The Church question continues to be one of the most critical in all of Christian thought. To gain a proper understanding of what it is that the Church is, we must turn to the text of Scripture. Ephesians 4:3-6 gives a concise summary of the Church. Paul writes:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
This definition of the unity of the Church is directly tied to the fellowship of the Trinity, as the “unity of the Spirit” refers to the person of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is paired with the body, the Lord, that is Jesus, is paired with faith and baptism, and the Father is over all. Hence we have the Church, the spiritual Body of Christ, held together by one of the Trinitarian persons. Appropriately enough, Augustinian theology has held that the Holy Spirit is Himself the bond of unity between the Father and the Son, and thus the same principle of unity in the Godhead is the principle of unity in the Church.
A similar description of this relationship is seen in Jesus’ great high prayer, “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:20-21). Here again, the principle of unity between believers is the same as between divine persons. The Church is held together as one body through the Holy Spirit.
Thus if the Church is reflective of the divine fellowship, we must understand its visible manifestation as a visible manifestation of the life of God. As Christ’s body, it is Jesus on earth, though it is also an incarnation of the Holy Spirit as seen at Pentecost. The invisibility of the Church is derived from the divine essence of the Spirit, and the visibility of the Church is derived from the human people. As long as there are believers on earth, there is a Church on earth, and as long as the Holy Spirit holds the Father and Son together in divine love (which is to say, for all eternity), the Church will be one. The Church’s existence and unity is as objectively true as God’s own existence and unity.