• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

“The Lord’s Work in the Lord’s Way”

This title is taken from one of Francis Schaeffer’s sermons contained in the wonderful collection: No Little People.  In that message, Schaeffer makes the following comment:

As I see it, the Christian life must be comprised of three concentric circles, each of which must be kept in its proper place. In the outer circle must be the correct theological position, true biblical orthodoxy and the purity of the visible church.  This is first, but if that is all there is, it is just one more seedbed for spiritual pride. In the second circle must be good intellectual training and comprehension of our own generation.  But having only this leads to intellectualism and again provides a seedbed for pride.  In the inner circle must be the humble heart – the love of God, the devotional attitude toward God.  There must be the daily practice of the reality of God whom we know is there.  These three circles must be properly established, emphasized and related to each other.”

His words got me thinking about the church.  If I were to diagram what he was trying to say, I would present it this way:

The outer circle concerns the church and our theological/experiential understanding of it. The next circle in concerns our grasp of what God would have us do in His world, in other words, His vision for us.  The most inner circle concerns our total dependence upon Him, expressed through prayer & worship. 

Sketching it in this way, the diagram left me with a probing question:  We, as World Team, say that our main priority is to establish the church, the local church.  Yet, do we as a World Team community know what we mean when we say: “church”? 

That’s the conversation I would like us to begin to have over the coming days.

One Response

  1. In defining “church” I would include the following characteristics. Besides being Christ-centered, Bible-based, promoting purity of doctrine and life, a healthy church structures its times of being gathered together in a way that balances worship, fellowship, prayer, teaching of the Word, and decision-making in both cell-groups and celebration meetings that fit the socio-cultural context. A healthy church when scattered has a vital and dynamic witness, service, and prophetic voice in its community demonstrating God’s supernatural presence, power, truth, and love.

    Such a church is relational. It is a congregation that knows and worships their Lord intimately and is totally committed to Him, especially on the leadership level. Those coming into its fellowship experience the warmth of its love, care, and balanced Biblical mentoring. From these relationships with God and each other combined with solid biblical instruction, the church develops the values that drive it. People are best discipled by churches that are value driven and so filled with the love of God that they reach out, even cross-culturally, in loving sensitivity to a lost and hurting world.

    Healthy churches have leaders characterized by servanthood, stewardship, and a shepherd concerns. Such a church makes sure that its converts are carefully discipled, involved in ministry so that their spiritual gifts may be recognized, affirmed, and put to work in the life and outreach of the church to a hurting world (Eph.4). It is a church with the philosophy of ministry that promotes frequently rethinking and adapting its ministries proactively so as to better “…serve (its) own generation according to the will of God.”

    The church that grows the best Christians models a philosophy of ministry that is organic rather than mechanistic or institutional. In an organic church, the basic value is not keeping people under control, but training and equipping them so that they enthusiastically own and apply the church’s purpose and values. These purposes and values grow out of a living relationship with Christ and His Body. Leadership of the organic type church is based on interactive spiritual influence, rather than hierarchical line authority. In the organic church fellowship, growth and maturity of the members is considered more important than “programs.” Of higher value than the preservation of institutional rules is the glory of God in the church, manifested in Spirit-led diversity. The orientation of ministry is toward (“go…train…release”) rather than (“come…attract…hold”). Unity is based on mutual ownership of values, not on organizational controls.

    A healthy church is contextual yet it will take some counter-cultural positions in the light of Romans 12: 2 balanced with 12: 18.

    A healthy church is one that is constantly multiplying– reproducing daughter churches. Such a church also has a world vision and is sending it own people as disciple-makers starting news churches as needed. It has been said that “the Church exists by mission as a fire exists by burning.” Dynamic mission outreach is one of the vital signs of a healthy local church. Churches are not only the goal of missions but also the means of accomplishing that goal.

    Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon in their book RESIDENT ALIENS have outlined three models of what it means to be the church.

    1. The Activist church “…is more concerned with building a better society than with the reformation of the church. Through the humanization of society structures, the activist church glorifies God. The difficulty … is that the activist church appears to lack theological insight to judge history for itself. Its politics becomes a sort of religiously glorified liberalism.” The activist church has often become syncretistic in it theology with either modernistic or post-modernistic worldviews and has accepted many of the liberal political values that accompany these non-biblical worldviews.

    2. The Conversionist church “…argues that no amount of tinkering with the structures of society will counter the effects of human sin. The promises of secular optimism are, therefore, false because they attempt to bypass the biblical call to admit personal guilt and to experience reconciliation to God and neighbor. Because this church works only for inward change, it has no alternative social ethic or social structure of its own to offer the world.” (As the percentage of believers grow in a society their social and prophetic roles also increase balanced with prudence in the light of the level of persecution.) The conversionist have privatized their faith and unwittingly trivialized it so that it deals only with inward personal change. They have often surrendered their relationship to the larger society to the values and priorities of the secular political conservative ideology.

    3. “The Confessing church is not a synthesis of the other two approaches –a helpful middle ground. Rather, it is a radical alternative. Rejecting both the individualism of the conversionists and the secularism of the activists, the confessing church finds its main political task to lie, not in the personal transformation of individual hearts or the modification of society, but rather in the congregation’s determination to worship Christ in all things.”

    Hauerwas and Willimon have pointed out a set of theological presuppositions that would color all of our planning for the role of the church in facing the challenges of today’s world.

    There are elements of truth in the first two models. No one can say that unjust structures are not a problem, but the biblical role of the church is not humanization but holistic worldview evangelism i.e. disciple-making in the context of the church being salt and light in the larger society. No one can say that sin is not the problem and that conversion to Christ is not essential. Evangelism is one of the fundamental roles of the church. The problem is not on the emphasis on conversion to faith in Christ for salvation but in the privatization of the Christian faith so that the Christian faith is a private matter that does not have any place or right to be expressed in the larger society which leads to the secularization of the church so that the church has no role except in the private religious life of the individual. (For more information of these problems read THE GRAVE DIGGER’S FILE by Os Guiness.)

    The biblical balance is seldom a synthesis of other approaches or a helpful middle ground, but is often a third position or alternative. Hauerwas and Willimon’s view of the “confessing church” is pointing in the right direction. The political role of the church is primarily indirect and ethical. The church has a prophetic function to the larger society in all areas of life including the political, but it must not confuse the role of the church with the role of the state. In my judgment they are right in saying the church is to worship Christ in all things. This means among other things that not only is worship fundamental in serving God, but that Christ is not only to be the Lord of our religious life but our life in the larger society. Every area of our life- religious, intellectual, social, occupational, financial, civic etc.- is to be lived under the Lordship of Christ according to the Scriptures, and therefore we must neither privatize nor secularize our faith. The primary political role of the church is to disciple believers so as to replace the worldview of their cultural context with a biblically focused worldview in such a way that each believer applies the Word of God fully in their roles as God’s stewards of His creation as well as citizens of the state. All human beings will have to give an account before God for their obedience to God’s Cultural Mandate. The church and all Christians individually are responsible to carry out both God’s Evangelistic Mandate as well as the Cultural Mandate, but for the church the highest priority is to be the Evangelistic Mandate.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: