Church Unity Is More Important Than ‘Being Theologically Correct’?

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“Father…I do not pray just for these disciples only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word. I pray that they all may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be one with us. This way the world may believe that you have sent me.” ~ Jesus (John 17:20-21 Paraphrase)

The Christan Post came out with an article quoting Andy Stanley, “Church Unity Is More Important Than ‘Being Theologically Correct.‘” Using the verse from John 17 where Jesus prays his disciples would be one, as he and the Father are one, so that they may one together.
Stanley said it is significant Jesus prayed for unity for his disciple above other things, for example, being theologically correct. But I am wondering if Andy Stanley has read the previous verses where Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in your truth…” I think Andy Stanley massively downplays having the right doctrine here. Each church needs to strive for the right teaching of Jesus and to continuously reform to achieve it. Even though I thinking Stanley goes a little too far, I do understand his sentiment.
What usually divides us is not the core of the faith. It is usually peripheral doctrines concerning baptism, communion, the work of the Holy Spirit…etc. Others are divided by worship styles, liturgy, and style of preaching.
I am not saying we shouldn’t have diverse practices or even diverse beliefs. What I am saying, is, these should not divide us when it comes to our mission in this world.
Notice Jesus’ prayer. He says in essence, “Father, I pray my disciples will be united in us so that the world may see and believe in me.” In other words, our unity should be a sign to the world of Jesus’ ministry and kingdom on earth.
I’ve often heard from skeptics about the plethora of churches that exist in our culture. Which one is right? Who is wrong? Why does this church belittle that church? Why are Christians always fighting?
Our disunity has damaged the image of Jesus in our churches. When we no longer live out the unity that is found within the Godhead, we no longer bear the image of that Godhead. Our witness falls apart.
My suggestion for churches that differ in the secondary doctrines of the faith, that we agree to disagree, charitably, and work together to rebuild the image of the unity God in our communities.

Praying in Unity

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“After Peter and John had been set free they went to their fellowship and told them what the chief priests and the Jewish elders had said to them. All who heard their story were moved, and in one mind prayed together…When they had finished, the place where they were together was shaken. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to tell God’s message fearlessly.” Acts 4:23-24, 31 (paraphrase)

Peter and John were arrested by the Jewish religious leaders. God had done a miracle through them in healing a lame man. All the people who saw were amazed and were eager to know how this could happen. Peter and John went on to preach Jesus Christ, who not only has the power to heal but to save. They were arrested for preaching Jesus Christ. Finding no way to keep them or punish them due to the public miracle they let them go.

After hearing the story the people, having one mind, began to pray. They praised God for his works, they prayed the Scriptures, they prayed about their situation, and they prayed for boldness to preach the message of the gospel, and the power to heal with signs and wonders.

We read the books of Acts in one of two ways. Either we read the book of Acts as history seeing all that God had done in the past through the apostles and disciples. We see all that happened as being in the past and “not for today.” The book of Acts is only information about what happened and not a mirror to compare our lives, or our churches, to. As a consequence, many churches remain dead and powerless.

Another way we read the book of Acts is with a longing for God to work like he did before. We sit in our pews and wonder why God is not moving like he did in the book of Acts. Why people aren’t being saved. Why we see no miracles, signs and wonders. Why we remain in disunity, faithless, and powerless. Why are our churches empty. The consequence of being “pew sitters” is the same as reading the book of Acts as history: dead and powerless churches.

Our acts don’t match the acts of the disciples in the book of Acts.
Peyton Jones said, “If we want to witness kingdom expansion like the apostles did, it’s not enough to know what they knew. We need to do what they did.” [1]

From our passage today we see a glimpse of what the disciples of the early Church did: they prayed.

Not just any type of praying, but, praying together in unity. The Scripture says, “they lifted their voices together to God…” (ESV). They prayed with one heart, one focus, and one mission. They wanted the power of God in their church, not for protection, but for power and boldness to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the act, the first act, any church, or group of churches, should take in winning their community to God.

When the Church comes together in unity there is power in our prayer. Jesus promises his presence, especially when we are gathered together in his name. And when we pray as one, we shake the community, and we become bold to speak his message fearlessly.

[1] Peyton Jones, Reaching the Unreached Becoming Raiders of the Lost Art, (Zondrvan, 2017) pg. 23

A Solemn Assembly is Needed…

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Recently, a pastor friend of mine gave me a document called, “A Solemn Assembly is Needed…”. It was a list of conditions, or symptoms, of a local church that when observed, a solemn assembly of repentance and renewal needs to be called.

Inspired by such a list I’ve adapted my own for the local Christian community. These symptoms point to the need for a community-wide solemn assembly. Read this list and see if you can relate to some of this symptoms. I know I do.

