This is an article from the Mar-Apr 2017 issue: Networks

Coming Together Around a Common Biblical Vision

Coming Together Around  a Common Biblical Vision

 

Is it really possible for God’s people to work together in unity for the sake of God’s glory in all the earth and the spread of His kingdom to all peoples? If you look at Christian history over the last 2,000 years, you would fairly conclude that it is not. But things are changing in our day and the unity that we need that seems so impossible to achieve is more and more becoming the reality on the mission field.

In his “High Priestly Prayer” of John 17, Jesus prayed for his disciples and for us, those who would believe as a result of his first disciples, that we would be one so that the world would know that Jesus was sent from God and that we are loved by God. In verses 22 and 23 Jesus prayed to the Father for us, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

I believe that this prayer is in the process of being answered in our day. As this issue of MF describes in detail, the global mission community is increasingly coming together in networks and partnerships. There is the growing realization that the task is too big for any one organization to tackle and so much more can be accomplished by working together than can be done separately.

So what would the “complete unity” Jesus prayed for look like anyway? It will not be characterized by a large organization with a hierarchical command and control structure. The clear trend in both church and mission is towards a decentralization of power and control and a move towards the kinds of voluntary networks and partnerships described in this issue.  First of all, we have the unity of partaking of the same Holy Spirit. As followers of Jesus each of us is united in the Spirit. Beyond this, the unity Jesus prayed for will be a unity of vision and purpose where God’s people live on mission with Him in obedience to His word to do His will in His ways in the power of the Holy Spirit. We have been given our marching orders in Matt. 28:18-20 to go and make disciples who make more disciples and to do so in all peoples. The closer we get as the global church to abiding in Jesus and obeying what He has called us to do, the more unified we will be as His body—no matter how many moving parts that body may have. Disunity comes from a lack of submission to the authority of Jesus and a failure to obey what He has commanded us to do. It comes from a desire to do things our way rather than His way. The more we rely on the flesh instead of obey the word, the more disunity there will be.

Over the last 27 years, I have experienced first hand the kind of unity Jesus prayed for as I have lived on mission with God. I have worked with Jesus followers from many different backgrounds. I did not have complete unity with these fine servants of God on every aspect of doctrine, mission strategy, politics and a host of other topics but there were always certain things that we were unified around. We loved Jesus and we wanted everyone else within all peoples to love him too, and we were willing to give our lives to help make that a reality.

So What Is This Biblical Vision That Can Unite Us?

It really is not that complicated. As mentioned above, it is centered on simple obedience to what Jesus has asked all of us to do. Here are some suggestions based on what Scripture teaches.

We must provide access to the gospel and the knowledge of Christ to every person on earth. This sounds impossible but is actually doable if we focus on reaching every people group and fostering movements of discipleship in each one. If we employ the multiplication methods that Jesus modeled and Paul used until he could declare that there was “no place left” for him to work, (Rom. 15:23) then it is possible for every person to have access to the gospel. It is the power of exponential multiplication of disciples making disciples. It says in 2 Peter 3:9 that God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Obviously, not all will believe, but all people everywhere deserve to have access.

Every willing follower of Jesus must be equipped (discipled) to live on mission with God to make more disciples who likewise equip and make more disciples.  The “Great Commission” passage of Matt. 28:18-20 makes it clear that everyone who claims to be a Jesus follower is called to go and make disciples, “teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.” One of those commands is to make disciples so multigenerational discipleship is inherent in Jesus’ last words to us in this passage. Paul reinforces this multigenerational discipleship mandate in 2 Tim. 2:2 when he says to Timothy, “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach other.” In this passage we can see four generations of disciples. Whatever method we decide to use to make disciples, we must ask ourselves whether it is successful in producing multiple generations of disciples.

The “Great Commission,” Matt. 28:18-20 must become our identity as followers of Jesus. Very few churches regularly teach Matt: 28:18-20 as representing the call of Jesus upon all of our lives. This foundation stone of who we are as Jesus followers is often mistakenly taught as something that applies to a few special called out ones rather than something all of us are obliged to obey. This idea that a few are called and most are not brings great disunity to the body of Christ.  The regular and proper teaching of this passage would help greatly in bringing unity to the body of Christ as we work together on mission with God to make disciples and bring the gospel to every people. How can we say that Jesus is our King and we are part of His kingdom if we refuse to obey, not to mention teach, what our King has asked us to do?
 

We Must Love God and Love Our Neighbor In Matt. 22:37-40 Jesus said,  'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” How do we most effectively fulfill this commandment from Jesus? How do we love God with our whole being?  Jesus has given us some clues. In John 14:21, “ Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me.” In 1 John 2:5 it says, “But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him.” Love for God and obedience to what He has commanded are inseparable from each other.  Our obedience is also key to loving our neighbor. The most loving thing we can ever do for someone is to share the gospel with them. In 1 Peter 1:22, it says, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.”

