29
Mar
12

Mission and Unity

I’ve recently published an article in Missio Dei: Tyndale Seminary’s Journal of Missional Christianity,  entitled “That the World May Believe: Mission and Unity.”   It’s not a long read, and not overly specialized, since Missio Dei is a journal aimed at all Christian leaders, not just academics.  The journal aims to utilize the expertise of faculty and friends of the Tyndale community in such a way as to help equip Christian leaders in their day to day participation in God’s mission.

The article begins with John 17, in which Jesus prays for the church to be one, “so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  This text suggests that there is a strong connection between Christian unity and Christian witness.  However, Christians have never really been able to agree as to what Jesus was really saying when he prayed “that they may be one.”

The article proceeds with a discussion of seven different approaches to Christian unity: spiritual, visible, structural, doctrinal, service, mutual recognition, koinonia.   Some of these approaches are usually identified with one particular Christian tradition, but they are not mutually exclusive, and can be combined in various ways.

The second half of the article suggests that evangelicals in particular could re-examine their aversion to one of these approaches: visible unity.

I would also sug­gest that, in a post-Christendom con­text, it is time to re-examine evangelicalism’s char­ac­ter­is­tic aver­sion to con­cep­tions of “vis­i­ble unity.” In a pre­vi­ous era, when estab­lished state churches could insti­tute a kind of false unity by coer­cion, it made sense for evan­gel­i­cals to resist such con­cep­tions of “vis­i­ble” unity and stand up for our free­dom to assem­ble and wor­ship accord­ing to con­science. How­ever, we no longer live in a time when state power is aligned with one par­tic­u­lar denom­i­na­tion, and so the idea of a “vis­i­ble unity” need not carry those con­no­ta­tions. We have also rightly resisted approaches to unity which pushed towards the build­ing of a “super­church” with a cen­tral­ized bureau­cracy. But “vis­i­ble unity” need not be taken in this direc­tion, either.

To say that our unity ought to be “vis­i­ble” is sim­ply to say that the church’s unity must take shape in the world, as the church lives out its life in space and time. We can’t just pay lip-service to the unity we have been promised in Christ. In order for our unity to serve the pur­pose of wit­ness­ing to the world about Jesus, it must be a unity that is on dis­play for the world to see.

Head on over to Missio Dei to read the whole article, and while you’re there, check out the archives.

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