Restoring Unity is what the Christian Message is all about!

Christ's Message to the churches (Revelation)

In the first century churches, the first generation, there was already considerable misunderstanding about the essence of the Church which Christ was building & nurturing- His Kingdom community. Much of the Apostle Paul’s ministry as the Apostle to the Gentiles, had to deal with opposition from the Palestinian churches and their leaders. It should come as no surprise to those who read their Bible that much of his writings include elements of this division and his attempts to heal them. In his letter to the Ephesians it is the major theme- the purpose of God’s pleasure to “unite in Christ all things”; but it is also an integral part of his letter to the house churches of Rome.

In the last century, missional leaders from many diverse church traditions saw that our divisions were directly affecting our task in the world and that the time had come to move the theme of unity to the front burner of our efforts. This effort came to be known as the ecumenical movement and many gains were made by those that participated. But many churches, because of convictions, did not participate. Some condemned the efforts outright, some observed at a distance.

In the new century, much has changed for the churches; or has it? We find ourselves still in the midst of the same world with the same assignment from our King: preach the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, make disciples of all nations, and above all, live out the new life Christ has inaugurated. Some refer to a “new” ecumenism because it seems that many of those that were not officially a part of the “older” effort want to be distinguished from them. I personally feel this is wrong-headed and counter-productive to the very thing we’re focused on -unity. I love, respect, and esteem some of those who were leaders in bringing into being the World Council of Churches.

I just happen to be reading another book written by W.A.Visser’t Hooft, the first General Secretary, who served the churches with love and dedication for many years. Like another of his books, The Pressure of Our Common Calling, which I posted about earlier, this is a sound theological basis for the Church’s mission, edification, and unity. It is about the perennial importance of renewal grounded in the very character of the Church of God as the new creation in Christ.

I want to quote him at the place where he emphasizes that the whole Church-all the churches, must heed the imperatives addressed to the new creation. To me that means we can never settle for anything less than Biblical unity and diligently work towards that as a goal, knowing that it will come at the consumation of our redemption in Christ.

The need of the whole Church for repentance and renewal is most clearly shown in the second and third chapters of the Book of Revelation. It has often been pointed out that the seven churches to whom the letters are addressed represented the most flourishing part of the Church at that time. But more important is that according to the symbolic language of the author the seven churches clearly represent the Church as a whole. For seven is the figure of totality.

In these letters the whole Church is addressed. This is underlined by the fact that each letter is concluded by the solemn warning: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches”. The warning and promise received by each church is meant to be overheard and passed on by other churches and so to reach the whole Church.

Now it is significant that five of the seven letters are in the nature of calls to repentance. For that means that the Church as such is called to live the life of metanoia, of constant readiness to turn away from the path of this world and to let herself be renewed. And once again it is clear that renewal means living by the power of the new age. In the letter to the Church in Sardis repentance is identified with awakening (3:2,3). To be awake is to be ready for the Day of the Lord. ‘ Lo, I am coming like a thief. Blessed is he who is awake’ (16:15).

The churches are called to remember from what they have fallen (2:5) or what they have received and heard (3:3). That is to say they are to realize again that they represent the new creation. If they do, if they turn resolutely away from the old age, then they will receive the new name (2:17 and 3:12) and be counted as belonging to the new Jerusalem (3:12). Such a metanoia is in this world never a completed process; it is to be actualized and implemented every day anew. – The Renewal of The Church, p.47 (1956)

Restoring or renewing the unity of the Church of Christ is never easy work. Church history for almost 2000 years will tell us that. But progress in recent decades has been made- perhaps more than at any other time. This is what our Lord intends and if we are serious about following Him, we have no other path. Unity is not optional for the Church nor for any indivdual Christian. All of us must make it a part of our prayers and efforts by the grace of God and for His fame on earth. This season of Eastertide is a great time to make this a priority in our spiritual journey of faith.

see “Reasons for Neglecting God’s priority

The Open Secret of the Unity Vision.

The last century witnessed a monumental effort on the part of Christian leaders to promote the vision of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It grew out of , among other things, The Student Volunteer Movement which embraced the watchword, “The evangelization of the world in our generation”. This movement saw a vision of one mission incumbent on the whole Church of Jesus Christ and took serious and deliberate action to realize that vision. Their hearts were captive to a greater loyalty. The movement formally began in 1886 and according to at least one researcher, Michael Parker, had ended by 1926. (see The Kingdom of Character, American Society of Missiology, 1998).

The SVM movement

This movement is just one part of what led to the first World Conference on Christian missions at Edinburgh, 1910. Out of this conference developed the missionary thrust of the twentieth century and the ecumenical movement that became The World Council of Churches. Now thanks to the age of the internet, this same vision is entering not only a new millennium, but most definitely an important new chapter- one my friend John Armstrong calls, missional-ecumenism.

In his new book, “Your Church is Too Small“, an enormous amount of detail is made available for those that consider themselves loyal to the same vision and actively pray for and work at promoting this same vision for the whole church. Will it advance beyond what those of the twentieth century were able to take it? That will depend on the church in every place obediently becoming the church in both word and deed. The future of the church will certainly look different than the past two thousand years. But it cannot and must not forget what has gone before-certainly not the efforts, gains, and victories of the twentieth century both in terms of practicing her oneness and sacrificing herself for her mission to the world.