We can move ever  closer to the complete unity that Jesus prayed for the more we are willing to obey what Jesus has asked us to do and to live on mission together with Him.

Comments

It’s seems to me Christ’s prayer is asking for much more that merely believers working together. He is asking for the complete visual display of the work of Christ to be one of oneness before the eyes of unbelievers. This seems like an obvious request where Jesus is asking believers to get rid of every visual display of separatedness. I’m thinking specifically of all of the brand name distinctions that believers parade around. In other words, institutionalism needs to be thrown off as disobedience to the heart of Christ. There is a whole infrastructure behind the brand name differentiation and factionalism.
1. Chain of command oriented leadership complete with titles and pecking order relationships. “You are all brothers” will never be practiced until “leaders” forsake their self elevating orientation.
2. Professionalized leadership. Anyone who thinks their “calling” from God is so important that they must devote “full time”, is an obvious display that they have low confidence in the power of the Spirit to create partnership among many believers to accomplish the same work. This dynamic has no confidence in the reproductive power of God. Paul had full confidence that God could reproduce his apostolic work into others - Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Barnabas, and so many more. You don’t see any of this in the professionalized version of leadership today, all of which must include institutional branding to protect the income stream to pay salaries.
3. Special buildings are required to get enough people in one room to get enough money to pay a salary. More people in one room is viewed as success in “ministry”, rather than more people in more places. A tragic side affect that goes with more people in one room dependent on one person is that the 58 “one another” instructions will not take place and will not be modeled by the “full time” leader. One way communication is where the confidence is place which is the opposite of God’s highly relational design.

When believers, even “full time” leaders, are walking by sight rather than by faith, they are unable to understand that institution free ministry could even take place and accomplish God’s purposes. They have never seen it, therefor it cannot be from God. They have seen God work at least in mediocre ways through the traditions handed to them by godly men from the past, so they would be unwilling to even interact or open their Bibles to recognize what God has specifically asked for that contradicts institutionalism.

It seems that many, if not most, existing “leaders” are controlled by the notion that if there is no institution, there is no organization, and therefore no “order”. They will never say that the work of Jesus and the apostles had no order, but there was no institution present, certainly no brand naming, and no professionalized “full time” orientation. I say this recognizing that at least 3 texts are twisted in their use to justify ignoring 8 texts that clearly teach combining marketplace work with spiritual leadership. With Paul, there was a clear distinction between receiving occasional financial help from saints in another town and getting money from those you are currently teaching. Occasional and out of town was fine, but cash from those you teach was considered a “burden” or “numbing” along with many other negative corruptions for intimacy and adaptability. The Biblical scholarship on this issue is very corrupt because they all want a full pay check from “ministry”.

This is all a package deal handed down to us that has an addictive affect on the souls of men. They cannot see “ministry” without it. The result is unbelievers can see in great display a divided version of faith in Christ. Pay check leaders don’t seem to give a hoot about this except occasionally with their lips only.

The power of God is the core of ministry, not the institutions, budgets, and chain-of-commands of men. There are places in the world where believers function without institutionalized structures and with non-existing budgets. It is here where the work of God is multiplying. Some institutionalized leaders will visit these location and be blind to the power of what is before their eyes.

Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Revelation 3: 2,3

Perhaps some institutionalized leaders would like to interact on this?

It is not so much that we favor institutions, it is that we favor accountability and measuring results. We are accountable to our supporters and we need to show them what our money and effort is going into. It is a faithful stewardship of what we are interested. We also need to measure results to help us understand the present situation and to plan for the future.

OMFDavidPat - Are you under the impression that “accountability and measuring results” only happens in a chain-of-command quality relationship, with brand names separating other believers into their own chain-of-command? My statements above are primarily concerned about the “local church” dominant system. “Accountability and measuring results” are almost non-existent. They consume 84% of their giving according to Leadership Journal’s article on normal church budgeting. American believers are deemed so weak this is required just to keep them walking in the door with some micro improvement in 10 years of consuming the giving. Will a hired Bible lecturer ever “fully train” his students to “be like him”? Luke 6:40. Will he ever “entrust” the teaching to “faithful men who will teach others also”? 2Tim2;1,2 Never! When he leaves after 20 years of “teaching” another hired expert must be hired to do everything he has done. Zero reproduction of the hired leader. This is complete un-accountability and non-measuring of stewardship. Many elements of this corruption are brought into mission institutions as well. There are so many rules of institution management that are direct rejections of the teaching of Jesus and Paul. When all missionaries come out of “local churches” that reject the “understanding” and “plan for the future” found in the NT, how can they function any other way but follow the traditions of men?

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