Happy New Year for 2018!
As I look forward to this year, there is a word in capital letters in my mind: ONE. For me, ONE defines who we are as the church, describes what God is doing among us, and determines how we act with each other.
Jesus prayed: “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” (John 17:22–23, emphasis mine). Jesus connects the perfect reality of ONE in the Trinity and God’s will of ONE in the church.
Body of Christ
ONE defines who we are as the church, specifically, the Mennonite Brethren family of churches in Canada.
The apostle Paul had a favourite metaphor for the church: the body of Christ. He defined this body like the physical body that brings together all the unique cells – nerve, blood, tissue, muscle, and others, each having a distinct function – under the head. The body of Christ works as the cells function – by doing what they individually and particularly were designed to do, directed by Christ himself in complete unity.
Individually, we are a microscopic part of a massive reality, ONE body of Christ.
A complete unity
ONE describes what God is doing among us. Jesus prayed that we would be “brought to complete unity.” This is an acknowledgement that then among the disciples, even as now among us, there is a great deal of difference. But Jesus knew that God was working to bring his unity to his people.
I would point out that there two kinds of unity.
One is an external unity without core internal agreement.
We can agree on some things, so for the sake of progress we negotiate a working agreement by setting aside our deeper disagreements. This unity is sometimes won in church through the control of a small number of leaders who can temporarily persuade the majority to follow their unifying plan.
The other unity is an internal unity which manifests occasional external disagreement.
I learned about this while mediating between quarrelling family members. When I challenged the behaviour of one brother, I was surprised when the sister came to his defense, and both jumped on me. I thought their behaviour toward each other represented a deep disunity between them, but they did not feel that at all. Within them there was an abiding unity unaffected by momentary disagreements.
This internal unity brought about through the identity and work of God is the ONE reality of the church.
Mutually shared life
ONE determines how we act with each other. A body consists of thousands of cells with one mutually shared life. It is the sharing of life that makes a body different than an organization. The core, underlying unity of a body exists despite visible divisions.
Thank God, there is no group in the world so magnificently heterogeneous as the church transformed by God’s work among us. The wonder is that we are made up of different kinds of people. In the body of Christ, the rich and poor gather on the same basis, slaves and free, Jews and Gentiles, women and men, all languages, all nations – it makes no difference. The church crosses all the boundaries that humanity might erect and gathers all kinds of people, without exception, into one body. There is no other community in the world that attempts to unite people from such widely varying sources.
So, for this New Year, I’m thinking about the word ONE in capital letters. I am leading the One Mission Partnership Task Force to discern how God is bringing all components of the MB body together on one mission. I am meeting with the provincial conference ministers to explore how the national and provincial conferences could function as one team. I am working with the Gathering 2018 planning team as we prepare the Gathering 2018 theme of “ONE” in Saskatoon July 11–14, 2018.
I encourage you to think about, pray about, talk about Ephesians 4:1–6. “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, emphasis mine).
I call on us to be ONE as the church, as people in whom God works, and as we interact with each other. Join me in praying that the Canadian MB family of churches would be ONE in 2018.