The Challenges of Unity in the Local Parish

John ArmstrongUnity of the Church

I am regularly told that the biblical doctrine of unity is primarily about the unity of the local church, not the universal or global church. I reject this distinction as false. But I also want to challenge the notion that somehow evangelical churches are united in the way Jesus and the apostles taught.

COmmunity Congregations face many challenges today but none more difficult than that posed by the American phenomenon of individualism. In a culture where fewer and fewer people do fewer and fewer communal activities our faith in Christ still calls upon us to live and serve as one. Without liturgy churches are even more prone to abject, privatized individualism being the ubiquitous sea in which the church functions week-to-week. Most evangelical churches do not celebrate weekly communion, they rarely participate in actions and practices that unite their people in mission and they infrequently pray together as a church. What is left is a large gathering of individuals who come to be “fed” and “helped” by a preacher and the music. Even when a group of leaders seeks to educate a congregation about the reasons for liturgy and community the congregants oppose the effort.

One significant problem is the pervasiveness of popular culture. Pop culture is not all bad but it tends to overwhelm everything that is ancient, distinctly confessional and deeply Christ-centered. Contemporary individualism is nourished by the day-in and day-out impact of American culture. Centuries old customs and values are replaced in a matter of minutes or days. This practice breaks down unity in a practical and palpable way.

Add to this the widespread impact of culture through the social media and individualism presents an even greater challenge to unity.

Families are smaller and smaller and fewer children grow up with any meaningful social experience with adults and children. And in a single-parent home children grow up in an individualistic environment through no fault of their own. They spend thousands of hours in front of the television and a computer screen and have little or no socialization with other bodied persons.

There are signs of hope, however. One change is being introduced through the creation of new immigrant cultures inside America.

The bottom line is this—churches face a serious challenge to the clear teaching of the New Testament about the unity of real persons in the good news of Jesus Christ. It will not be easy to change this movement but every effort needs to be seriously undertaken by our leaders.