The Importance of the Church & Church Unity

While the Church (with a capital “C”) is broadly defined as “the people of God,” the institutional church, as a community of faith, has been a historical reality since the beginning of Christianity. Alister McGrath writes, “the institution of the church is...to be seen as a necessary, helpful, God-given, and God-ordained means of spiritual growth and development.” (M, 383) It is clear that, while individuals and independent parachurch organizations bring many strengths and gifts to both the body of believers and the world, we must seek the flourishing and building up of the institutional church, wherever possible. This means seeking to form missional partnerships rooted in the church, affirmed by church leaders, and crossing cultural borders. The resources below will point out that too much outsourcing and specialization by outside organizations can strip away the church’s central purpose, keeping it from its missional identity and going into maintenance mode.

Sadly, Christianity has never been more separated, fractured, and fragmented as it is in America. There is no quick fix, but we need to begin a humble dialogue with brothers and sisters who appear different yet have share so much in common. Dialogue is needed across denominations between church leaders, church members, and with parachurch (non-profit, ministry) organizations. This can be done on a local and global level. Missional living can help us separate the essentials and non-essentials of our faith so that we may learn to work together and become more unified by joining God in his love for the world.

Our understanding of the church, the role of the church, and what authority the institutional church has will play a major role in a) how you serve at home; and b) how you go about serving abroad. Is the local church involved in your cross-cultural partnerships? Do you operate as part of a church or as an independent entity? What accountability and support do you receive from a church? Are their leaders from churches involved in your decisions? More specifically to foreign missions, should we work directly with local people, even if there are churches and leadership in place to serve them? Do we seek to develop relationships and receive permission from local congregations, pastors, etc.? Do we respect the denominational leadership structure in that country? There are many ways to go about this, with their own unique challenges, but asking these types of questions and holding them in prayer will place us on the right path.

Books:

Transforming Mission by David Bosch

The Evangelical Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission 1977-1984 ed. by John Sott and Basil Meeking

Evangelicals and Catholics Together - a project in which J.I. Packer was highly involved

Whose Religion is Christianity by Lamin Sanneh

Co­Operating in World Evangelization: A Handbook on Church/Para­Church Relationships by Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization


Videos:

Ross Hastings on Essentials and Non-essentials