Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Book Review: Your Church Is Too Small by John H. Armstrong

The lack of unity within Christianity—by it's broadest defintion—has long been a point of tension for believers and a point of ridicule for nonbelievers. I myself have felt this tension, and John Armstrong addresses it in Your Church Is Too Small. The divisions between Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant (and the further denominational splits therein) can feel a far cry from the unity of believers one might expect after reading through the New Testament. I speak of those three branches of Christianity because those are the groups Armstrong is addressing. Yet the simple fact is that everyone under the broad umbrella of Christianity—branch, denomination, and individual alike—must first determine what Scripture considers the true believers and the church before we can work towards unity within it.

And here, it seems, we find the sticking point for many both today and throughout Christian history. The simple definition—and Armstrong's most often used definition—of the genuine believers would be those who have trusted Christ for salvation and have received the gift, promise, and seal of the Holy Spirit. Yet, for all it's objectivity according to Scripture, those objective marks remain unseen and unavailable to us in our pursuit for unity.

He also suggests that all three branches of Christianity share a core orthodoxy, or "core truths shared by all Christians everywhere". But even here there seems to be a wide variation among the understandings and applications. Indeed, I would suggest that the divergent understandings of these core truths are actually a contributor to our lack of unity, not a step toward the solution. We are united in Christ, yet we cannot ignore doctrine or core truth because by it we learn and understand how we are united to Christ. Moreover, one cannot even communicate the Gospel absent of doctrine, core truth and orthodoxy.

If we consider the example that the apostles modeled for us, they called for and pursued unity. They seemed to encourage unity in fellowship even when there was not unanimity in beliefs. Yet at times they too disassociated from—even attacked—certain teachers and sects.

I feel Armstrong made one of his strongest points when he differentiated between unity and unanimity. While I don't have unanimity with my denomination, my church or even my pastor, there is certainly a strong sense of unity. This same unity minus unanimity would do well to grow between denominations and beyond.

So I am sympathetic to Armstrong's position in his desire for unity. I am grateful for the conversation he is engaging in. I hope this book serves to temper the backbiting, the bickering, the theological grandstanding that makes the Church look infantile in the eyes of the world. I pray Your Church Is Too Small will contribute to a stronger and more winsome—and not a watered down or compromised—Gospel.

This book was a free review copy provided by Zondervan Books.

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