I think that if I were to write another study[1] on the nature and mission of the church (ecclesiology), I would write the first chapter on the inescapable prominence of the one another dimension of that church in the New Testament. I would begin with Christ’s great commandment: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have love you, you are also to love one another” (John 13: 34). That is not a suggestion, but an essential mandate and component in the formation of the church as the communal form of God’s new creation/new humanity in Christ. It is not a command that one takes lightly. The love of Christ for us was totally self-giving. It was servant love. He taught his followers that if anyone wanted to be great among them, then he/she must become servant of all.

It also challenges the whole subverted concept of the church as an institution with custodial professionals (clergy) and passive membership. It is a community in which the ministry belongs to every member, and whose gatherings are to be communities of equipping and practicing just such forgiving, reconciling, ministering, mutual love is incarnated/fleshed-out in its relationships. It is also costly and realistic. It is a community in which we actually confess our sins to one another, in which we bear one anothers burdens, share our lives, deal with our differences, … are able to rebuke and reprove one another.

But it is a community of love that is visible: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples in that you love one another.” In this increasingly sterile and secular post-christian culture, in which such concepts as religion, or church, are hardly comprehended, relationships of this kind of love point beyond themselves to some ultimate reality that actually calls for such self-giving love.

It is also not the kind of relationships that can be accomplished on an iPhone, or in a G-mail (such digital tools are useful for connecting, and passing along information, but can be a hindrance, even and obstacle to true and intimate one another communication). One another love requires significant time spent together in which we come to understand one another more deeply. Working through misunderstandings, and differences of personalities, … through hurts as well as joys and accomplishments, through all of the complexities and ambiguities that we perceive in one another.

Critical to such one another love is the discipline of listening deeply to one another. It is a love that is somewhat defined by the fruits of the Holy Spirit listed in Galatians 5, which in reality is the life of Jesus living in us by his Spirit, and so lived out in our human relationships. It is such that makes the church the incarnation of God’s new humanity in Christ. It is for the creation of such that Jesus came, suffered, and died, i.e., in order to reconcile us to God and to give to us the ministry of reconciliation with one another.

Chew on that over this Christmas season, when we celebrate not only Christ’s first coming, but also his expected return when he receives his Bride, which is the church and is being formed into his image and likeness in the meantime, and so incarnating its obedience to the one another commandment. … To be continued …


[1] My own pilgrimage in seeking to understand and communicate the church’s essence can be found in several books in print, under my name: Robert Thornton Henderson, and available on Amazon.





About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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  1. Dottie Coltrane says:

    Bob, I think you “nailed it” with the phrase “subverted concept of the church as an institution with custodial professionals (clergy) and passive memberships.” I can think of so many churches we have been part of over the past 53 years, usually large congregations with large, elegant buildings, that fit that definition precisely. We are grateful to have found our small (a bit over 100 members, average attendance around 50) reconciling church soon after our move to Birmingham in 2015. It is an authentic community of love. Because we are small, everyone has to do their part. Spending time together, building relationships, and listening are priorities.

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