Last month, I received a review copy of Your Church is Too Small by John H. Armstrong (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009). From the buzz that I heard about this book, I was very excited to read and review this book.
When Armstrong says, “Your church is too small,” he does not refer to the size of a church building or to the number of people who meet together. Instead, Armstrong refers to “our all too common penchant for placing limits on Christ’s church – limits that equate the one church with our own narrow views of Christ’s body.” He has two purposes in writing this book: 1) for the reader to understand his/her own spiritual identity and 2) to better understand the mission of the church. Armstrong believes, and convincingly argues, that the two (unity and mission) are interrelated.
The book is a combination of exegesis (primarily of Jesus’ prayer in John 17), historical study, personal experience, and theological reflection. The argument is based primarily on the conclusion that the unity for which Jesus prays in John 17 is not only a spiritual or eschatological unity, but a relational unity that all believers should strive to maintain.
Armstrong’s book is divided into three parts: past, present, and future. In the first section, the author traces his own journey from sectarianism toward unity. He also reviews the perspective of the early church on unity given the four classical marks of the church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
Next, in his section on the present, considers how the church can restore unity today. Armstrong suggests that the cause of disunity in the church today is sectarianism based on intellectual certitude. Instead, the church should be recognized as local, city-wide, and universal, with a focus on the kingdom instead of the local congregation.
Finally, in his section on the future, Armstrong recommends missional-ecumenism as a way forward toward unity. By “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.”
Throughout the book, Armstrong demonstrates that unity is more than a good idea. Instead, it is our primary apologetic. He says, “How we act and treat one another really matters, because our actions represent the nature and identity of God to those who do not know him.”
Furthermore, Armstrong encourages the respect and consideration of different Christian traditions. All believers have traditions, and Christianity has a basic tradition that was handed down throughout the ages (often called the “Rule of Faith”). Problems arise when our traditions teach us that we are part of the one, true church while all other traditions are in error.
Instead of asking who is in and who is out when it comes to the church, the author recommends that we encourage active faith of all who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.
This is an important book. I recommend it highly. However, I do not want this to be a book that I just read and encourage others to read. Armstrong describes a unity that cannot remain a concept; it must be lived. This is the direction that I’ve been moving, and a reality that I want to continue to seek.
In a future post, I’m going to discuss some real problems toward unity and, hopefully, start a discussion that can help us all live in unity as brothers and sisters in Christ – not by demanding uniformity, but by appreciating our diversity.