Why the Church Matters (July-Aug 2010)

By Matt Dabbs

by Garrett East
July – August, 2010

I

82 - What Really MattersAlthough it is important never to equate the Church with the kingdom of God, the Church of Jesus Christ is the sign, foretaste, and herald of God’s kingdom. As a sign, the Church points to something that it is not. Just as a sign labeled “Austin—55 miles” should never be confused with the city of Austin itself, so the Church should never be confused with the kingdom. Nevertheless, just as the sign directs one to the city, so the Church directs one to the kingdom. And just as the sign is seen and not heard, so the Church, without speaking, points to the kingdom in its visible life together.

The Church, however, is not merely a sign: the Church is also a foretaste of the kingdom. It not only points to the banquet; in it one actually tastes the spread. Life among the people of God has the potential to expose us to the coming future of God in ways that nothing else can. In worship, we anticipate the day when every creature that has breath will praise the Lord; in prayer the day when the glory of the Lord will fill the earth as the waters cover the sea; in fellowship the day when enmity between enemies will be no more, but only love among friends.

Finally, the Church must indeed speak about the kingdom. As a community, we must announce the good news that in and through Jesus Christ the kingdom of God is at hand, constantly witnessing to the reality of God’s kingdom in the world. We must proclaim the way of Jesus as a new way of living, modeling this way before others. We must resist being conformed to this age because we are being conformed to the age to come. Right now, prior to the new creation’s consummation, in the midst of a rebellious, violent, greedy, and selfish world, as the Church we are called to embody the faithfulness, peace, hospitality, and community of the coming new creation, in which God will reign forever and ever.

II

“It is not the Church that ‘has’ a mission, but the reverse; Christ’s mission creates itself a Church” (Moltmann, Church in the Power of the Spirit, 10). From the moment that Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, God has been working to rescue his creation from the forces of evil, sin, and death that have invaded it. He has been seeking to restore the ruptured relationships that have occurred as a result of the Fall. In Genesis 3-11, we see God continually acting to repair the damage that humans have wrought in his world; and centrally, in Genesis 12, God summons Abraham to join him in his mission. He promises Abraham descendants and land so that through Abraham God might bless all the nations of the earth. God invites a human family to participate not only in their own restoration, but also in the restoration of the whole world. This calling is then passed on from Abraham to Isaac and, finally, to Israel, the people of God’s own choosing, chosen to be a light to the nations and salt in the earth.

The Church is Israel, reconstituted around Jesus of Nazareth, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and opened up to both Jews and Gentiles. As a result, Israel’s mission is the Church’s mission: to be a light and a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. Although the fundamental work of joining God in his reconciling work remains the same, the mission has been rearticulated and refined in important ways.

First, the shape of the Church’s life and mission is primarily informed by the instruction of Jesus—in places like the Sermon on the Mount—rather than by Torah, the Law. Second, the message of the Church is not primarily about Yahweh’s great acts of deliverance on behalf of Israel (although it certainly includes that), but is chiefly focused on the Father’s love demonstrated through Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit—for the sake of the whole world! Third and finally, the Church is not confined to any one plot of land or national boundary line but is sent into all the earth to proclaim the gospel to every nation under heaven.

III

When Christians speak of the one God they cannot do so without reference to three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To speak of God, Christians must speak of a community. When they testify with the apostle John that “God is love,” they not only mean that God loves the world, but also that God, in his own life before all time, gives and receives, shares and communes eternally by, in, and through love.

As an eternal life of love, God as Trinity tells us something about the Church: community is the ground, essence, and goal of all things. The community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together created the world, together sustain the world, together move it toward completion. Community is what humans were made for from the beginning; it is what God will finally grant us in full in the end; and it is what gives life meaning and vitality in the meantime.

The Church is the community within which God has chosen to demonstrate who he is—which we have seen to be perfect, communal love—to the world. In order for God to use the Church in this way, he has given the Church the gift of participation, through Jesus Christ, in God’s own nature (2 Peter 1:4). The Church is called to participate in and embody the life of God so that the world can see what it was made for: loving community.

IV

In Philippians 2:5-11, the Church is called to have the same mind that Christ Jesus had. In other words, the Church is summoned to conform the pattern of its life to the pattern revealed in Jesus. Instead of exploiting our privileges, God calls us to rid ourselves of them, becoming slaves to others and submitting ourselves to humiliation for the sake of the world. And even if obedience leads to a cross, God asks us to remain steadfast and loyal to him. Whenever and wherever the Church models its life after its Lord in this way, the visible presence of Jesus’ distinctive way of life remains in the world. The Church then lives into the reality of its name: the Body of Christ.

The Church, therefore, is that community of persons who love one another as God first loved us—who love our spouses as Christ loved the Church, our enemies as Christ loved his executioners, the world as God in Christ loves the world. The Church is the Body of Christ, which in seeking to have the mind of Christ, thereby becomes the witness to Christ.

V

The Church matters, ultimately, because it is not about the Church at all, but about God. The Church matters precisely because it is not an end in itself, but always pointing away from itself to something more final, more enduring, more beautiful than itself—the kingdom and the glory of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thus when Christ appears, there will be no more need for the Church, no more need for mission or witness, for God will be all in all. Every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The banquet will begin; and once the meal has started, there is no longer any need for a foretaste.New Wineskins

Garrett EastGarrett East is a first year Master of Divinity student at Abilene Christian University. Garrett and his wife, Stacy, are members of a church planting team that will be moving to Tabora, Tanzania, in 2013 with the goal of establishing Christian communities among the Nyamwezi people. Their team is training with the Halbert Institute for Missions and Garrett blogs at [ www.cruciformmission.blogspot.com].

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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