Zondervan very kindly sent me a copy of Your church is too small by John Armstrong to review. At first the title seems misleading – looking at the cover you initially wonder if the book is a defence of mega church development, but the strapline is the clue: “why unity in Christ’s mission is vital to the future of the church.” John passionately writes on possibly the biggest issue facing the church at the moment: how can the church be more united – especially in a world that sees a church focussing on issues of female bishops and homosexuality.
Armstrong starts us with the prayer of Jesus found in John 17 and a return to a relational unity in Christ that “should lead us to embrace a cooperational unity with other Christians…If Christ truly is the center, then we can move toward him and find fellowship with one another in the process.” This should lead to a fresh understanding of what it means to be part of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church as we read in the early creeds.
Section Two – Restoring Unity in the Church Today
He suggests that our common ground can be found in The Apostle’s Creed, a place where broad doctrine is embraced. He describes it as giving him “a place to stand with my brothers and sisters without having to surrender my core orthodoxy.” We need to avoid systems of doctrine that lead to divisive natures, and focus on Jesus whose “primary purpose for coming into the world was not to save us and take us to heaven; his central mission was to manifest the reign of God over all creation.” The solution “is for Christians to first cultivate a love for catholicity and then prayerfully reach across our divisions, challenging each other to embrace the mission of Christ together.”
Section Three – The Missional-Ecumenical Movement
It is clear that for us to move forward we need to tear down some of the present walls and barriers we have erected within the church. We should welcome all those who love Jesus. Rather than trying to distinguish between one another, as Armstrong argues we should “no longer spend precious time attacking other Christians.” We must do this because “The unity of the church is the sign and instrument of Christ’s mission.”
As churches and Christians we need to find more common ground: a focus on the sacraments, an acknowledgement of history and tradition, a commitment to personal growth and the work/ministry of the Holy Spirit. Armstrong concludes that “it is time for Christians to reconsider the ecumenical implications of believing that there is one holy catholic apostolic church,” and suggests that we start asking the right questions, making the kingdom central, and considering the blessing God has given in Christ Jesus.
Your Church is Too Small is good theology – a mixture of Armstrong’s personal faith journey with history and theology. He is so passionate for this topic – it’s clearly the book he was meant to write – the book no one else would write in the same way. He is clear that there are so many good ways that we can learn about Jesus from scripture, one another and history! Armstrong’s book is helpful at a time when unity is needed and yet spoken about so little. This book is dense, I found myself regularly having to re-read sections, not because of the language or style of writing, but because there was so much to process and think over.
Your Church Is To Small is written by John H. Armstrong and published by Zondervan. This book is an important book for the church and Christians to read. In the meantime, check out www.YourChurchIsTooSmall.com where you can find out more about John Armstrong, the book, and “Beyond the Book” articles.
Thanks to Zondervan for providing me an advance copy of this book.