All With One Accord

Text: Acts 1:12-14
Date: Easter VII + 6/1/14

This is that “strange” Sunday between our Lord’s Ascension into heaven and His sending of the Holy Spirit ten days later on the Day of Pentecost. We return to the upper room with the disciples, the same room in which Jesus washed their feet, predicted the betrayal of Judas, and instituted the sacrament of His body and blood ending with His “High Priestly Prayer” which we heard as today’s Gospel reading. The common theme of today’s readings is the Lord’s prayer for His disciples, “that they may be one” (John 17:11) and St. Luke’s observation in our first reading that “all these (were of) one accord,” “devoting themselves to prayer.”

Today, therefore, we have before us the doctrine of the Una Sancta, that is, that the Church, both in heaven and on earth, is always Unam, sanctam, catholicam et apostolicam Ecclesiam, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” And the Church is one and of one accord not because we share a similar race, language or nationality, not because we are like each other in any particular outward way but, first of all, because, as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “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 all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph 4:4-7), or as Jesus’ said in His prayer, “that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:11). Jesus and the Father are intimately one, as the Athanasian Creed describes the Son of God, “begotten from the substance of the Father before all ages,” “equal to the Father with respect to His divinity,” “one altogether, not by confusion of substance, but by unity of person.” Of course our oneness or unity cannot be of such intimate essence as that of the Trinity. Our oneness, however, is by faith in the one, true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Objectively speaking the Church is one body.

So why does Jesus pray for something that already exists? It is because we are called to live and act in this essential unity even as sin tries to divide us.

This one, true faith is not just a generic feeling or personal opinion where everyone is left to their own particular thoughts and fantasies. This faith is given to us from the outside from God, “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2:19-20). That’s why Peter found it necessary to fill the office of apostle vacated by Judas Iscariot so that there be once again twelve apostles reflecting the twelve tribes of Israel according to God’s own original design. And of course even that wasn’t because the prophets and apostles themselves were such pillars of piety and faithfulness. None of the prophets felt they were at all qualified to serve God at His calling and we have seen the weakness of all the apostles. Yet Christ’s Church is built on their witness and the inspired, inerrant, divine word that they transmitted through their preaching and writing from Moses to St. John.

This faith can be described and confessed in specific words in the face of anything and everything that contradicts God’s Word. The requirement of an accurate faith is reflected in the rite of confirmation and is required of any congregation of believers who wish to be a member of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. This begins with the acceptance of the confessional basis, namely, “The Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the written Word of God and the only rule and norm of faith and of practice,” and “all the Symbolical Books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church as a true and unadulterated statement and exposition of the Word of God.” In addition are the Biblical requirements of “renunciation of unionism and syncretism of every description,” the “regular call of pastors” and other workers, and “exclusive use of doctrinally pure agenda, hymnbooks, and catechisms in church and school.”[1]

This sort of what some people would call “strict” unity obviously cannot be the same as with the Constitution of the United States, which leaves everyone to the “free exercise” of their particular religion. Our nation is “e pluribus unam,” “one nation, under God, indivisible” by the rule of Law, limited to its citizens. The Church’s unity is by the rule of Grace universally for all.

The disciples were of one accord, united in faith, faith in the Lord Jesus and His word. We have been called, gathered, enlightened and sanctified by the Holy Spirit to be united in faith. Yet, like the apostles, we each have been given individual gifts. We see different styles in language among those who wrote what became the New Testament scriptures, the apostles Matthew, John, Paul, James, Peter and Jude, along with a man named Mark who gave us primarily the preaching of Peter, and Doctor Luke. So have each of us been created by God and given certain gifts though varied, to be used in service of the unity of the Body of Christ.

The forty days of Lent have given us the Gospel of the forgiveness of sins for the sake of the atoning sacrifice of our Lord’s body and blood on the cross. Now the great fifty days of Easter have convinced us of the victory we share with the risen Christ and with one another. Next Sunday, the day of Pentecost, we read that the disciples still “were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1) when they received the promise of the Father, Jesus’ sending of the Holy and life-giving Spirit. It is because faith is the creation of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, that believers are united, one Body, one family, all with one accord.

[1] Constitution of the LCMS Articles II and VI.