A Community Solemn Assembly is Needed…

  • When we find ourselves walking by sight instead of walking by faith
  • When prayer is the last resort instead of the foundation of our community
  • When events for evangelism are preferred over one-on-one evangelism
  • When our passion to build the biggest church overshadows our passion and pursuit of God’s kingdom in the community
  • When the ministry of God in our community does not include the poor, the widows, and the fatherless
  • When there is a greater emphasis on pleasing people, looking good in the community, and having the greatest influence, than pleasing God
  • When we find ourselves being more excited about building our own church than the health of our community
  • When the pastors of our churches do all the evangelism and discipleship in our community while our people spectate from their chairs
  • When we seem to be producing “converts” instead of “disciples” in our community
  • When growing our attendance is more important than the spiritual health of the community, and the spiritual health of other churches
  • When most growth in churches today is transfer growth
  • When there is disunity among the churches or ministries in the community
  • When there is no community vision, and no cooperation to see that vision through
  • When we see the other churches as competition, instead of partners in the kingdom of God
  • When each church exists as an isolated island unto itself, and we work within the community as if we are the only church

Which symptoms resonated with you? What would you add to the list?

Have This Mind

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… Php 2:3–5

I believe the key to the Christian life is found within the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Only when the divine is one with man can man even to think to achieve the abundant life that Jesus promised us.

But, this is not a means to boast, being one with the divine. But, it is a means of humility.

Jesus himself, who is one with the Father, united in substance and holiness, did not count his greatness with God has something to keep. Rather, he humbled himself in obedience.

And Paul tells us to have this same mind.

Pastors teach from these verses exhorting their people not to seek their own glory, their own welfare, above anyone else. As Christians, we are too out not only for our own welfare but also the welfare of others.

It is good that pastors teach these Scriptures, they should be taught more often. However, how pastors usually preach (I am guilty of this myself) is to preach service to those in our immediate local fellowship right along with the world that is lost.

In other words, we preach as if we are the only church in our community – we preach as if we are a monochurch.

But our own fellowship is not the only church in our own community. There are other churches, co-churches for the kingdom of God.

We teach each person represents Christ in the world. The Bible also teaches that the church represents Christ in the world too. Just as multiple individuals represent Christ, so too can multiply churches represent Christ.

Each church is to have the mind of Christ! And what is that mind? Paul tells us here in Philippians.

Do nothing from a selfish ambition. What is the ambition of your church? Do you want the largest church in the city? Do you build it at the expense of other local churches through transfer growth?

Do nothing from conceit. Do you speak ill of other pastors, other churches? Do you live within the idea your church is the only church? The only church worth serving the community? Do you use other churches and community events as a means to build your own church? Your own kingdom?

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Let each church look not only to their own interests, but also the interests of other churches. Some would say this is impossible. You are right. But with God, all things are possible.

In order for churches to live the divine, incarnation life that Jesus Christ has called us to be, we must look to each other, serve each other, in humility and respect.

Two Heads Are Better Than One

“Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Proverbs 15:22

The old adage, “two heads are better than one,” is true in most situations. Unless you’re trying to decide what restaurant to go to. But in ministry, this truth runs the whole of Scripture.

God said that it was not good for Adam to be alone.

Moses sought out leaders from the people to help him judge the people of Israel.

The kings of Israel would surround themselves with “wise men.”

Jesus sent out the disciples two-by-two.

Paul never worked alone. And when he was alone he didn’t want to be.

You can see over and over again, in Scripture and history having many advisors often leads to success.

So, let’s take a look at the current monochurch culture that we live in. We have many different churches, with many different types of services, with many different types of organization, leadership styles, and administrations, big churches, small churches, different worship styles…etc.

We live in a culture where you can find any church that will suit your style. You can find whatever flavour you want. The consumer-driven culture as gave us cool churches, cooler churches, and the coolest church to choose from.

And yet, much of the population remains unchurched, unreached, and not interested.

If the church is to succeed, maybe we should look to Scripture (Pr. 22:15). Maybe, the “two heads are better than one” adage can be used to succeed in reaching the lost in our communities. If we put our collective heads together, with our years of experience in ministry, it is possible we could reach our communities with the gospel more effectively.

A multichurch culture brings together multiple perspectives about how to meet needs, reach goals, and solve problems. A multichurch provides alternative views that can be more insightful, and deeper than a monochurch culture offers.

 

Pentecostal, Baptists, Independent…We All Need Each Other

A good article from Together for the Gospel called, “Why Charismatics and Calvinists Need Each Other,” speaks of the possible unity between missional oriented Charismatics and theological depth of the Calvinists.

He begins by describing why we are so separated.

This separation has never been more apparent than the present. It’s cause for concern when Pentecostals/charismatics get together in their conferences, read their books, remain in their churches, and never get out of their sandbox… Just as concerning as it is when charismatics stay in their own sandbox, so it is with us Calvinists.

