Mar 15, 2010

Your Church Is Too Small by John Armstrong: Book Review

John Armstrong's subtitle, "Why Unity In Christ's Mission Is Vital To The Future Of The Church" helps bring in to perspective just what he means by the statement, "your church is too small." I wish that I had more time to be a little more thorough with this review, but am confident that the following will provide as much of my thoughts regarding the read as possible.

Admittedly, the reading began with a reservation of Armstrong's perspectives regarding catholicity and the call to a missional ecumenism. Don't know what those words are? That's okay, Armstrong has provided a handy glossary at the end of the book to help clarify terms that most of us may not use in conversation regularly. However, I believe the audience that will be reading this book will be acutely aware of the buzzwords missional, catholicity, and ecumenism that generally raise the heresy antennae for the majority of us. It is indeed nice to see someone being thoughtful enough to consider that most believers may be completely unaware of this terminology.

John Armstrong takes a narrative approach and introduces us to his journey from what I would call close-mindedness to open-dialogue with the historic Christian powerhouses of Protestantism, Catholicism, and The Orthodox Church. His agenda is simple, promoting a desire within Christian congregations to accept the idea that the Christian Church is much larger than their local assembly. Armstrong does not stop there, he goes on to implore with his readers that there is a need to assess their own position in the current state of dialog occurring with members of different denominations and faith backgrounds in the Christian context.

Armstrong addresses several different spectrum's concerning the Church today. Where I resonate with him is his desire to see the restoration of what he calls an "Ancient-Future" faith. It is essential for the Christian to understand the roots and heritage of their faith in order to approach the future and their place in the mission of the Church. While Armstrong does not appear to be calling for a new reformation, he does infer that reformation will occur when the Church at large, the universal, Catholic Church of the Apostle's Creed realizes it's true place in history, its present need for mobilization, and the removal of a handicap that inhibits the actions of believers. The Church must wake up from its slumber and take note of those who may belong to other historic schools of faith but yet love Jesus.

By reading this book you will be challenged to think outside of the closed mind perspective that is often bred by our local assemblies. You will find yourself challenged to consider your own position in the theater of Christianity. You will have to evaluate your own membership of the Church of Christ that inherits, proclaims, and trusts in the Kingdom of God. I do not affirm all of Armstrong's perspectives regarding Catholicity with faiths that historically embrace doctrines long accepted as heresy, but do sympathize with the need to interact with those who believe they are trusting in Jesus and loving them because we are required to do so. If you know the Apostle's creed, and often wonder why you recite affirmation of the 'Catholic Church' this book will help you understand the implications that these words have.

Armstrong appeals to the unity of Ephesians 4 as a guiding premise for his thoughts and assessments. I accept that sectarianism and denominationalism have shattered and polarized many assemblies in the whole of Christian history and believe that a true embrace of Ephesians 4 will impact the believers life in more than just an ecumenical approach to modern ministry. Although I believe the continuity of this book redeems the uneasiness first felt in the beginning, I still have one last question for John Armstrong to answer.

Is the unity proposed by a missional ecumenism a unity that promotes an agreement to disagree for the sake of unity, or is for the purpose of believers being lead by the Holy Spirit in to unity of the faith, which then precedes an opportunity that allows us to fellowship in more than macro-ministry, but in the breaking of bread and drinking of the cup?

This book is for purchase at Zondervan
Find out more about the book and the author at the book's website


Anonymous said...

sounds like a bunch of emergent nonsense to aid false converts on their missional faith journey... I use those words with sarcasm. Let us walk in the power of the Holy Spirit and long for that day when Christ returns to overthrow the great whore that has corrupted the earth... not seek to make dialog with her.


Dave said...

Deliver Detroit,

I was really hoping that your review would be a little, well, stronger.

Do you not see the glaring and dangerous assumptions made throughout the book regarding the Gospel and the nature of who comprises the Church Universal?

What is a Christian?
What is the Church?
Who is in the Church?
Is there such a thing as a false church?

I found all these questions either skirted or ignored.


James said...


Sorry it was not what you had hoped for. I started out with the intent of a more comprehensive review. Unfortunately, family emergencies have impeded that desire. But, what you see is conclusive of my reading. I believe Armstrong reflects some of my own personal observations regarding working with other Christians for the Kingdom's purpose. I do believe we separate from one another on issues that don't require separation too often. As far as alignment with Rome and the Orthodox Church, Armstrong takes a position on these issues and from what I could tell, does not endorse or embrace the doctrines that Protestants and Catholics have disputed heavily over the years, most particularly, the bread and the cup.

Thanks for your thoughts.

A. Amos Love said...

Tough topic. 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
ensamples: 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
might 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, etc.)
**Being in unity they could accomplish anything?

wikipedia lists many, 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. etc.)
Go to, let us go down,
and there confound their language,
that they may not understand one another’s speech.
(Hmmm? Sound familiar?)

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

Meat in the wilderness. Kings to rule over us. etc.

“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?

James said...

A. Amos, I think you have made some very good points. I by no means want to be in a position of defending this book or it's purposes. I do however believe there is some truth to be had in the admonition that we must be a little more apt to listen. In my own experience, having a tendency to believe that I have a corner on the truth breeds preemptive judgment on my part. Therefore, I have no qualms dialoging in the manner that Armstrong is suggesting.

The issue isn't the dialog. It's what are you going to do with the dialog if you feel the person you are conversing with is in grave error? Do you correct, exhort, or rebuke according to the Word of God? Or do you just say 'That's nice' and let it be what it will be?

I agree with your perspectives, but at the same time believe it to be necessary that a true Christian will want to lead those who love Christ, but are immature or naive in their understanding into a greater knowledge of the Lord and His Word.

A. Amos Love said...

James - thanks for the response.

I now believe, “the Body of Christ,” the true “ONE,”
is in “Unity.” It’s “His Body.” Jesus adds to the body.

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?

Neither Baptist nor Assemblies of God.
Neither Evangelical nor Pentecostal.
Neither Leaders nor Followers.
Neither Clergy nor Laity.
All “ONE” in Christ Jesus.

Now, “The Church of Man,”
“The Church of Baptist,”
“The Church of England.” Choose one...

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.

John said...

James has answered correctly some of the comments here and reviewed my book very fairly. I am grateful you are willing to learn and listen. This is not the last word on this vitally important subject but it is my story and I hope it helps others who care to read it.

James said...

Thanks John. I did aim to read carefully to give a fair review. I do disagree significantly with some of the perspectives you offer in your book.

I don't wish to be overly critical, as I find this is not necessary given the topic you have chosen, or the approach you are taking in creating a discussion.

However, there is the lingering, and fundamental question I have posed in the review left remaining.

"What do you do with those you fundamentally disagree with, yet seek unity in mission, and strive to dialog with, when they come to the Lord's table seeking to break bread and drink of the cup, if you clearly understand them to be in error, or embracing clearly defined heresies as primary doctrines?"

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