How will the church be one?
Jesus Christ was certainly a man of prayer, the ultimate prayer warrior. The text in James 5:16 says, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” In John 17:20-23, Jesus prays that all who believe in Christ will “be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me…” Is this an unanswered prayer? Was it ineffective? If effective, what does unity look like?
In a new book by John Armstrong, Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church, the author meticulously walks through the Scriptures and church history to show what church unity has looked like. He wrestles with the more recent efforts at church unity among ecumenicals, and then among Catholics and Evangelicals. Armstrong’s concludes with his proposal for a vision of church unity best described as “missional-ecumenism.”
What is missional-ecumenism? There’s a whole chapter in the book that describes what this is. (I wasn’t able to find a concise definition over a web search, and I didn’t want to type paragraphs from the book.) One reviewer noted that: [B]y “missional-ecumenism,” the author means that believers should have relational unity with God and one another, including unity in our mission as God’s “sent ones.” The author described that A missional-ecumenist will focus on sharing in the unity of the Trinity with other believers with the intention that the church really becomes a community for outsiders. We exist for them!
In a day and age where our society is buckling under a scarcity of time (cf. attention economy) I don’t see the momentum of the American church moving towards slowing down to build into the relational equity needed for unity around God’s mission for the world. Unfortunately, there are too many pressing concerns of sustaining the organizational side of a local church and the watching over doctrinal & theological purity. As beautiful as Jesus and John’s vision may be for unity of the church, it would take more than prayer to see this come to pass.