True Unity
Wednesday of Pentecost 3
3 July 2019
Cyprian of Carthage has been understood to establish an imperial episcopacy in which the bishops are the guarantee of unity in the church. It is thought that Cyprian's argument goes like this: "If you have a bishop, you have the true church." The pivotal section of On the Unity of the Church, which is thought to establish this principle, actually speaks very little about the bishops or their relationship to the church. It speaks more about the unity of the church in which the bishops preside. Bishops are not the absolute guarantee of the unity of the church nor the unity of the divine truth. The experience of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the long experience of episcopal weakness in the Roman church both testify to the fact that bishops are also humans subject to the same capacity for deception, including, and most notoriously, self-deception. All men are liars (Ps 116:11). This is true, even of bishops.
Cyprian himself was also famous for having gotten into a spat over baptism with his episcopal colleague, Bishop Stephen I of Rome (254-257 A.D.). In that dispute, Cyprian denied that the authority of the Roman bishop was superior to his own. And although Stephen broke communion with Cyprian and Carthage, this seems not to have deterred Cyprian's views in the least. One could hardly argue that Cyprian thought that the bishops were always right and certainly not that the Bishop of Rome was always right. Gentlemen with tall hats are hardly guarantees of the truth. This should not, however, lead us to reject episcopal order any more than we should reject any other beneficial external order in the church. There are no merely human or immanent guarantees of orthodoxy. The bishops do not create the church. Christ does. This is why the holy church and her children must walk by faith, not by sight. Neither the many, the people; nor the few, the bishops, are able to guarantee the truth. The truth must come from the truth incarnate, Christ, through His Word of truth, Scripture (Jn 17:17; Eph 1:13).
Christ, the Head of the Church is the only guarantee of the truth. This requires that his bishops be faithful to the truth that He mediates to the church. They are the conduit that is to give Christ to the people. They had better do it faithfully. The Word creates the church, her faith, her leaders (whatever you might call them), and her spirit. They in concert then take the Word as an overflowing power and remake the church again and again. In the manner of a nuclear reaction run wild, the Word perpetuates the church by placing the Word in the hands of the church's children, which they use to recreate her. What a power that is! Whether it is wielded by bishops or the other children of the church, it does great things, creating true unity in the church.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Cyprian of Carthage
"This unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also show the episcopate to be one and undivided. Let no one deceive the brotherhood by a lie. Let no one corrupt the truth of the faith by deceitful deception. The episcopate is one, each part is held by each one for the whole. The Church also is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. Just as there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strength based in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although the multiplicity seems diffused in the liberality of an overflowing abundance, yet the unity is still preserved in the source. Separate a ray of the sun from its body of light, its unity does not allow a division of light. Break a branch from a tree, when broken, it will not be able to bud. Cut off the stream from its fountain, and that which is cut off dries up. Thus also the Church, having been shined upon with the light of the Lord, sheds her rays over the whole world, yet it is one light which is everywhere diffused, nor is the unity of the body separated. Her fruitful abundance spreads her branches over the whole world. She broadly expands her rivers, liberally flowing, yet her Head is one, her source one. She is one mother, plentiful in the results of fruitfulness. From her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished (1Pe 2:2), by her spirit we are animated."

Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church, 5
1 Timothy 6:2-16

Teach and urge these things. If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, to keep the commandment unstained and free from reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will display at the proper time - he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen. (ESV)
O God, Your infinite love restores to the right way those who err, seeks the scattered, and preserves those whom You have gathered. By Your tender mercy pour out on Your faithful people the grace of unity that, all schisms being ended, Your flock may be gathered to the true Shepherd of Your Church and may serve You in all faithfulness; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For the guests visiting Memorial Lutheran Church, that they would hear the gospel as the only rescue from sin and death and be led to a sincere faith in Christ alone
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, who has been re-elected, that he would live by the light that comes down from above
For Herbert Mueller, that his gracious Savior would grant him strength, healing, and confidence in Jesus' care
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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