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Times Square to Timbuktu: A call to unity

This post is part of a series.

A few years ago, I was on a parish council which received a request from a Korean congregation: would we be open to them using our building? It didn’t sound like a merger or even a partnership, just a congregation looking for a place to meet. Yet we were all pretty noncommittal. Surely there was more to this than the usual ‘hall for hire’ situation, but if there was to be no actual relationship, what would be the point? Perhaps we could have talked about a partnership — but I don’t think we saw any great need to entertain that. I had some notion that it might be a good thing, but it would be a lot of work, wouldn’t it?

In chapter 3 of Times Square to Timbuktu, Granberg-Michaelson develops the idea that world Christianity is divided, and likely to become more so if things continue by default. He talks about the uniqueness of pentecostalism, the contrasts between the churches of the Global North and Global South, and the ‘ecclesiological apartheid’ that easily results. He also begins a critique of the World Council of Churches with which he has been involved along with his role as General Secretary of the Reformed Church in America. The strength of the ecumenical movement has been mainly institutional, he says, but it has been lacking at the grassroots, organic level.

Chapter 4 is his response to the situation, a call to unity.

God made no distinction between us (Acts 15)

Mission in the Book of Acts takes shape in the search for unity. As the gospel spread, Antioch emerged as a new hub in which Greeks began to be included in the faith. This was not immediately accepted by all, however, and it was not until the Jerusalem council that the church fully recognised it as God’s intent.

Granberg-Michaelson sums up, ‘At the heart of this biblical story is the lesson that the church’s most serious conflict — the relationship between Gentiles and Jews — was resolved through an underlying, spiritually empowered commitment to be one body, unified, and together’ (720).

And we were given one Spirit to drink (1 Corinthians 12:12-13)

From there he moves to the first letter to the Corinthians and Paul’s metaphor of the body. ‘It’s inconceivable, obviously, that any part of the human body severed from the rest has any life or function. The body functions only because each part belongs to the whole, dependent upon one another’ (732).

He stresses, ‘Notice, we have no choice in this matter. All of us have been baptized into one body. So we all have been ‘made to drink of one Spirit’. That is the starting point, the reality. Our challenge is to live with one another in the church from the basis of this truth’ (736).

That we may understand together (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Growing into the love of Christ and the fullness of God is something that happens together ‘with all the saints’. In reference to Ephesians 3:14-19, he cites Markus Barth: ‘The reference to “all the saints” in 3:18 points out a consequence: either worship, theological work, and spiritual insight are ecumenical events or they have nothing to do with the knowledge and proclamation of God’ (786).

Granberg-Michaelson goes on,

Most important, we are not called to create unity in the body of Christ. I don’t think that formulation is ever found in the New Testament. Rather, we are to ‘maintain the unity of the Spirit’. This unity already exists. it is the underlying foundation. The unity of the body of Christ is not a project to be undertaken; it is a promised reality to be realized. As John Howard Yoder has written, ‘Christian unity is not to be created, but to be obeyed.’ (797)

That we may be one, like the Father and the Son (John 17:20-23)

Finally, discussing the Gospel of John, Granberg-Michaelson explains that unity is something tangible, not remote. It has to be visible enough to challenge the world to believe, as Raymond Brown says: ‘Some type of vital, organic unity seems to be demanded by the fact that the relationship of Father and Son is held up as the model of unity. … The fact that this unity has to be visible enough to challenge the world to believe seems to militate against a purely spiritual union’ (844).

Granberg-Michaelson ends the chapter by introducing the Belhar Confession, written in South Africa against the Dutch Reformed Church’s legitimisation of apartheid.

Note: All page numbers are Kindle locations

Categories: Church Mission Written by Arthur

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Arthur Davis

Arthur Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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