“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.” Too often, these words of Jesus from John 17:20-21 seem like an unreachable ideal. But in Your Church Is Too Small, John Armstrong shows that Jesus’ vision of Christian unity is for all God’s people across social, cultural, racial, and denominational lines. “With attention to his own pilgrimage and growth in ecclesial awareness, John Armstrong explores here the evangelical heart and ecumenical breadth of churchly Christianity. I am encouraged by his explorations and commend this study to all believers who pray and labor for the unity for which our Savior prayed.” – Timothy George, senior editor, Christianity Today. “Dr. Armstrong’s irenic approach should make it easy for Christians—whether Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant—to engage the challenging thesis of the book, while recognizing that there remain points of doctrine between them which will require further clarification. Anyone concerned about either evangelism or Christian unity should read this book, and take seriously its call for both mission and ecumenism.” – Fr. Thomas A. Baima, Provost, University of Saint Mary of the Lake John Armstrong is one of those Evangelical theologians—may their tribe increase and the valley abound with their tents—who know that full obedience to Christ embraces the historical transmission through which we know him. This book refuses to scale down the bearer of that tradition—the historical church, that is—or reduce the authority of its voice. – Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon, senior editor, Touchstone “It's a must for anyone who has grown weary with Christian divisiveness and schism and longs to discover ways of strengthening the bonds that unite us in the Spirit of Christ.” – Chuck Colson
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Your Church Is Too SmallWhy Unity in Christ's Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church
By John H. Armstrong
ZondervanCopyright © 2010 John H. Armstrong
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Road to the Future
You can best think about the future of the faith after you have gone back to the classical tradition. Robert E. Webber
When all is said (and truly said) about the divisions of Christendom, there remains, by God's mercy, an enormous common ground. C. S. Lewis
No one dare do contemporary theology until they have mastered classical Christian thought. Karl Barth
THE CHURCH TODAY IS MOVING through a significant time of transition. Some Christians have referred to this as a second Reformation or perhaps a fourth Great Awakening. What we know for sure is that cultural megashifts are rapidly occurring as globalization becomes more than simply an economic reality.
THE PAST CAN LEAD US TO THE FUTURE
New patterns of Christian faith and life are emerging in the church. I welcome these patterns, but I believe they desperately need to be rooted in the past-the creeds, the Word of God understood as the story of grace, life as a sacramental mystery, and deeply rooted spiritual formation. My thesis is simple: The road to the future must run through the past. My friend, the late Robert Webber, called it "ancient-future faith." I share his perspective because the church must be rooted in the past and the future.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ in human history is our story. All Christians are spiritually united with the glorified Christ through the gift of the Holy Spirit. This results in a collective story that we live together in the present-yet also a story that has been powerfully shaped by the historical events and traditions of nearly two thousand years. Our modern story confuses us at times. The church gives mixed signals. Our historical past sometimes embarrasses us, especially if we know our profound inconsistencies. Nevertheless, as people of faith this is "our" story. Why?
True Christian faith is not found in personal religious feelings but in the historical and incarnational reality of a confessing church. Therefore, if we refuse to come to grips with our past, our future will not be distinctively Christian. The result will be new forms of man-made religion that embrace recycled heresies.
For almost two thousand years, Christians have lived the mystery of the apostolic faith and passed it on through personal stories, sermons, creeds, and common practices. But American Christians have a unique predilection to approach the Christian faith as if what we know is vastly more relevant than what previous generations knew. To do so is naive at best and dangerous at worst. It has led a generation of Christians to assume that they know perfectly well who Jesus is, apart from any instruction in ancient Christian tradition. America has, in fact, become a breeding ground for new religions and sects. Now we export these to Africa, Asia, and Latin America, which results in thousands of new denominations and splinter groups and an unimaginable number of cults. Something about all this tribalism rightly disturbs younger Christians.
Building one's faith and life on various passages in the Bible understood through private experience results in nothing less than a confusing cacophony of Christian noise. This situation is precisely what this book will challenge. I will make a case for how the one church of Jesus Christ, ministering out of its spiritual unity in Christ and rooted in core orthodoxy, can best serve Christ's mission.
SCRIPTURE IS GOD'S SUPREME WITNESS TO CHRIST
My foundational premise is that Scripture bears the supreme witness to the living Christ, the final revelation of God. Christ has promised to build his church (Matthew 16:18). The visible church must be rooted in Scripture. But the great traditions of historical, incarnational, and confessional Christianity all flow from Scripture and the life of the church. Scripture alone, without human life and community consensus, is subject to every human whim and fancy. History demonstrates the danger of such an approach.
We must learn to listen to the witness of the whole church through Scripture. The Scriptures are "the word of God [and thus] alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates ..." (Hebrews 4:12). The Scriptures illumine the minds of God's people in every culture and context. By them, we freshly perceive truth as the Holy Spirit reveals Christ. The whole church comes to know God's wisdom and character through the Holy Scriptures. Christians believe that Scripture is perfect in all it affirms and authoritative for all people and cultures.
But the Christian church is flawed, sometimes profoundly so. After all, the church is a worldwide fellowship of human persons with all their personal and collective flaws. But we remain Christ's church. He promised to build his church, and he has kept his promise-a promise he will continue to keep until he comes again.
