“We must understand that the unity of the church is not an end in itself. Unity is a sign and an instrument of the first fruits of God’s purpose to reconcile all things in heaven and on earth through Jesus Christ.”
Unity of the church is important to me. It is one of the reasons that I have been reading about Catholic theology lately. It is one of the reasons that I specifically try to read outside my theological stream. John Armstrong has written this brief book about why and how Christians should pursue unity.
Ecumenical activity has a bad name among much of the church. Armstrong reclaims the idea and illustrates why it should not only be important, but it is one of the central missions of the church. He starts with Jesus; we have one Lord.
“The way to discern whether or not an individual is speaking from God is to listen carefully to what they say about Jesus. Yes, false teachers might repeat certain words, but soon enough their lives will reveal that Jesus is not central to who they are.”
The next chapter is One Church. This is probably the hardest paradigm change for most Evangelicals. Our very concept of church makes it hard for us to think about what it means to be united as the body of Christ. But Armstrong pushes this point biblically and I think most importantly, autobiographically.
The third chapter is about the mission of the church and why unity is central to the mission of the church. The summary of this chapter might be, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (John 17:21b ESV)
The word missional underscores the truth of John 20:21. Christopher Wright says: Mission is and always has been God’s before it becomes ours. The whole Bible presents a God of missional activity, from his purposeful, goal-oriented act of creation to the completion of his cosmic mission in the redemption of the whole of creation—a new heaven and a new earth. Our challenge is to move mission from a budget issue to the center of our life together. We must understand what Swiss theologian Emil Brunner said in the twentieth century: “The church exists by mission as fire exists by burning.” When a local church becomes missional, it becomes a who-based ministry that releases leaders and people to activate the skills and strategy of the whole community. North American Christians have lived on formulaic mission for more than a century, and the consequences are deadly…
The last two chapters briefly chart out what Unity looks like and what next steps might be for the reader. This book is just a start. John Armstrong’s longer book Your Church is Too Small is a good follow up to this book. I want to re-read it again, since it has been more than two years since I read it.
But I feel two other proddings by this book. 1) I want to read more about the social nature of the Trinity. Armstrong is right that there is no other image that is more clear about unity within diversity than the Trinity. 2) It makes me want to get out of my Evangelical mega-church world. If we do not relate to people outside, we cannot be united with them in Christ. John Armstrong is not writing just as an intellectual exercise. The Unity Factor is intended to be practical theology.
I have a paper copy of this that I will give away. The kindle version is only $1.99 and John’s work is well worth supporting. But I will give away the paper version to the first person that requests it in the comments below.