We are to live and do life together. Because our oneness is not based on shared beliefs but on a shared experience, we have to spend time together regularly. We cannot have shared experiences if we only see each other at our Sunday service. Sometimes when we meet it will be purely social, but eventually we will have to go deeper than this, we will have to talk with each other about how God is challenging us to change and be new.
As we listen to God we are given the opportunity to change. If we are to avoid simply being a social club we must make room for God to speak into our lives; this is a huge part of how we be ‘in Jesus Christ’. We listen through prayer, through reading the Bible, and by hearing the concerns and wisdom of others who are listening to God.
As we listen to others we make unity possible. Listening to outsiders and listening to each other is a key way in which we establish unity. We may not always find agreement in these contexts, but whether with those inside or outside the church, the goal is always to move from listening to each other to listening to God together. From beginning to end, we listen.
When we are open to changing our beliefs about God we make space for God. It is not uncommon for our beliefs about God to become cemented in our minds, especially when we consider them strongly grounded biblical beliefs. But if we are unwilling to have our views challenged, to reconsider and review even our most cherished beliefs, it becomes almost impossible for us to be transformed by God. Without realising it we push God away and substitute God for our ideas about God. But when we release our hold on our beliefs, when we genuinely open our hands and hearts, God enters in.
When we open ourselves to outsiders we make unity possible. Even though we form strong bonds in our existing community, we must always be willing to make space for outsiders and to welcome them among us. Their presence and views may make us uncomfortable or even embarrassed, but if we close ourselves off, if we shun them, we cannot be one new humanity.
We are to look to those outside our church. God has called us to be one with those who are outside the church and that means we will treat outsiders not like those who don’t belong but like family, always seeking their flourishing. However, because the source of our unity with outsiders will be a shared experience of Jesus Christ, it means that in our attempts to be family to them we must eventually focus on repenting before God with them and on making room together for the work of God’s Spirit within us. That is what will genuinely bring us together.
Storytelling is a way of sharing experiences about God. This can be in the form of telling each other about what God is doing in our lives, but it can also be in the form of re-telling the stories of the Bible and reminding ourselves of our place in the grand story of God in history. The purpose in all of this is to focus on how God is making us new.
Humility is essential to being made new. Constantly reminding yourself that you are a bad person, ‘a sinner’, is not humility. We wrongly assume that humility before God has got to do with having a low view of ourselves, when in fact it is about having a high view of God. Concentrating on our own wretchedness can be simply another form of self-obsession, when God’s desire for us is to be free of the burden of self-care. He cares about us more than we do and he wants us to rest in that knowledge. When we do this, when we entrust him with our own well-being, responding to him in obedience is far, far easier.
The Alliance and World Christianity
It is important for us to be part of something bigger than just our local church. Our church is part of The Christian and Missionary Alliance of Australia (‘The Alliance’ or C&MA). We belong to this denomination not only because it is part of our history, but because it is an expression of the oneness Jesus calls us to. As we said, a divided church is no church at all. There is something deeply wrong with the way the church is split up into different traditions and denominations. Instead of focusing on what makes us different to one another, we should be focusing on how to have a shared experience of God. It is for this reason that we are strongly committed to the future of the Alliance as well as any other effort to unify the global church by focusing on the transforming work of God within us.