As I study the church on my sabbatical, I continue to be blown away by Ephesians 3:10-11 “…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord,…”
The church is glorious. The church is precious. The church is Jesus’ bride. The church is the community of the kingdom of God. The church is the true humanity. The church is the elect in Christ that is entered by repentance and faith. The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The church is a whole new people…a whole new order of society that will be when Jesus wraps all history up.
That previous little paragraph is loaded, and truthfully each sentence is a dad gum sermon in itself.
Of course, bible study is key in this sabbatical study on the church, but “The Church and its Vocation”, a synthesis of Leslie Newbigin’s bible study on the church and its application on the mission field and at home, has been a most helpful companion at putting words to thoughts and applications I am in the Manual.
Now that the end has come in the middle (lots of theology going on in that statement) and the Spirit has been given to the church to launch a redeemed humanity to the nations (the giving of the Spirit in the prophets was the sign of the end, and this is why Peter preaches Joel 2 at Pentecost), the Lord awaits patiently for people to repent and believe. This waiting time is specifically for the church to exercise its vocation of discipling the nations. Newbigin finds five kinds of witness that the church must bear during the Lord’s patient waiting to wrap things up: 1. The distinctive life of the community 2. Calling of the “laity” 3. Deeds of justice and mercy 4. Evangelism 5. Mission to places where the gospel is not known.
These are not new to us, but they are new regarding them being synthesized into a sense of one vocational calling on the church.
What stands out to me, and he spends quite a bit of time on each one, is “The distinctive life of the community”. That’s what I want to quickly relay below.
Jesus did say that how we love each other is an evangelistic witness. The kingdom has come, and the church is the locus and preacher of that kingdom, and that kingdom is advancing through the Spirit’s powerful ministry in and through us together. Thus the manifold wisdom of God is being put on display to the spiritual rulers in the spiritual realm according to Gods plan. Glory!
Newbigin talks about the church’s witness in the public square through her people’s many vocations as being the way that the church brings transformation to a broken society by being a renewed society in how we work and live together. We call that engaging domains! How cool! Listen to how Newbigin speaks to the importance of how we engage our domains: “The most important contribution which the church can make to a new social order is to be itself a new social order.” We must engage like a renewed people not a people who live like the idols of counter narratives. That is fancy talk for acting like sinners.
Our mighty works of preaching and living and doing must be in a renewed life holding out that new life for others to come to in faith and repentance.
Newbigin offers six characteristics of such a new social order of life in he public square:
- A community of praise in a world of doubt and skepticism.
In other words, we are a worshiping people who worship by faith when others are unsure and maybe even hostile. In fact, for now the kingdom of God is entered through weakness and suffering not might and power. Might and power are for Jesus when he wraps it all up. We are a praising people even in suffering when others are melting away in fear.
- A community of truth in a pluralistic society.
In other words, we hold forth the kingdom of God and the Scriptures and let the gospel conflict appropriately with false counter narratives that produce a myriad of idols. We are not jerks who beat people up. The gospel will do its conflicting without any help from us. Heck if we just live according to the values of the kingdom (see the Sermon on the Mount), you’ll take load of criticism from cultural Christianity alone.
Yes, the gospel of the kingdom confronts cultural expressions of Christianity too.
- A community that is selfless and deeply involved in the concerns of its world.
In other words, the church is not isolated or teaching its people to be isolated. Rather, the church is in the midst giving itself away for the transformation of its city.
This kind of church is less concerned with who attends its worship services and is more concerned with how its city is doing.
- A community prepared to live out the values of the gospel of the kingdom in the public square.
In other words, the church’s life is not isolated to a Sunday event, rather it is a church equipped and released to engage their world.
- A community of mutual responsibility.
In other words, the church is interdependent on each other. Each person is responsible to God and to each other. We are not individuals first. We are citizens of God’s kingdom together first. Massive paradigm shift for the west.
I noted the other day to two men growing into leadership in our church that I can find very little personal application in the bible. It’s all corporate application. It’s not individual. It is in fact community.
- A community of hope.
In other words, when everyone is in despair we hold out a joyous hope. We have the Manual, and we know how God works in the world, and we know that he welcomes into this hope anyone who will repent and believe, so we are always offering that hope in word and in deed. Our demeanor is important here. We are not fretting. We are resting in hope.
Let’s strive to live like this. Let’s strive to make more out of the church not less.
I hope this little reflection will help us to delight and marvel in the church as Jesus loves the church and gave himself up for the church to present her to himself without spot or blemish. He will do this among all nations through our preaching and doing the above things.
Lets get after it!