Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Today’s common wisdom says we must strive to make a name for ourselves in order to meet our own needs. It seems there is an insatiable search for personal identity and significance. But Jesus said this: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). As a church fellowship we’ve learned this truth well. Since 2009 our name, Grace Communion International, has pointed to our true identity and significance, which are found in Christ, not in ourselves. Let’s unpack each word to see what it conveys.
Grace is the first word in our name because it perfectly describes our individual and collective journey to God in Jesus Christ by the Spirit. “It is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved” (Acts 15:11). We are justified by grace “through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24). By grace, God gives us, in Christ, a share in his own righteousness—his right relationship. The Bible consistently teaches that the gospel is a message about God’s grace (Acts 14:3; 20:24, 32).
God has always related to humanity on the basis of his grace and truth. While the law was an expression of those qualities, God’s grace and truth have their full expression in Jesus. We are saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not by keeping the law. The law, by which every human is condemned, is not God’s final word—Jesus is. He is the complete and personal revelation of God’s grace and truth freely given for humanity.
Even though our condemnation under the law is just and right, since we all fall short, God is not a prisoner of his law and justice. God operates in perfect divine freedom according to his will, which first and foremost is one of grace and redemption. The apostle Paul put it this way: “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21). The only alternative, wrote Paul in verse 21, is “the grace of God.” Rather than a commodity that can be quantified and handed over like a package, grace is the living, active kindness of God by which he pursues and transforms human hearts and minds. In his letter to the churches in Rome, Paul wrote that the only thing we are able to gain through our own efforts is “the wages of sin,” which is “death.” That’s the bad news. But the very good news (the gospel!) is that “the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NASB). Jesus is God’s grace, he is God’s salvation freely given for all.
Communion is the second word in our name because we are called into genuine relationship with the Father through the Son in the communion of the Holy Spirit. In Christ we have real communion with God and one another. James Torrance put it this way: “The triune God is in the business of creating community, in such a way that we are never more truly human, never more truly persons, than when we find our true being in communion” (Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, p. 74).
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one being in perfect communion, and Jesus prayed that his disciples would share in that relationship and reflect it to the world (John 14:20; 17:23). The apostle John defined this fellowship as being rooted in love, which John defines as the eternal communion of the Father, Son and Spirit. True fellowship is being in communion with Christ in the love of the Father by the Holy Spirit (1 John 4:8).
It often is said that being a Christian is about a personal relationship with Jesus. The Bible uses several analogies to describe that relationship. One is of a lord (master) relating to his slave. Though this analogy is correct (we should honor, reverence and obey our perfect and good Lord, Jesus Christ), it is not the only nor the predominant picture. Jesus said to his followers: “I no longer call you servants [slaves], because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends” (John 15:15). Another picture of this relationship is of a father relating to his children (John 1:12-13). Reaching back into the Old Testament, Jesus used the analogy of a bridegroom relating to his bride (Matthew 9:15) and Paul wrote about a husband relating to his wife (Ephesians 5). In the book of Hebrews Jesus is said to unashamedly call us his brothers and sisters (Hebrews 2:11). All these images—slave, friend, child, spouse, sibling—convey the idea of deep, positive personal belonging to each other. But these are mere images. Our Triune God is the Source and the Reality of this relationship—this communion. It is a fellowship that he graciously shares with us, mere creatures.
Jesus prayed that we would be with him where he is, for eternity, enjoying his glory (John 17:24). In that prayer he invited us to participate in his communion with the Father and to be in communion with one another. When Jesus ascended, he took us—those he calls his friends—with him into the communion he shares with the Father and the Spirit. Paul says there is a way, by the Holy Spirit, in which we are now seated with the ascended Christ in the presence of the Father (Ephesians 2:6). We can begin to experience this communion with God and with one another here and now, though its fullness comes when Christ returns to fully reveal and establish his rule and reign. For all these reasons, communion is an important part of who we are as a church. Our identity, now and forever, is in Christ and in the communion that God shares as Father, Son and Spirit.
International is the third word in our name because GCI is truly an international community. Our community reaches across racial, cultural and national boundaries; indeed, it reaches around the world. Though we are small in number, we have members in every state in the U.S., as well as in Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa and the islands of the Pacific. We have more than 50,000 members in more than 70 countries formed into more than 900 churches.
God has drawn us together in this international fellowship. It’s a blessing that we are large enough to have opportunities to work together, yet small enough that those opportunities can be personal. In GCI, friendships are continually built across national and cultural boundaries that more often than not create division in our world. That’s surely a sign of God’s grace!
As a church fellowship, Grace Communion International is dedicated to living and sharing the gospel wherever God places us. Experiencing the richness of his freely-given grace and love motivates us to share the gospel with others. We want others to enjoy the same relationship that we enjoy with Jesus Christ. We cannot keep this precious understanding a secret. We want all to know God’s grace and to share in his triune communion. This is the message God has given us to share with the world. Thus, we are Grace Communion International.
Living in his identity and significance,
PS: I encourage our pastors and teachers to give occasional sermons that unpack the meaning of our name—I hope my letter will give you some ideas. For some additional ideas on the topic of our true identity see a previous Update post at https://update.gci.org/2014/07/our-true-identity/.