THE CHURCH: UNIFIED AND DIVERSE
During the first 1,800 years of Christian history almost no one understood the church as a myriad of independent and unrelated congregations and movements that interpreted the Bible as each saw fit. Even the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers, especially magisterial men like Martin Luther and John Calvin, understood that there was an established historical foundation deeply rooted in the Scripture. The creeds and the doctrines taught by a consensus of the early church fathers were continually appealed to by all the great Protestant Reformers. For them, common faith was expressed in the earliest ecumenical creeds. The Reformers never encouraged people to pick through the Bible and concoct a better version of Christianity.
Growing evidence indicates the church is coming together in a new expression of unity and diversity. This is happening through the work of the Holy Spirit, reminding us that the church is the creation of God. This new expression is shaped by mission and ecumenism.
HOW THE AMERICAN MEGASHIFT WENT BAD
I have no doubt that the church in the West will undergo significant shifts in the coming decades, shifts that are already underway and incline some to radically rethink the church. The outcome could be widespread confusion. A diluted understanding of the once-and-for-all nature of faith could lead many to change virtually everything about the nature and form of the church. There are scores of books that take this approach, arguing intensely that the postmodern condition requires a complete revolt against historic Christianity. I see a much better solution.
Much rethinking about the church is confused precisely because it seeks an ideal church while denying the actual reality of the historical church. I advocate what is often called critical realism, which involves a positive yet critical response to the past and allows the past to be properly linked with a biblically hopeful view about what God will do in the age to come. My critical realism is rooted in several places: the study of Scripture, the story of the historical church, the foundation laid down by the earliest Christian leaders in the ecumenical creeds, and the various movements of the Holy Spirit that have renewed the church through the years. The Christian church is not a perfect community but is comprised of a redeemed people called to continual repentance in the gospel.
Excerpted from Your Church Is Too Small by John H. Armstrong Copyright © 2010 by John H. Armstrong . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by J. I. Packer....................11
1. The Road to the Future....................17
2. My Journey to Catholicity Begins....................26
3. Searching for the Elusive Truth....................34
4. The Jesus Prayer for Our Unity....................41
5. Our Greatest Apologetic....................50
6. Christ the Center....................59
7. The Four Classical Marks of the Church....................66
8. How Can We Restore Unity?....................77
9. The Cause of Our Disunity....................86
10. Sectarianism: Our Enemy....................92
11. Thinking Rightly about the Church....................102
12. The Servant Church and the Kingdom....................114
13. What Place Should We give to Tradition?....................123
14. Searching for the True Church....................135
15. Who is a Real Christian?....................146
16. The Missional-Ecumenical Church....................153
17. A New Paradigm....................165
18. What Does the Missional-Ecumenical Paradigm Look Like?....................175
19. Disturb Us, Lord!....................191
What People are Saying About This
“If the late Lesslie Newbigin could offer today’s Church an exhortation---a reminder from the past, an assessment of the present, and encouragement for the future---what would the old Bishop say? In what he terms “missional ecumenism,” John Armstrong proposes an answer that confronts readers with the universal shape of Christian identity.” -- Chris Castaldo
“The Apostle Paul wrote that 'maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace' among the followers of Jesus Christ is 'hard work' (Eph. 4:3). Few people know that better than John Armstrong. In a day when everything about the contemporary Church militates against oneness, John Armstrong is struggling to break down the walls we've built up so that the world can see Jesus in all His variegated richness, in the fullness of the one Body of Christ. Your Church is Too Small provides the blueprints and marching orders for a new generation of Church-builders (capital C) from among those who are building local churches in all the communions of the Body of Christ.” -- T.M. Moore
“This book maps out the painful yet liberating trek from sectarian isolation to the spirit of orthodox unity. In opening oneself to fellow believers, there is no escaping the tension between purity and embrace. No one can sort out that puzzle this side of the Second Coming. But Armstrong's book gives courage and strength for the journey. Read this book, take heart, and go forth.” -- David Neff
“Dr. Armstrong’s irenic approach should make it easy for Christians, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, to engage the challenging thesis of the book, while recognizing that there remain points of doctrine between them which will require further clarification. Anyone concerned about either evangelism or Christian unity should read this book, and take seriously its call for both mission and ecumenism.” -- Fr. Thomas A. Baima
“John Armstrong is one of those Evangelical theologians---may their tribe increase and the valley abound with their tents---who know that full obedience to Christ embraces the historical transmission through which we know Him. This book refuses to scale down the bearer of that tradition---the historical church, that is---or reduce the authority of its voice.” -- Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon
“A growing appreciation for Catholicism---the whole church, spread across the whole world---is one of the most hopeful signs emerging within recent evangelicalism. John Armstrong’s astute, heartfelt book provides excellent guidance for the 21st-century evangelical rediscovery of the classical church and its rich tradition.” -- Rodney Clapp
“Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians who call Jesus Lord are obligated to fulfill His Great Commission and His New Commandment to love one another. Our lack of visible unity and ecumenical charity hinders our mission. John Armstrong’s Your Church Is Too Small is a humble, honest, and open-hearted summons to “re-size” our churches (and our hearts) by taking seriously the prayer Jesus prayed for us on the eve of His Crucifixion. May this encouraging, provocative, and practical book not only be read widely, but also be acted upon out of love for the One who saves us all.” -- James M. Kushiner
“With attention to his own pilgrimage and growth in ecclesial awareness, John Armstrong explores here the evangelical heart and ecumenical breadth of churchly Christianity. I am encouraged by his explorations and commend this study to all believers who pray and labor for the unity for which our Savior prayed.” -- Timothy George