May 23, 2011Missiology

Musings on the Missional Manifesto, Part 5: The Church

Today brings us to the halfway point in our "Musings on the Missional

Manifesto" series as we look at the fifth affirmation on the church.

Here are the earlier installments:

1. Authority

2. Gospel

3. Kingdom

4. The Mission

Here is how the fifth affirmation reads in the manifesto:

Church: The church is a sign and instrument of the Kingdomof God, birthed by the gospel of the Kingdom and tasked with the mission of the Kingdom. The church is a covenant community of imperfect but redeemed believers living in our world. Followers of Christ do not live out their mission in isolation, but rather the Spirit of God enfolds believers into local Christian communities, i.e. churches. It is in and through such community their mission in the world is enhanced.

The church has been addressed in our musings on previous affirmations. That is unavoidable for the Kingdom, mission, and the church are connected, even inseparable.

The opening sentence of the statement on the church demonstrates how these three biblical themes are intertwined in the missional conversation. The framers used the well-worn images of "sign" and "instrument" to described the role of the church in the Kingdom mission of God.

Let's step back and dig around these images to see what it means to say, "the church is a sign and instrument of the Kingdom of God." As I do this, remember, these are my thoughts. The crafting of the affirmation was a cooperative work of the framers, but this blog post represents, well, my thoughts.

In the last few decades, there was considerable attention given and major advance gained in our understanding of the relationship between the church and the Kingdom of God Not everything that came from this conversation is worth retaining for our understanding of the church's mission. But, much is worth our attention. This conversation paved the way for us to understand the missional nature of the church.

We began to see the church not as simply an institution but as an agent of God's kingdom mission. Increasingly, people recognize that the church must be seen as a missionary body with a divine call to be a sign and instrument of the God's kingdom.

I think (like the adjective "missional") the wide acceptance and use of these images confirms that they are powerful for capturing the call of the church to reflect the reality of the kingdom in its love and service towards others and to advance the kingdom of God in our broken and dark world.

Speaking of the church in this way led to clarifying the relationship between the church and the world.

This was helped by a growing awareness in the 1940's and 1950's that mission has its origin in God and his purposes. Not only did this insight affect the field of missiology, but it also helped to chart out a missional approach in theology as well.

We began to see the church as not a institution with a mission, but a people sent by God to accomplish His kingdom mission.

The church finds its significance as a body who is sent on a kingdom mission. Missionary congregations are communities that reflect the reality of the gospel of the kingdom in their life together and their life for their world. And, they are a body empowered by the Spirit and Word of the gospel, who have been given the keys of the kingdom and a promise from the King. The posture of these missionary congregations is "sentness."

As has been the case in my previous comments on the affirmations, I have cautioned us to learn from the past. This affirmation is no different.

In the mid-1960s, the newfound orientation of the church to the world took an unfortunate turn. People began to suggest a new structure for God's mission: God-world-church. J. C. Hoekendijk's word reflects this turn:

Our God is not a temple dweller. In the strict sense of the word he is not even a church god... We must maintain the right order in our thinking and speaking about the church. That order is God-World-Church, not God-Church-World."

So, the calling of the church is to figure out how God is working in the world, and join Him there. It makes some sense... but it does not end well.

Other issues were also at work. The "mission" itself was redefined. The mission was defined as God restoring peace to the order and structures of the world.

The consequences of this shift are many. One is the near total eclipse of the church's role in God plan, and another one (and most concerning) is the lost of the centrality of Jesus and the cross for redemption by forgiveness of sins in God's mission.

I think that some are making similar mistakes today--focusing on the Kingdom to the marginalization of the church. There are many today who are also abandoning the church, believing it is not essential to be apart of a local church in order participate in God's mission.

It is my conviction that as we realize the connection of the church's identity and mission to the kingdom mission of God can we begin to understand the essential missional calling of the church for the world. As David Fairchild says, "To have a gospel-initiative, it must be placed in the context of a gospel community. The world will know we are Christians not by our disconnected, loose affiliations for one another but for our love for one another in a radical gospel community. Without the church, the preview of the Kingdom and the witness of the truth claims of the gospel are lost." [1]

It's important to note the difference between the Great Commission to make disciples, and the Great Commandments to love God and neighbor.

The former is the formal mission of the local church, our primary objective in the world. The latter is the responsibility of all Christians to be salt and light, representing God to the world in their personal life and vocation. Yes, these commands are distinct, and that should not be overlooked. But, also these commands intersect. They represent the role of the gathered and scattered church--different, but deeply connected.

As the people of God (the church) live in the world together and live for the good of their communities (loving and serving them and sharing the gospel), our lives reflect our message, and the mission is advanced. Our good works in the world complement the mission of the church.

Put another way, the church (as people) has/have different roles in its scattered and its gathered states. So, its disciplemaking focus is evident while gathered and the church is essential to that process. Yet, Christians (the church scattered) also and still have a role of sharing Christ and doing good. Their connection to the church enhances that mission as well and must not be lost-- living for Jesus, but being disconnected from his body.

Next, we will look at the sixth affirmation regarding the Christo-centricity of mission. As always, be sure to read the preamble and affirmations here, and then come back and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.

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[1] David Fairchild, "New Forms of Doing Church," comment section of drewgoodmanson.com; available at http://www.goodmanson.com/church/new-forms-of-doing-church/.

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Musings on the Missional Manifesto, Part 5: The Church