Saturday, August 18, 2007

Christian Unity and Mission

Can the church carry out a stronger mission? Can the church cause its message to be more convincing to an unbelieving world?

According to Jesus, the acknowledgement and completion of the unity of all believers is both mission and apologetics. It's what the church should do. And it's what causes the church to be credible.

I've heard preaching that emphasized that Jesus prayed for the unity of all believers, and that he uttered that prayer on the night he was betrayed, the timing adding to its significance.

What I haven't heard proclaimed as often are the purposes and results that Jesus connects to the unity of his people.

Jesus prayed that all believers would be in him and his Father "in order that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21).

Jesus prayed for believers that they would be brought to complete unity "to let the world know that you [the Father] sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me" (17:23).

Seems like important, powerful stuff, doesn't it? I like C. K. Barrett's comment on that phrase in verse 21:

"The unity of the church in God is the supreme testimony to the truth claim that Jesus is God's authorized emissary. The existence of such a community is a supernatural fact which can be explained only as the result of a supernatural cause. Moreover, it reveals the pattern of the divine activity which constitutes the Gospel: the Father sends the Son, and in his works the love of the Father for mankind is manifest, because the Son lives always in the unity of love with the Father; the Son sends the church, and in the mutual charity and humility which exist within the unity of the church the life of the Son and of the Father is reflected. The church's unity in word and faith means that the world is challenged to decide between faith and unbelief."

Some related questions I have are . . . .
1. Why isn't unity more of hot topic in the world of Christendom today?
2. Is it simply the case that we have gotten used to the concept of the church (universal) and the various churches making up that church?
3. Or is it more the case that the fragmented world of Christendom seems hopeless when it comes to unity?


john alan turner said...

I just got home from an exhausting day at the mall. Yes, I took my three daughters to the grand opening of the American Girls store here in metro-Atlanta.

One thing I noticed: For each historical character, there is a slogan. One character's slogan is: "True leaders listen and learn from their mistakes." Another's is: "New traditions will never replace precious memories."

Here's one to think about: "Two people can believe different things and still be friends."

I think that's what confuses so many people and makes this such a messy thing to deal with. Do we all have to believe all the same things about everything in order to be unified?

Originally the American Restoration Movement said, "No, there are essentials and there are non-essentials, and we must know the difference." But now everything is an essential, and folks are willing to withdraw fellowship over ridiculous things (women's roles, worship styles, eschatology, charismatic gifts, etc.).

Until we figure out that it's possible to have unity without uniformity, we'll continue to ignore this important issue -- and the result will be that many in this world will doubt the veracity of our message of love (perhaps rightfully so).

Bob Bliss said...

Frank, I agree totally that we have disconnected the apologetic part of our unity. The world would look more kindly on a unified Christianity than on a divided one.

I think part of our problem in not maintaining a sense of unity is that we've disconnected the moral and doctrinal parts of our faith. We can accept that people make bad moral choices and can be forgiven but we don't accept that people make "bad" doctrinal choices and can still be forgiven. John is right that we haven't figured out how to have a non-uniform unity. It is a difficult state but still one that Jesus gives to us as a goal.

Matt said...

Unrelated but I thought you would want to see this. Click on your blog's link in the recent comments section on my wordpress blog. It takes you to a crazy Bible site. I thought you should know about that. Something strange is going on with that.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Matt, thanks for the heads up. I have no idea how that happened. That's awfully strange. And it's got my name on it! Not me. Not me, I say.

Matt said...

there is a www in front of it but when I type it that way in my browser it takes me here. Only when I click on it does it go there. I figured out who it is -

That is the site that is getting linked to.

Matt said...

One last note on that website. See Here for an explanation on it. It is some guy from here in St. Petersburg, Florida. Basically he made a domain of a typo for blogger and anything directed at will go to him rather than to the blog. It is not just you. It is all blogger addresses misspelled. Hope that makes you feel better.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Thanks Matt. I DO feel a little better.

But now I have to figure out how to get "Paranoia, big destroyaaah" to stop playing in my head.