I just completed reading a book called Your Church Is Too Small: why unity in Christ’s mission is vital to the future of the church by John H. Armstrong and published by Zondervan. The title is a takeoff on J.B. Phillip’s book Your God Is Too Small where the idea is that our understanding of God is much too small compared to what God is really like. John Armstrong drives home the same thing regarding our view of church. By defining church as the people of God (pg.106) who hear, believe, and obey the word of God (pg.107) he feels that this definition is generous enough to include all who call on the name of the Lord Jesus in faith. His goal is to get all those who feel they fit this description to love one another.
John Armstrong’s concern for a real, tangible unity among all those who call themselves Christians is a result of meditating on Jesus’ prayer as recorded in John 17:20-21 NIV "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” His contention is that this oneness must be real, not a mystical abstract thingy. He draws from this the verse found in John 13:35 NIV “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." Since love is not love if done only in word and not in deed, our unity as Christians must be more than in just word. It too must be in deed.
The reason that this is important is because this unity of love among those who call on the Lord in faith is essential to God’s mission (Missio Dei) to reveal Himself to the world through His people. It is only through knowing and accepting God as He has revealed Himself in Jesus (Jn 17:3) does anyone find eternal life.
Roadblocks to this type of tangible unity are numerous. From the obvious difficulty of reconciling the three separate types of Christianity – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant – to the issues the divide churches in any given locale or even in one local church, such problems must be addressed. Armstrong does his best to provide solutions and guidance for these roadblocks to unity. His hope is probably best expressed by a quote from Cardinal Suenens. “I believe that the solution of ecumenical disunity will not finally be the result of a dialogue between the Church of Rome and the Church of Canterbury or the Church of Moscow. It will not be a dialogue between the churches as such, but a dialogue between Rome and Jesus, Canterbury and Jesus, Moscow and Jesus, so that we can become more and more united in him.” (pg.172) Armstrong makes it clear that unity in mission through love comes from everyone growing closer to Jesus and actually loving others as we are commanded.
So by growing closer to Jesus the church will heal its divisions. Armstrong quotes Origin as saying “where there are sins, there are divisions.” (pg.191) Thus our divisions are evidence of sin. Sin can be dealt with. The blessing of the Spirit of God will help us all turn from our wicked ways. (pg.197) Armstrong writes, “ I am persuaded that nothing less than a gracious outpouring of the Holy Spirit will ultimately change us.” (pg.191) His hope for unity is in God’s gracious act of sending the Spirit in revival. This is to be our prayer.
If we are willing to sacrifice and repent of our pride and the sinful attitudes that divide, we can work on those other issues that separate us. Thus by submitting to the Holy Spirit we can become tangibly one. Then the world will have the opportunity to know that Jesus is Lord from the credible witness of a worldwide church that proves by its actions that it believes what it says. Each of us can be a part of what God is doing in this arena by loving those Christians who have differing views. This will mean that many times each of us will have to humble ourselves and sacrifice our ease and comfort in order to stand as one with those who some in our social group may find offensive. Since Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers, we should not be ashamed to do the same.