahweh and the prophets of Baal. It is a conflict between the Sky Father of prophetic religion and the Earth Mother of perennial mysticism and nature religion. The challenge to the church in our time lies in its capacity and willingness to confront the false gods and heresies that enthrall its people.

One religious aberration particularly in fashion today is latitudinarianism, the willingness to let go of doctrinal distinctive. It is said that true religion in its essence is ethics, not doctrine. Character training is esteemed more highly than either discipleship or evangelism.

Another popular deviation is pluralism, the willingness to tolerate a variety of doctrinal allegiances. David Tracy complains of the kind of pluralism that "masks a genial confusion in which one tries to enjoy the pleasures of difference without ever committing oneself to any particular vision of resistance and hope"). This type of pluralism certainly conflicts with the exclusive and demanding claims of the gospel.

There can, of course, be a pluralism in liturgy, modes of discipleship, lifestyles, and evangelism, but definitely not in dogma. There cannot be more than one gospel. Those who are attracted to pluralism need to be reminded that the true God is a jealous God who will have no other gods beside him (Exodus 20:2, 3).

When pluralism as a worldview begins to receive support from the state, the freedom of the gospel is then placed in jeopardy. Religious liberty may well be a major issue in the future. We may well have to choose between a state-supported henotheism (civil religion) and trinitarian monotheism.

One of the most vigorous advocates of religious pluralism was Schleiermacher, the nineteenth-century German liberal theologian, in whom there is currently a revival of interest. In his Address on Religion he indicated a distinct preference for ancient Rome over modern Rome because the former was hospitable to many gods and religions.

Certainly it is also incumbent on the church to combat a hazy mysticism, which regards dogmatism as the chief error. In this kind of thought, God is unknowable. He is Nameless, beyond all human descriptions and designations. Against the hazy mystics (not to be confused with the great saints of Christian tradition), we need to remember the biblical axiom that God has indeed revealed himself. He has also named himself – Father, Son, and Spirit. As Francis Schaeffer rightly said, "God is There, and he is not Silent." We can join in the prophet Jeremiah's lament: "Oh, that you were not so proud and stubborn! Then you would listen to the Lord, for he has spoken" (Jeremiah 13:15).

With the rise of the New Age movement, occultism is another threat to which the church needs to be vigorously alert. Occultism is the attempt to penetrate the veil that separates us from the higher or spiritual world. It often takes the form of gnosticism—the claim to a secret knowledge of things hidden from natural perception. This higher knowledge is available only to those who are willing to undergo the discipline of self-purification. Against the occultists and neo-gnostics, we have a responsibility to make clear that the mystery of faith is available to simple faith.

In a spirit of boldness and resolution, Paul acknowledged "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." We as Christians must respect the diversity in our unity, but we must also demonstrate the unity in our diversity. We may bring to the Ephesians passage various interpretations, but we are surely united with the apostles in confessing Jesus Christ as the one Lord and the holy catholic faith as the only faith.

Paradoxically, we will have to rediscover heresy before we can affirm orthodoxy. We can afford to tolerate a certain heterodoxy, an imbalance in emphasis, in our midst, but no public heresy. All of us entertain to some degree views that would probably be deemed heretical by the larger church, but when we preach these things from the pulpit then the church must act or else lose its integrity.

I see theological confusion and mounting discord in most of the mainline denominations today. The Presbyterian church U.S.A. might well be described as two churches under one umbrella. The United Church of Christ could accurately be depicted as various religions that can barely be contained under one umbrella. The Episcopal church impresses me as one church seeking for an umbrella. In the Roman Catholic church there is admittedly one church under one umbrella, but the focus is on trying to see the holes in this umbrella.

The growing unrest in the Roman Catholic church could be a sign of promise, but more likely it stems from an ignominious accommodation to modernity. My wife and I have some sister friends at a mid-western convent who speak of the "white martyrdom" they have to undergo. They complain that language in the worship services of their convent is being altered so that God is no longer referred to as Father, or Christ as Lord or Son. They purposely choose to wear the old habit as a visible sign of protest against the modernizing trends of their community. This reminds me of the perspicacious words of the prophet Amos: "Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?" (Amos 3:3). Or the awesome words of the Lord to Ezekiel: "Son of man, can these bones live?" (Ezekiel 37:3).

What the church needs to pray for and earnestly seek today is a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. And if this happens, we shall see repentance for both personal and national sin and renewed faith in the living Lord.

Excerpted from Courage in Leadership, Chapter Six, by © Donald Bloesch, published in 1988 by Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

Donald Bloesch (1928-2010) was a noted American evangelical theologian. He wrote numerous books, including Wellsprings of Renewal: Promise in Christian Communal Life, Crumbling Foundations: Death and Rebirth in an Age of Upheaval, The Battle for the Trinity: The Debate Over Inclusive God-language, A Theology Of Word & Spirit: Authority & Method In Theology. He was raised in the Evangelical and Reformed Church, in which his father and both his grandfathers were also ordained ministers. From 1957 until his retirement in 1992, he was a professor of theology at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, USA.

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