Your Church Is Too Small – Review

Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church by John H. Armstrong

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Next week, I’ll be meeting with a couple pastors and friends from our little town in North Carolina. We’ll be a diverse little group, but we will be exploring ways to work together in our town, to present a united witness, as well as create a network of Christians who can respond to needs and hurting people within our own community.

Now, I’m naturally a shy and retiring person. I’d rather write about this, than actually do it. What would motivate me to do this? Well, John H. Armstrong’s new book, Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission is Vital to the Future of the Church, would! I didn’t actually get the idea from Armstrong (I heard about a similar group in Colorado), but Armstrong confirmed my resolution, and gave me a solid kick in my sectarian, Reformed rear-end.

This a fantastic book! This week marks the official “blog tour” for the book. You can find other reviews at the Koinonia blog.

Here are some highlights:

“My thesis is simple: The road to the future must run through the past” (17). Armstrong is concerned with recovering a true sense of “catholicity,” a vision we share at the Reformed Liturgical Institute.

“True Christian faith is not found in personal religious feelings but in the historical and incarnational reality of a confessing church. Therefore, if we refuse to come to grips with our past, our future will not be distinctively Christian. The result will be new forms of man-made religion that embrace recycled heresies” (18).

Armstrong chronicles his journey into greater catholicity. He stresses the theological and Biblical mandate for unity, and shows how this unity must be Trinitarian–unity in diversity. While Armstrong appreciates the aspects of the “Great Tradition” preserved in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions, he does not surrender Reformed distinctives.

What is most encouraging are the stories of actual churches working together in their towns, guided by a shared love of Christ, and motivated by the Spirit that brings ultimate unity (Ephesians 4:4-5).

There are many details to consider, and much more work to be done in this area. Armstrong doesn’t claim to have all the answers. But, he does believe that Jesus actually wants a unified people, and he shows how this is our ultimate apologetic (Jn. 17:22-23). For this, we should all be grateful.

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6 thoughts on “Your Church Is Too Small – Review

  1. Unity. Hmmm?

    Sometimes good and some times, er, not so good?

    Just wondering…

    What if God is the author of our disagreements and separations?
    “And all things are of God…” 2 Cor 5:18, Rom 11:36, Col 1:16-17, etc.
    Are we working for “Unity?” And NOW working against God?

    Didn’t God confuse man’s language once before?
    Aren’t those things that happened to others,
    written for us to learn from?

    Now all these things happened unto them for examples:
    and they are written for our admonition,
    upon whom the ends of the world are come.
    1 Cor 10:11

    For whatsoever things were written aforetime
    were written for our learning,
    that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures have hope.
    Rom 15:4

    Didn’t God intervene when “man was in unity”
    with their own devices, their own plans,
    trying to build something themselves,
    to reach heaven and “make a name for themselves?”

    Could that be the ekklesia’s problem today also?
    Doing their own thing – NOT God’s thing?

    **Man trying to build something?
    (Movements? Denominations? Church Planting?)
    **And make a name for themselves?
    (“Titles” on buildings, schools, websites, books, diplomas, etc.)
    **Being in unity they could accomplish anything?

    wikipedia lists many, Nay – 1,000’s, of Denominations.

    …let us build us a city and a tower,
    whose top may reach unto heaven;
    and let us make us a name…
    Gen 11:4

    Gen 11:6-8
    And the LORD said, Behold,
    the people is one, (unity?)(this doesn’t sound good?)
    and they have all one language; (unity-sound alike?)
    and this they begin to do: (work together?)
    and now nothing will be restrained from them,
    (we can do anything, working together?)
    which they have imagined to do.
    (“the imagination of man’s heart is evil.”(
    ( Gen 6:5, Gen 8:21, Jer 3:17, Jer 11:8.)
    Go to, let us go down,
    and there **confound their language,** that they may
    **not understand one another’s speech…**
    (Hmmm? Sound familiar?)
    (Baptist, Pentecostal, Reformed, Calvinist, Egalitarian, Mercy Lord… )

    God often gives us what we ask for, and, “A Little Bit Extra.”

    Want some “Meat” in the wilderness?
    God also sends “leanness to the soul.” Psalm 106:15. Oy Vey! 😦

    Want some “Kings” to rule over us?
    How did that work out? 1 Sam 8:11-19 Ouch! 😦

    “Traditions of men” nullify the word of God.
    Mark 7:13

    Hmmm? Just wondering…
    What if God is the author of our disagreements and separations?

    Then what…???

    Are we working for Unity? And NOW – working against God?

    1. Hi, Mr. Love:

      Thanks for the provocative response. I appreciate your emphasis on Scripture.