I cannot realistically hope that the churches will research the documents that I have over the last forty plus years. Missiology is a highly specialized discipline along with many others in the area of Christology and Ecclesiology. But with the age of the internet, ignorance of how the churches of the twentieth century saw the essence of their calling and how they went about fulfilling that calling must now be apart of any serious attempt to celebrate and promote the oneness of the world-wide church. The information is at our finger-tips for us to get up to speed on every part of the body of Christ. Just one of the beautiful things this means is that no part of the church is insignificant. In a whole new way every tradition within Christianity is reduced to a level playing field regardless of their size.

In my post tomorrow, I will introduce you to just one very important stream that we all surely need to know about. The Mennonite churches. So what about you? Are you content to just surf this web, or does it have something to do with what you have chosen to be loyal to; what you have given your heart to?

Listen to John’s introduction and see if you don’t hear this “Greater Loyalty”!

 

Kenneth Scott Latourette

Kenneth Scott Latourette

The Perspective from a 20th Century Historian

Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968)

This is just one of many outstanding Christians waiting for me to introduce here on E4Unity blog- my wish list for the Saint’s Gallery. But I want to go ahead and introduce him so I can put up a quote from a little book published in 1948 on what I believe is now coming to pass in Christianity and what we’ve already introduced in several previous blogs: a radical re-evaluation (heart-searching) of how the people of the Christian Faith should function in today’s world.

Dr. Latourette was perhaps the most recognized historian of Christianity in the twentieth century. An expert on China and the Orient, author of volumes on the history of the Christian Faith down through the centuries. He taught at Yale University from 1921 to 1953, served as Department of Religion Chairman, and Director of Graduate Studies at the Divinity School. The man was an intellectual giant. We really should know something about men and women of the past like this if we hope to know what’s going on in our world today.

In his Presidential Address to the American Society of Church History in 1945, he spoke on “The Future of Christianity in the Light of it’s Past”, considering the mid-century following two world wars an urgent time for the Church to do an evaluation of where they had been and what the future may have in store. In the years 1946 and 1947 he spoke at more than a dozen Seminaries and Universities on the subject which was later published in a book which I am fortunate to have on my desk, “The Christian Outlook“.

I have already brought up the theme for some of my posts in the coming year, the 100th celebration of the great World Missionary Conference held at Edinburg in 1910 and the celebrations in various parts of Christendom scheduled to take place to commemorate this most significant date in the History of Christian missions.

I will begin with some quotes from the book above that I think you will find most timely some  sixty years later.

The word ‘Christianity’ never occurs in the New Testament. Gospel is there and it is the Gospel which gives rise to Christianity and which is the source of its vitality. So long as any branch or expression of Christianity is a channel of the Gospel it lives. When it ceases to be a channel for the Gospel it becomes sterile and withers.

Latourette spends a number of pages, reluctantly, describing for us his own convictions regarding the Gospel, for he was convinced that it was only from the vantage (perspective) of the Gospel as presented in Holy Scripture that ” we can presume to look into the future to the near and far outlook for Christianity and for humankind”.

At the outset we must remind ourselves of the meaning of the word ‘Gospel. It is simply the Anglo-Saxon, for Good News, or Joyful message. . .The New Testament rings the changes on that note. The stories of the birth are filled with it. It is the spirit of the Magnificant, of the Benedicdus, of the Nunc Dimittis, of the announcement to the shepherds, and of the angelic song.

Jesus compared himself and his disciples to a wedding party. There is joy over the sinner who repents; the feasting and the joy over the return of the lost son; the joy of one who, seemingly by chance, when not looking for it, discovers the treasure hidden in the field; the joy of the pearl mercahant who has made it his business to seek and then finds; the joy of which we hear on the eve of the crucifixion and which was left as legacy to the disciples. There is the joy of the resurrection, when the disciples were so full of it that they could scarcely believe what they had seen. After they could no longer meet their Lord in the flesh, the early disciples continued that same experience of joy. They rejoiced with “joy unspeakable.” One of the outstanding ‘fruits of the spirit’ which they found working in them was joy.

So, through the centuries since, men and women of many different races and cultures have found this same joy. Martin of Tours, who as a soldier gave himself wholly to the Christ of the Gospel and left his occupation to be a pioneer in the monastic way to which he believed that dedication called him, impressed by his joy those who were attracted to him. Bernard of Clairvaux sings of ‘ Jesus thou joy of loving hearts’. Francis of Assisi and his early band were troubadours of God, joyous in spite and in part because of their elf-assumed poverty. Luther is a herald of joy. . .

Moody is captured by the ‘Good News’ and in unlearned language tells it to the masses. In simple, unsophisticated ‘Gospel hymns’ his associates and thousands since have sung of the wonder which they have glimpsed. This joy is our privilege today. Through all the ages to come it will continue to be part of the Gospel.

READ Biography  at History of Missiology: ” Classic writings in the history of Protestant Mission thought.”