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James Edwards: A Unity Not of Our Making


Edwards’ challenging analysis of the popular unity-in-diversity rhetoric provides an invaluable service to the ecumenical endeavor of today’s churches. The article emphasizes the same conclusions that H. W. Heidland has already drawn in his exegetical essay on homothumadon in the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. In spite of this agreement, however, some may question whether the endorsement of this reading of the term for ecumenical purposes is actually appropriate. From a purely exegetical point of view, Edwards’ account stands on rather unstable ground. Edwards appeals to only one reference of homothumadon by a single (and secular) author. Why this special interest in Demosthenes? A more thorough analysis would also have to consider, for example, the seven occurrences of the term in the writings of Philo of Alexandria, the 21 occurrences in the Histories of Polybius, or the 36 times homothumadon appears in the Septuagint. It seems unlikely that Luke and Paul would base the use of this word on a single occurrence. In addition, Edwards uses only seven of the eleven occurrences in the NT. It is difficult to find reference to a compulsory outside unity in Acts 7:57, 12:20, 18:12, and 19:29. Likewise, Luke’s homothumadon in Acts 15:25 does not refer to an undivided attitude of a seemingly divided Christian community with regard to the Gentile issue, as Edwards insists, but more directly to the unanimous decision to choose and send out men with Barnabas and Paul. Two aspects are noteworthy here, first, the desire within the early church to, as Luke wrote, “become of one mind,” and, second, the fact that the decision was only then declared to be unanimous. The unity of the Jerusalem community was indeed very much of their own making!

The adverb homothumadon literally means “with the same passion.” The phrase does not express, as Edwards proposes, a shared commitment to a common cause but rather a shared (homo-) emotion or passion (-thumos), such as anger, fear, or gratitude. The reason for this “common aspiration” may come from the outside, an invading army causing fear or a divine intervention causing gratitude, yet the action which is the result of a particular aspiration happens within the persons. Thus, it is not the foreign army as such which causes unity as a compulsory outside cause, but the shared feeling of fear or anger within those attacked that binds them together in unity. The value of this insight for ecumenical work is that it places, first and foremost, a requirement on today’s churches to find a visible form of a shared emotion or passion. Such language should also arouse the interest of the Pentecostal community.

Edwards offers a fruitful basis for a shared aspiration of the churches in his reflections on the unity of Jesus and the Father (John 17), a unity established, after all, by the Holy Spirit. Edwards, however, mentions the Spirit as a ground for unity only in his concluding remarks, and without any support in the preceding text. Moreover, the Spirit is seen as an alien influence on the church. For many Christian traditions, not to mention Pentecostals, this is clearly unacceptable. The unity of the one divine nature in three persons and the unity of the many Christians in one church is one and the same divine reality: the Holy Spirit. This work of the one Spirit towards the unity of the one church must be clearly visible within the church. The ecumenical usefulness of homothumadon is therefore largely determined by the extent the term can be integrated into both a viable doctrine of the Spirit and doctrine of the church. Edwards’ picture of a prism rightly suggests that the unity of the church is already given. It exists in the one and indivisible Spirit of God! However, the churches must also work toward visibly establishing that unity because of the existing diversity of spiritual gifts. In other words, they must become of one mind in visible form “until all of us have come to the unity of faith … to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph. 4:13). Having the same aspiration is thus the result of a conscious and visible effort of all churches to join as members of one body into which all were baptized in the one Spirit. The diverse gifts of the Spirit form the basis for Christian unity. The gifts of the Spirit are not autonomous but interrelated effects of the one work of God that only together work for the common good if the churches allow them to be discerned and active as the Spirit chooses (1 Cor 12:4-11). Edwards’s article ushers an important warning call, even if one cannot agree with his conclusions. The emphasis of the ecumenical catchphrase “unity in diversity” is on unity not on diversity. It refers to a diversity of spiritual gifts in the members of the one church that has always and forever been united by the Holy Spirit. A conscious acknowledgment and visible manifestation of this diversity will also make the visible unity of the church possible. Such a common aspiration holds the promise that unity is yet of our making.

Reviewed by Wolfgang Vondey


The full article is accessible (as of August 7, 2014) at this address:

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Category: Ministry, Winter 2002

About the Author: Wolfgang Vondey, Ph.D. (Marquette University) and M.Div. (Church of God Theological Seminary), is Professor of Christian Theology and Pentecostal Studies at the University of Birmingham, UK. He is an ordained minister with the Church of God (Cleveland, TN). His research focuses on ecclesiology, pneumatology, theological method, and the intersection of theology and science.

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