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ONE in capital letters

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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.

[Steve Berg is executive director of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches. He lives in Abbotsford, B.C.
7 comments

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7 comments

Warren Jonesd December 29, 2017 - 09:33

First and foremost, biblical unity is determined by the Holy Spirit dwelling in the life of the believer before any other unity can be achieved that would correlate to scripture or community. Even non-Christian societies achieve so-called unity. Jesus was speaking of the former.

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Steve Berg January 2, 2018 - 13:09

Warren, thank you for your comment. To further consider what Paul says in Ephesians 4 – unity is both “attained” (V. 13) and “maintained” (V. 3). Jesus has unified everything in his death and resurrection. We attain unity by faith and knowledge of the Son. We maintain unity by walking in the Spirit.
Steve.

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Warren Jonesd January 2, 2018 - 19:44

To further consider what Paul also said in regards to Soteriology (Like in Romans)-Verse 13 in Ephesians 4 talks about maturity not conversion. Verse 3 talks about revelation that follows conversion. The latter is in the context of Paul`s soteriology. You believe that conversion is progressive. I believe conversion is transaction. . .then maturity (sanctification) follows. Biblical unity begins upon conversion.It is maintained through fellowship with the Holy Spirit and those who share the same regardless of denomination or confession of faith. Confession of faith or ecumenical unity means nothing without conversion. The Holy Spirit converts and maintains biblical unity in the universal body of Christ.

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Jacqueline Block January 7, 2018 - 22:21

I am hopeful as we continue to do the hard but good work of being one together in Christ through His Spirit — both individually and collectively — our following in line with God’s mission can come quite naturally.

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Steve Berg January 8, 2018 - 12:01

Hi Jacqueline. Thanks for your hopeful comments.

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James Toews January 10, 2018 - 00:06

Dear Executive Board
I read the article by Interim Executive Director Steve Berg, titled “ONE” in the Herald with the assumption that it comes from the Executive Board- hence this letter is addressed to you.

There is much for me to like in the article. The theology of the church as “ONE” is profoundly beautiful and runs deep and strong in the New Testament. It also corresponds with my own experiences visiting Mennonite Brethren brothers and sisters, and Christians from many other churches, in the developing world in my ICOMB experiences.

And yet, I am concerned about the timing of the article, and particularly the call to “One Mission.”

Paul puts his great statement of “One” [1 Corinthians 12] towards the end of a detailed examination of the divisions in the church in Corinth. In other words, before proclaiming the great unity of the church in Christ, he first deals with the things causing it to be disunified. He does not gloss over the problems.

Like the ancient church in Corinth, the Canadian MB Conference is divided. To quote the article, there is “an external unity without core internal agreement.” If this is accurate, then going forward will only mask the problems. This includes the problems I have spelled out about the direction and fiscal management of the CCMBC. https://mbherald.com/letters-nov-dec-2017/#comment-29920

Don’t get me wrong; we surely can have unity. But hard work has to take place first. I don’t expect this to happen quickly, but sending signals of unity and one mission, before much clearer signals are sent regarding the questions raised, seems out of order to me.

I don’t know what kind of responses you are getting- outside of the public eye, but the private responses I have received indicate there are thoughtful people with important questions that they do not feel have been adequately answered. You may or may not have a better insight; I may just be a solitary voice from the wilderness. If indeed I speak only for myself- moving on is the prudent thing to do.

If I am addressing substantive concerns- then attention should be paid to addressing those.

Your fellow servant in the Kingdom
James Toews
Nanaimo

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Bruce Enns January 12, 2018 - 17:12

James – I believe Steve Berg wisely lifted our eyes to the Ephesians 4 unity that emphasizes proclaiming and declaring the spiritual unity that we already have in what Christ has done. We don’t have to wait until we have horizontal human unity – we declare it in the heavenly realms and then live into that as a church.

As an Executive Board, we pray that we would be ONE in 2018. At the same time we recognize our challenges and continue to invite feedback. We are looking forward to reviewing the results of our national survey to see what individual members say about our conference and our place of unity. We plan to discuss the survey results at provincial conferences and this will be a great time to discuss these issues in person.

Thanks for your input.

Bruce Enns
Conference Moderator

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