Jesus’ Prayer for Unity

Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. John 17:11

Years ago I had the privilege of asking Dr John MacArthur (pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and one of the world’s most eminent Bible teachers) about the verse above. If Jesus Christ prayed for unity, I inquired, why is the church divided into so many factions? His response was simple and to the point: Jesus’ prayer was answered. Christians are united in Christ, regardless of the absence of any visible evidence to the fact.

I have always held a deep respect for John MacArthur, but his answer really did not satisfy me. Like many others, I simply could not believe that the unity that Christ had in mind was merely the mystical union of Christ’s body in “heavenly places”. Surely this unity was an obvious conclusion after Pentecost and did not need to be prayed into existence by Jesus? No, I was convinced that Jesus prayed for a practical, visible expression of the spiritual unity between Christians.

The main problem with my understanding of this issue has to with the seeming practical impossibility of it ever happening, which explains why many scholars are reluctant to accept it. Reformed Christians frown at Charismatics and call them happy-clappies, only to be called the frozen chosen in return. Catholic nuns have no desire to become fundamentalists, and so on. Denominations, it seems, are here to stay.

Yet it cannot be denied that millions of Christians worldwide are finding one another outside denominational boundaries on an unprecedented scale. Some prefer to remain in their churches, others are leaving in droves. Whilst European cathedrals are becoming museums, non-denominational house churches are mushrooming worldwide. This revolutionary new Christianity, it seems, is also here to stay.

So, instead of being critical, why don’t we rather ask: Is Jesus’ prayer being answered?

(Bloemnuus 9 January 2010)

Christ our Life

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation… 1 Corinthians 1:30

When one studies the works of the great devotional Christian authors a common theme emerges: The centrality and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Writers like Andrew Murray, Oswald Chambers, A.W. Tozer and Watchman Nee did not become famous because of great literary skills but because of their unswerving commitment to Jesus Christ. The title of one Nee book summarises it well: “Christ, the Sum of All Spiritual Things”.

Countless Christians have drawn the same conclusions as these writers without ever having read their books. The reason? They read the Bible, and the focal point of the Bible is Jesus Christ. The New Testament paints a much more comprehensive picture of Jesus Christ than the traditional ones that many of us have grown up with. For instance, millions of Christians have been taught that Christ died for us, but only a fraction of them realise that he also lives for us. As Paul wrote: “I live no longer but Christ lives his life in me” (Gal.2:20). Living by the life of Christ is what Christianity is all about. In Col. 3:4 we read that “Christ is our life” and in 2 Cor.4:10 that the life of Jesus must be manifested in our bodies.

This glorious truth does not only apply to our personal faith but also to its corporate expression. When Christians gather together they do so to manifest the life of Christ. The body of Christ under the headship of Christ must be made evident for Christ to be revealed, and this can only happen when all members are encouraged to share Christ.

Worldwide Christians are beginning to do this, with remarkable results, proving that the priesthood of all believers is not just a theological idea but a practical possibility.

(Bloemnuus  26 November 2010)

What’s in a Name?

Is it any coincidence that the first man-made religious effort in history included a building project, the desire for a name and a split soon afterwards? I think not. Paul Zietsman, who is part of a house church down in the Cape, sent me the following:

Something I have been pondering for a while:

Is “denomination” not the actual stronghold of the institutional church?

Why do I think thus?

To unite together under a name (except that of Christ) is a phenomenon of man which first reared its head at Babel:

And they said, Come, let us build us a city and a tower, and its top in the heavens. And let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered upon the face of the whole earth. (Gen 11:4)

I realised that without a name:

You cannot register and own property…

You cannot open a bank account…

You cannot apply for authorisation or recognition of your organisation…

You cannot be taxed…

You cannot blow your own trumpet…

You cannot peddle your brand…

You cannot hold people together…unless there is a greater binding factor…

To put it the other way around….If you remove the name (denomination) the institutional church cannot exist, it will collapse overnight. No buildings, or bonds, no payroll, no bank account. There must be a registered name to be a recognised legal entity. The New Testament church existed and flourished without these entrapments (individuals in the church owned property, assets etc. but not the church). The NT church was never a “legal entity” and therefore it was impossible for even the Roman Empire to get a grip on them. That is why governments in the East Bloc and China all approve of the state-recognised churches. They are registered, can be prosecuted and controlled. You cannot outlaw something that does not even have a name. They can forbid gatherings (as they do in some countries) but they cannot get a grip on this – as they cannot get a grip on the underground church. But as soon as a name is registered (guess who approves registrations, and thus who has an unspoken hold and authority over the church…and who can then make laws that govern those organistaions who apply for approval and recognition…and then lawsuits can be filed, like Laurie Gaum sued the Dutch Reformed Church for ending his employment.) A name gives the powers of this world control.

So now we see churches trying to form a unity, and they can become “inter-denominational” but they cannot drop the names altogether, because then they will cease to exist.