LeaderLines - from Hillcrest Baptist Church, Austin, Texas  Contact Tom Goodman, Pastor
Manage Your Subscription -- Subscribe/Unsubscribe Contact Us About Your Subscription

Christ's Blueprint for his Church: Oneness
by Tom Goodman
March 26, 2010

If you're a church leader, it's important to review Christ's vision for his church.  As the Apostle's Creed summarizes it, we are to be "one," "holy," and a "communion."  In LeaderLines, lets take three weeks to reflect on each of those three words.

The first word to capture Christ's intent for his church is the word "one" -- "I believe in the one holy church."  If you've spent time in a church that regularly quotes the Apostles' Creed, you've probably heard the word "catholic" -- "I believe in the holy catholic church."  The word is an English transliteration of the Latin catholicam, which itself derived from the Greek word katholikos.  The word means "universal."  It speaks of the oneness of all believers around the world, across cultural lines, and down through the ages.  Today, though, most people understand the word "catholic" to refer to a specific branch of Christianity: the Roman Catholic Church.  Since a word that once referred to the oneness of all Christians is now identified with only a segment of the Christian body, I prefer simply to speak of the church as one instead of as catholic.

Jesus intended his church to be one.  On the night before he went to the cross, he prayed that his Father would bring believers to "complete unity" (John 17:23).  It's meaningful that the night before he was killed, he prayed that those whom he united to God through the cross would be united to each other.  After praying for the tiny band of disciples who had ministered with him, his thoughts turned to the future (John 17:20-23):

My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  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.  May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Now, in one sense, Christ's intent is already fulfilled.  Down through the ages and around the world, God's church transcends cultures, generations, languages, and governments.  In one of his letters, Paul uses the word "one" seven times in just three verses to speak of what we experience in church:  "There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:4-6).

Still, Jesus prayed, "May they be brought to complete unity," and that implies an unfinished process.  Disciples of Jesus have the responsibility to move toward the vision of one-ness Jesus intended.

As leaders, we have to teach disciples to do three things to fulfill our Lord's vision: connect, protect, and intersect.

First, we must connect with a specific congregation.  Other religions may say, "To know the purpose of life, obey these rules," or "take this path," or "meditate in this manner," or "practice this routine."  Jesus says, "To know the purpose of life, gather with others who love me.  Where two or three come together in my name, there I am with them" (see Matthew 18:20).

Second, we must protect the unity of that congregation.  The Bible tells believers, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3).  It takes work to achieve and to guard the oneness Jesus intended us to have.

Third, we must intersect our congregation with other congregations for meaningful causes.  On the one hand, believers are wrong if they acknowledge their membership with the universal body of all believers without any real connection with a particular congregation.  The universal church of all God's people around the world and across the ages is made real to you in one congregation that you make your church home.  On the other hand, believers are wrong if they simply affiliate with a particular band of fellow Christians without acknowledging their union to the other congregations.  Paul's perspective was the right perspective.  He addressed his first letter to the Corinthians with these words:  "To the church of God in Corinth," but then he added, "together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ -- their Lord and ours" (1 Corinthians 1:2).  Our commitment ought to be to a specific congregation even as we have consideration for "all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

If you spent some of your childhood days in church, or if you're taking your children to a church now, you've probably come across the little hand motions that teachers use to teach kids the habits of church attendance.  You weave your fingers together, palms up, and then fold your hands together so that the thumbs are before your face.  With your index fingers pointing upward as a kind of steeple, you say to the kids you're teaching, "Here's the church, here's the steeple," and then you open your hands and wiggle your linked-up fingers as you say, "Open the doors and see all the people."  I love Randy Frazee's reminiscence about that little rhyme.  He writes:

I have a son who was born without a left hand.  One day in Sunday school the teacher was talking with the children about the church.  To illustrate her point she folded her hands together and said, 'Here's the church, here's the steeple; open the doors and see all the people.'  She asked the class to do it along with her -- obviously not thinking about my son's inability to pull this exercise off.  Yet in the next moment it dawned on her that my son could not join in.  Before she could do anything about it, the little boy next to my son, a friend of his from the time they were babies, reached out his left hand and said, "Let's do it together."  The two boys proceeded to join their hands together to make the church and the steeple.

I can't think of a better way to illustrate the truth of that little children's rhyme!  Paul prayed, "May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:5-6).

Deciding to become a Christ-follower means joining other believers to fulfill the vision of oneness in our life together.  As church leaders, this is a vision worth putting in front of disciples.  Next week we'll look at the vision of holiness that Christ set out for our life together.

(This week's edition of LeaderLines is adapted from Chapter 14 of my book, "The Anchor Course: Exploring Christianity Together."  Learn more at www.AnchorCourse.org.)


LeaderLines is a weekly "e-briefing" providing valuable information and inspiration to those who serve at Hillcrest Baptist Church.

Do you know friends who would appreciate LeaderLines?  Just forward this e-mail to them!

Have you subscribed to LeaderLines?  You can subscribe by clicking here and following the instructions.  Your e-mail address will not be sold or given away to anyone, and you can automatically change your subscription or drop it by following the easy steps provided with each e-mail.