The other day I came across the following sentiment regarding the unity which Ephesians 4:1-3 says the Church should exemplify: "These verses speak of unity but it is speaking of spiritual unity, not organizational unity. It speaks to the inner qualities of humility, gentleness, patience, and tolerance which then produces spiritual unity among the believers . . . these verses don't teach that 'unity of the Spirit' requires us all to submit to one another and bow our convictions to the majority. Unity can only come when we are united in the truth (emphasis mine)." The context of this quote, as you might imagine, was a very thin self-justification for not conducting oneself in actual deeds of humility, gentleness, patience or the tolerance of love. No, to go beyond the "inner dispostion" into the actual enactment of these "attitudes" one must meet a further qualification than merely being a Christian - namely agreement upon "the truth." The truth, of course, like peace, is concieved not as an external reality (such as fidelity to Jesus or trustworthiness as a disciple), but rather as an internal state of mental assent to whatever doctrines one may care to stipulate. In other words, spirituality is essentially an "inner" thing.
This privatized perspective on religious duty (which attempts to circumvent every communal obligation placed upon the Christian) is rooted in one of evangelicalism's most foundational principles - personal piety. Evangelicals invented the "devotion" - fastidious prayer, meditation, personal Bible study and memorization and the like. We commonly emphasize the need of every individual to be personally confronted with God's call upon them, and we measure the validity of a person's induction into our community by their stories of personal renewal (we call it a "testimony"). Beyond the event of conversion we continue to prescribe the personal piety of "devotions" and provide "accountability" strictly in this sphere of religious activity. And of course this is all well and good.
But the ugly bastard stepchild of evangelicalism's contribution to Christianity is a concept of personal piety that excuses oneself from public moral responsibility. For all of the raging against postmodernism among the ranks of theological conservatives (among which I happily place myself) it's ironic that passages like these in Ephesians get so lustily user-defined. Peace? An inner quality? Is there a more extreme example of reader-response than that? What sort of intelligible Jew viewed the the coming kingdom of God as primarily an inner quality? What sort of bizarre hermeneutical hoop-jumping can make the deeply national and politcial visions of Isaiah, exemplified in the Messianic "prince of peace" of "whose government there shall be no end", merely an "attitude"? If Paul is even mildly serious about the division of Jew and Gentile having been broken down in Eph. 2, and about the new humanity this constitutes in Eph. 4 (both of which are clear echoes of the Old Testament hope for God's universal rule over all the nations of the earth) than this hyper-privatized interpretation is unmasked and exposed for what it is: the spirit of this age and a product of ideologies that hail from lands foreign to the Bible.
Personal piety is well and good, but the Church described by the Ephesian epistle is more than an assemblage of spiritually enlightened individuals - it is a commonwealth consisting of all nations, both Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:12-16), the new humanity (Eph. 4:24ff.) where Jesus is proclaiming His victory over sin and death as He sits enthroned above all earthly and demonic rulers (1:20-23). And because that's what the Church is, a glorious outpost of God's coming kingdom planted in the present, the piety God desires is a PUBLIC piety - not in the sense of Pharasaical self-congratulation, but in the deeply impassioned purpose of not only proclaiming who Jesus is, but demonstrating through our communal lives that He really is at God's "right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come." Perhaps this is why the early church didn't relegate moral instruction to "devotions" in a manifestly cloistered religious sphere of conversation. Disclosure of personal finances, discussions of sexual ethics, detailed codes for family living and even practices of communal ostracism were all normal functions of church life. If Christians don't belong to that sort of community, a community of public piety, to what community do we belong? Perhaps the feeling of "inner peace" which comes to the exclusion of the communal practices outlined in Eph. 4:1-3 is less concerned with truth than it appears, and is in reality the most dangerous kind of fiction.