      I intend to post a few Scripture passage which, I think, mandate unity. But, one response here: Your comments center the Tower of Babel as a paradigm for sinful unity-seeking. I agree. If we pursue unity in the wrong way, then God will confound our plans. However, I think there was more going on in the Babel narrative.

      God clearly told Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it.” The builders of the Tower of Babel were disobeying this command. Rather than going out into all the earth, they were congregating in one place. They may have been building out of sinful pride (disobeying God always involves sinful pride at some level!), but the problem wasn’t unity–the problem was seeking unity and maturity at the wrong time.

      God has no problem with towers–at the end of Revelation, we see a mighty tower-garden/city coming down from heaven. The builders at Babel were trying to build that tower (unknowingly, perhaps) at the wrong time.

      Since I don’t think the Tower of Babel narrative is decisive proof against unity, I hope to show how the Scriptures positively command unity (more on that later).

      The question is–does God want His people to be unified now, and how do we go about seeking that unity?

  2. I should add that God confused the languages at Babel to FORCE the people to disperse and fulfill his command to fill the earth.

    God may have decreed separations in the church for the same purpose. Paul seems to indicate some such thing in 1 Cor. 11:19, “Indeed, there have to be factions among you, for only so will it become clear who among you are genuine.” (It may be that Paul is writing with irony here, as he does often to the Corinthian church.) So, in the same way that God used Joseph’s persecution by his brothers to save his chosen people during a famine, so God has probably used separations in the church to grow and mature his people. But, this doesn’t mean we should willingly seek out slavery in Egypt!

    Additionally, we see the “reversal of Babel” at Pentecost, when men from every nation heard the apostles speaking in their own tongues. Scholars such as Sinclair Ferguson point out that this brings many nations/ tongues together around the gospel. The gospel unites through the power of the Spirit!

  3. Gregory

    Liked your take with 1 Cor 11:19 and Paul. Looking into that.

    In agreement with most of what you write.
    BUT – Isn’t the focus in John 17 about becoming “ONE?”
    Could becoming “ONE” be something greater then “Unity?”

    I just believe, “the Body of Christ” is “becoming “ONE” in “Unity.”
    It’s “His Body.” Apart from Jesus we can do nothing.

    I don’t believe there is disunity in…

    Jesus – He is the head of the Body,
    (the ekklesia, the called out one’s,) The Church.
    Col 1:18

    There is “ONE” fold, “ONE” shepherd, “ONE” voice… }}}} Jesus {{{{
    John 10:16

    And when we’re in Christ “we” are “ONE.”
    No division or separation.

    There is neither Jew nor Greek,
    there is neither bond nor free,
    there is neither male nor female:
    for ye are all “ONE” in Christ Jesus.
    Gal 3:28

    Does that verse say male and female are equal?
    Or, does it say, male and female do not exist?

    I would like to believe; When we are “in Christ”
    This does NOT exist either.

    Neither Baptist nor Assemblies of God.
    Neither Evangelical nor Pentecostal.
    Neither Leaders nor Followers.
    Neither Clergy nor Laity.
    All brethren. Mat 23:8-10.
    All “ONE” in Christ Jesus.

    Now, “The Church of Man,”
    “The Church of Baptist,”
    “The Church of England.” Choose one…
    All making a “Name” for themselves. Yes?

    That’s a different story. Oy Vey! 😉

    That’s what you see with your eyes.
    But, the kingdom of God comes
    NOT with observation. It is within.
    Luke 17:20-21.

    “The Church of Man,”
    That’s the thousands of denominations
    started by man and seen by others.
    Would be “Christian Leaders” who had a better idea.

    And I believe there is a possibility that “God” has…

    “ **confounded their language,** that they may
    **not understand one another’s speech…**
    Gen 11:4-8

    Because those in “The Religious System”
    are trying to make a “Name” for themselves. :-(…

    Be blessed in your search for truth… Jesus.

  4. I completely agree with you, in that denominations and traditions who seek to “make a name for themselves,” rather than working together humbly for the sake of the Kingdom is problematic.

    I really don’t like how we call ourselves “Calvinist,” “Lutheran,” etc. Other names are more descriptive, but it strikes me as extremely silly to name yourself after one man. Paul condemns that sort of attitude, and Luther himself said something like “don’t call yourselves Lutherans.” The reference escapes me at the moment, but apparently no one was listening.


  5. I hope readers will work through the fog these debates can create and hear the paradigm I actually set forward in my book. I think a lot of folks are ready to think through what gripped me when I was forced to think again. We are tired of church in my mind seen my way or we take the highway. Somehow love of truth includes love of unity, which is a revealed truth we shelve since it hurts us to really work at getting along with people we do not agree with and often do not life. Thanks for reviewing my book. May others also read it and honestly wrestle with it. Agree or disagree, as you feel inclined and as you search the Scripture and the history of this great discussion that is needed now more than ever.

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