From Dave Black Online:
In theology class recently we discussed the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel. Let me outline what I said. (Much of what we discussed was based on an essay I wrote several years ago for a somewhat obscure journal called the Criswell Theological Review. The essay is titled “Structure and Style in John 17.” If you would like a copy, let me know.)
The church consists of people who know God personally through Jesus Christ. These people come from many different cultures and backgrounds. There are as diverse as diverse can be. Yet they are all one, united in the very same way that Jesus is united with His Father. What does this unity look like? This is a question to which scholars have given many different answers. What is absolutely certain is that unity does not mean uniformity. It has nothing whatsoever to do with bland sameness. It involves a unity of spirit, an identity of purpose, and a commitment to brotherly love. One evangelical scholar argues that the church is like a huge army marching under different regimental banners. It is not supremely important what regiment we belong to. What matters is that we all follow the commanding officer.
I resonate with this analogy. For many years now I have reenacted the American Civil War. Each regiment has its own customs, flags, esprit, and idiosyncrasies. Yet despite the fact that the army marches under many different flags, each regiment is expected to obey the commanding officer and work together as a unit.
As followers of Christ, we must never forget that Jesus came into the world to inaugurate the kingdom of God. In this kingdom, national and tribal allegiances are unimportant. They are superseded by our loyalty to our Commander-in-Chief. If, by a miracle, unity ever became a “first order” category in our Bible-believing, evangelical churches, evangelism might become our one overmastering passion. I am told that as a Baptist I must fight for Baptist distinctives. Some would go further. They would say that I am not to eat the Lord’s Supper with those who hold to “wrong doctrine” — pedobaptism, for example. How avidly we cling to our distinctives! But our supreme aim can NEVER be to exalt our own regiment. The Commander asks us to follow Him. And if we make that our aim, surely we will realize that the things that unite us in the kingdom are much more important than the things that divide us.
In a word, evangelicals are to be a people who are united for the Gospel. The kingdom of God transcends every manmade barrier we can erect — race, education, gender, color, background, nationality. Think of the leadership of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1). They had a Cypriot (Barnabas), a dark-skinned man (Simeon “the black”), a North African (Lucius from Cyrene), an aristocrat (Manaen, a member of the Herodian family), and a Jew (Saul of Tarsus). What made their joint leadership possible? I dare say that the “fellowship of the Spirit” (Phil. 2:1) was more important to them than their obvious differences. That humble attitude paid handsomely. The congregation at Antioch became a missionary sending church, as every local church should be.
I believe that most churches today could do a great deal more to encourage this outlook. We can hold city-wide meetings with other congregations, or we can combine services with the church next door, or we can come together for prayer meetings. Perhaps this would help us catch a glimpse of the true catholicity of the church. It is necessary to emphasize that we must depend completely on the Holy Spirit if we are to achieve such unity. The Spirit was given to us, not to make us comfortable, but to make us missionaries. It was the Spirit who drove Paul and the other early missionaries to “struggle together in one soul for the faith of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:28). It is He who dismantles our pride and enables the lovely fruit of the Spirit to take root in our lives. This, I believe, is what Jesus prayed for in John 17 — a church whose fellowship was real and vibrant, and a church devoted to evangelism.
When the Spirit is freely welcomed among us again, who knows what the results might be?
P.S. I should note that I do not reenact the Civil War because I seek to glorify that war or any war for that matter. Quite the opposite. I seek to educate the public about what life was like in the encampments of the period.
David Alan Black is author of The Jesus Paradigm and the forthcoming book Christian Archy from Energion Publications along with 20 titles from other publishers. This extract from his blog is used by permission.