Steve Schlissel Joining Many To "The One"
E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. A motto of the United States, we see it on our coins. Egalitarianism and multiculturalism are working hard to insure that this is the only place we'll see it, as America becomes a mere collection of warring factions.
And though denominationalism also obscures the truth of this motto in the church, from God's perspective it remains a living reality. From every nation, tribe, people and language, the One who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (Rev. 7:9; 1:5,6). People who make up this Kingdom are formally transferred into it (Col. 1:13) by baptism (Rom. 6:1-5).
The richness of our relation to Christ is emphasized in Scripture by the diverse figures used to illustrate and explain it. Common to virtually all of them is the idea of union with Christ, and, as a consequence of that, union with one another in him.
Baptism, as the rite of covenant reception, marks the formal moment of union. Roman Catholic nuns may wear rings suggestive of their supposed marriage to Christ, which wedding was alleged to have taken place at their vows; but the fact is that it is at Christian baptism that Christ is united to those who constitute his bride (Eph. 4:4,5; 5:22-33). For remaining untouched by and above the controversies concerning mode and candidates of baptism is the Scriptural idea of what it signifies: identification.
When Christ was baptized by John, he was identifying with us, formally marking off the beginning of his work as our federal representative and Messiah. When sinners receive Christian baptism, they are thenceforth identified with Jesus Christ, their covenant head: they are set apart as his disciples (Jn. 15:1-8).
Paul uses this baptism imagery in 1 Corinthians 10 where the Israelites are said to have been "baptized into Moses," i.e., identified with and incorporated into Moses as a covenant head, following him through the sea.
Though the writings of Meredith Kline have led many to read Exodus 19-24 as a ratification of a suzerainty treaty—and I certainly recognize these elements in the narrative—I continue to read it as a wedding ceremony between God and his people Israel. For all the elements of a Jewish wedding are found therein: a matchmaker (Moses; Moses functioned in several capacities, both throughout his ministry, and here), a chupah (canopy) under which the bride and groom are wed (19:18), a procession of bride to groom (19:17), even music! (19:19), and most importantly, the kethubbah (the marriage contract explicating the mutual obligations between husband and wife; Ex. 20-24).
That God thought of this as the day of his wedding with Israel is rather plain. Ezekiel gives us God's thoughts: "When I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became Mine" (Ez. 16:8). This is hardly the language of a suzerain! Jeremiah confirms that God viewed Sinai as his wedding in 2:2: "I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert."
Those who came after the wedding day would be marked as among those who constituted "the bride of Jehovah" by circumcision. As we know, in the old administration of the covenant, these were, in the main, Jews.
In the new administration, a result of the historical accomplishment of Christ's work, those who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Messiah (Eph. 2:13). He has made the two one, creating in himself one new entity out of the two (2:15). Gentiles are now fellow citizens with God's people, members of God's household, constituent members of "Christ's bride." Baptism marks their entrance into this glorious status, for Gentiles need not become Jews in order to become Christians.
The Gentiles, who were themselves a great multitude of nations, are united by faith along with the Jews so as to become one. Out of the many, one. One Lord, one faith, one baptism because one bride.
Because of all this, the church, in her missionary enterprise, must not count as converts those who raised their hands at a meeting, but rather those who pass through the waters of identification with Christ, that is, those who are baptized. Coming, as it were, from "the outside," they, by baptism, become entitled to wear the name of their husband, Jesus Christ. Christians are a people of decency and order. We don't believe in mere "cohabitation": we encourage marriage.
What a joyous privilege it is to see souls pass from death to life, to see God's grace in action! To use Ezekiel's imagery, he continues to pity those objects of his love whom he had found "kicking in their blood," hopelessly cast off from life. These he sovereignly picks up, cleanses, cares for, and, in his time, he casts his cloak around them and calls them his own, his beloved.
In January, Messiah's Congregation welcomed into membership four precious souls. Joseph Williams, an American, was received by reaffirmation of faith, as was Ursula Matos, a Peruvian. Received by baptism were their respective spouses: Myhuong Williams, from Vietnam, and Henry Matos, from Peru.
Rejoice with us in this our common work, gathering, in Christ's Name and by his Spirit, souls from diverse nations so that they might be, out of the many, one Bride for him. E plurubus unum is true only in Christ.
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- Steve M. Schlissel
Steve Schlissel has served as pastor of Messiah's Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, since 1979. Born and raised in New York City, Schlissel became a Christian by reading the Bible. He and Jeanne homeschooled their five children and also helped raise several foster children (mostly Vietnamese). In 2003, they adopted Anna (who was born in Hong Kong in 1988, but is now a U.S. citizen). They have eight foster grandchildren and fourteen "natural" grandchildren.