“But here is the reality that is more real to me than ever before. The same Lord who has been at work in His people throughout the centuries in people, and in ways that we have not always fully comprehended, is at work through multiple streams of global Christian expression today.”
An expansive view of the Body of Christ
“How big is your church?” is a common question that has been asked of pastors and congregational members for years. The focus is usually on the number of people who attend weekend services. This has been a very difficult question to answer recently in light of capacity limits and online views.
I would like to ask the question from a different angle. When you think of the Lord’s church globally, how expansive is your view of those who are our sisters and brothers in Christ? Today, whom does Jesus number as His own? It may be above and beyond what we can comprehend.
Historically, Pentecostals have tended to have large gaps in their understanding of the church and its history. Understandably, we are captivated by the first-century church, often described by us as the New Testament church. We then tend to fast-forward through most of the next two millenniums, with some pauses, to engage the Reformation in the 16th century, and the revivals within the Western church of the 18th and 19th centuries, until we arrive at the early 20th century. Since that point, we have studied and celebrated the worldwide Pentecostal revival and the ongoing work of the Spirit in various renewal movements.
While there is so much to learn and experience from these segments of church history, we are left with gaps of knowledge and Christian spirituality from not being well versed in the historic, Eastern Orthodox, and global streams of the church. This truncates our understanding of how expansively the Lord has been at work in His church throughout the centuries.
In addition, Pentecostals tend to have historic theological understandings that encourage “exclusivity.” We have a soteriology with a holiness application that can lead to being separationists who accent a “remnant” identity. Our eschatology points us to end-time understandings that can also generate further exclusivity with a propensity toward speculative conclusions and a focus on who is against us rather than who is for Jesus.
Please know, I do understand the exclusive claims of Jesus as the unique Son of God whose death, resurrection, and ascension are central to our salvation. His work of transformation in our lives by the Spirit creates a people of God who have good news to share and be lived out, especially as we see the final day approaching.
But here is the reality that is more real to me than ever before. The same Lord who has been at work in His people throughout the centuries in people, and in ways that we have not always fully comprehended, is at work through multiple streams of global Christian expression today. This includes those of us who are called “Spirit empowered” or “renewalists,” but not exclusively.
The following Scriptures drive me to focus on who is with us, those who have been transformed by Jesus and His powerful Spirit. I want to be a full brother in Christ in the “new humanity” with those who, along with me, have by His cross experienced the peace of God and have had everything removed that would separate us from God and from one another.
Ephesians 2:14-18 – One new humanity
”For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
I long to be an active agent as part of the answer to Jesus’ prayer that we would experience “complete unity” with the Triune God and with one another.
John 17:20-23 – The prayer of Jesus
“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—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.”
Clearly, this type of unity is rooted in truth (vv. 15-19). I am not a universalist, but I am committed to be at the table with God’s global family and discover the potpourri of sisters and brothers who are also “in Christ.”
The outflow from such unity drives me to “live together in unity,” whether with those at home, in the local church, nationally or internationally.
Psalm 133 – Unity is good and pleasant
“How good and pleasant it is
when God’s people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head,
running down on the beard,
running down on Aaron’s beard,
down on the collar of his robe.
It is as if the dew of Hermon
were falling on Mount Zion.
For there the LORD bestows his blessing,
even life forevermore.”
Unity is good and pleasant, friends. It is there that God commands His blessing. Such unity brings witness of Jesus and allows God’s love to be evidenced and His blessing demonstrated. No wonder the evil one resists our unity on every front: one on one, and within families, local churches, and beyond, including the global church.
The ongoing challenge is clear, but each of us must “come to the Table” to discover the multiple areas where Jesus is at work by His Spirit to bring unity within the church. How big is your church?
Will you be passionate regarding the “one new humanity” Jesus died for?
Will you pray and live out the John 17 prayer of Jesus?
Will you demonstrate, with others, a unity that is good and pleasant?
Lord of the church, allow our answer to these questions to be a whole-hearted, whole-minded “Yes and Amen!” so that we will give witness of Jesus, the Father’s love will be evidenced, and God’s blessing tangibly demonstrated.
Photo caption: General Superintendent of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada, David Wells (left), with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby (centre) and Secretary General of the World Evangelical Alliance, Bishop Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher in Rome in October 2021.
This article appeared in the January/February/March 2022 issue of testimony/Enrich, a quarterly publication of The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. © 2022 The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. Photo courtesy David Wells.