Too often we look at other traditions and believe they are “wrong”, therefore, we cannot work together, worship together, or even converse with each other. We would prefer to die upon our hill of doctrine than to understand the other tradition and see where we have similarities. When we discard whole traditions for past disagreements we can fall into error in our own understanding of the gospel.

As one of my mentors put it, “Charismatics love the fire of God’s power, but sometimes we burn things down with it.” …we Calvinists construct a beautiful fireplace, but sometimes we struggle to get the fire going.

The author is saying that both traditions can learn from each other. We both can strengthen each other’s weakness. Imagine what would happen if we did come together for the gospel?

I am thankful I am seeing more people in the Reformed camp calling themselves Reformed Charismatics.

The goal of this post is not to convince you to be Reformed or Charismatic. The goal is to show you that our traditions should not keep us from coming together as one body of Christ. We need each other! What if the different traditions represent the different body parts of the body of Christ?

Can the eye say to the hand, “I have no need of you”? Or the head to the feet say, “I have no need of you”? Can the Charismatic say to the Reformed, “I have no need of you”? Can the Reformed say to the Charismatic, “I have no need of you”?

All Things In Common

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Ac 2:44–45.

As I have said before, the passage in Acts 2:42-47 moves people today to ask the question, ““Why does the Church today look so different than the Church of Acts?”

I think verses 44 & 45 are the ones that make people believe the First Church is very different than our churches today.

Today, the only thing local churches have in common is the fact many of them have a building, with a pastor, who comes together every Sunday morning to sing songs, listen to a sermon, and then go home.

The monochurch culture has lead to many weak, poor, and ineffectual churches in our communities. Church buildings are in disrepair. Fellowships are scraping by just to pay the bills. Even within our congregations, there are people who struggle to feed their families.

This is where I believe the multichurch culture can shine.

Imagine people selling possessions to give to the needy, not just in their own church fellowship, but to help others in other churches – the homeless would have shelter, the hungry fed, the naked clothed.

Imagine if a larger church set aside resources in order to help a smaller church – buildings could be repaired, technology updated, and resources shared for the gospel.

Ask yourself, what would it look like for churches to have all things in common?

A multichurch culture involves more people, which brings together more resources, ideas, and energy than would monochurch culture.

“You keep using that word…”

In studying the topic of partnership and working together I found myself writing different phrases that mean the same thing:

Churches that partner together.

Churches that work together.

Partnering churches.

Churches who work alone.

To simplify my writing and note taking I am creating new words: multichurch, monochurch, and cochurch.

These aren’t the only ones I am sure to create in my lifetime. I don’t expect much publicity, or recognition pertaining to these words. Most people don’t remember who coined what word. Who coined the word megachurch?

If there is a megachurch, is there such a thing as a microchurch? Or are there only churches and megachurches? Anyways…

Let me define these terms and how I am going to use them.

Multichurch: an association of churches in an area partnered towards a goal or set of goals. This is different than a denomination in that several traditions will be in the same multichurch. Also, I did not want to use the word “ecumenical” because it tends toward a larger body, a global body. My focus will be more localized within a city, town, or area. I will also make use of “multichurch culture” to describe the paradigm I am promoting: a culture where local churches work together for evangelism and outreach.

Monochurch – a church that does not work with other churches, and may even work against other churches. These churches are sceptical of other traditions. Some may even see these churches as heretical. Monochurch culture refers the current culture within the Church today.

Cochurch – an individual church that exists within a multichurch (much like the word coworker). The church is partnered with another church or group of churches. I may not use this word as much as the others.

Tell me what you think? Do you think these words are adequate? Do you think they’ll catch on?

The First Church

Acts tells the story of the beginning of the Church. The first church grew from 120 people to over 3000 in one day. Reading Acts 2:42-47 we see a mega-church united in body and spirit.

Many read these passages and ask the question, “Why does the Church today look so different than the Church of Acts?” In Acts, they had “all things in common” and no one had need. Looking at the Church today, we are all divided, and we are all in need. The devil has done well to divide and conquer us.

How do we recover from our divisiveness, come together and help each other? I believe the answer lies within these passages in Acts.

Read Acts 2:42-47. Then answer these two questions:

  1. Where is the church building?
  2. Who is the head pastor?

Now, these items are not bad or unbiblical. Buildings and pastors are needed. One point I am making here is this: head pastors and buildings don’t make a church. What makes a church are believers that are devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ, to fellowship, communion, and prayer.

How the First Church functioned was this: meeting in homes to fellowship and being discipled by the Apostles and the other 108 souls that were filled with the Holy Spirit. They were one church, with one message, meeting in multiple buildings. If each house could hold 120 people, that would mean 25 house-churches was required for the First Church.

Incidentally, there are about 25 churches in my home city. Could we be one church, meeting in multiple locations, having the one message of the gospel of Jesus Christ? Can we have all things in common and have no one church, or one family, in need?