The Missional Church

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Church

1.      What is the telos to which the missional church is oriented or directed?

One problem with this question begins with our concept of telos.  This word, especially in our North American context, conjures up visions of tasks that must be accomplished in order to achieve a goal.  We produce a checklist of actions that define what our goal is.  However, we might find this to be backwards.  First, we have to understand who we are and who we belong to before we can determine what steps of action are appropriate.  As such, telos is much more concerned with who we are than what we do.  If this is true, then we cannot define our telos in terms of action but only in terms of our relationship to God because that is the end for which God has called and created us.

We discussed in class that the telos of the Church is to be the “socially embodied and historically extended” Body of Christ to the world.  The Church is the tangible hands and feet of God, serving the world.  We are called to participate in the redemptive action of God in all of creation.  The Church is the unified Body of Christ that has received the One Spirit.  All of this language pertains to the character of the Church as a reflection of the Triune God.  And, because of this identity, the Church is called to act in particular ways within our world.

“To be historic means that I must be capable of making a succession of ‘events’ a narrative – not just any narrative, but a narrative that is sufficient to give me a sense of self, one which looks not only to my past but points to the future, thereby giving my life a telos and direction” (Hauerwas 36).  Again, even though narratives are a sequence of events (actions and decisions), it is those actions that are indicative of our identity.  As our story is intertwined into the story of God, our actions and decisions change because our identity is now defined and characterized by that overarching narrative.  The result is that our life begins to reflect the life and character of God back into the world, inviting others to join God’s story.  The telos of the Church then becomes to live in faithful cooperation with God’s grand narrative.

It would seem only appropriate at this conjecture to establish the telos of this grand narrative.  Is Scripture simply a set of rules?  Or, is there something far greater at work within the pages of this wonderful text.  What is the fundamental purpose of Scripture for the people of God?     Matthew 22:37-40 records Jesus’ response to the question posed by an expert of the law: “Which is the greatest commandment?”  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. ’This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. ‘All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (NIV).

If we take Jesus’ words serious then we must consider this to be the primary concern of Scripture, its ultimate end.  Furthermore, it is Scripture’s primary call to both Israel and the Church, who becomes the “new” Israel.  We have become confused in thinking that the Church’s primary responsibility is to build the Kingdom of God.  However, this account of the missional church’s call is misguided.  Rather, the Church is called to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19).  God builds His kingdom; He alone causes it to grow (1 Cor. 3:6-8).  We are simply called to sow and water that seed.

“The church is not the kingdom but the foretaste of the kingdom.  For it is in the church that the narrative of God is lived in a way that makes the kingdom visible.  The church must be the clear manifestation of a people who have learned to be at peace with themselves, one another, the stranger, and of course, most of all, God” (Hauerwas 97).  In other words, we are to be so formed by the Love of God that the end result is shalom.

“…the goal of Christian worship: to form radical disciples of Jesus and citizens of the baptismal city who, communally, take up the creational task of being God’s image bearers, unfolding the cultural possibilities latent in creation – but doing so as empowered by the Spirit, following the example of Jesus’s [sic] cruciform cultural labor” (Smith 220).

The missional church’s calling is to re-present Christ back into the world.  “Jesus’ life was seen as the recapitulation of the life of Israel and thus presented the very life of God in the world.  By learning to imitate Jesus, to follow in his way, the early Christians believed they were learning to imitate God, who would have them be heirs of the kingdom” (Hauerwas 78).  That is our mission as the Church.  We are to be imitators of God (Eph. 5:1).

At this junction, we may wish to differentiate between the Church as institution and the Church as a people.  “What makes a community ‘Christian’ isn’t simply the fact that all the members hold roughly the same beliefs, but that they live out those beliefs with each other in ways that are faithful to the story of Jesus.  The christoform pattern of these lived-out beliefs is what consititutes their ‘form of life’” (Kallenberg 91).  The Church does not exist for the sake of the Church.  The Church exists for the sake of the world.  We are to be a holy nation and a priestly kingdom that blesses the world (Rev. 1:6).

Our existence as the Church“involves seeing in the cross the summary of [Jesus’] whole life.  Thus to be like Jesus is to join him in the journey through which we are trained to be a people capable of claiming citizenship in God’s kingdom of nonviolent love – a love that would overcome the powers of this world, not through coercion and force, but through the power of this one man’s death” (Hauerwas 76).  The cruciform life is a life of love that is empowered by the source of Love and directed into the world as a testimony to God’s perfect Love found in Christ.

The cross becomes the epitome of the self-giving love of God.  Stanley Hauerwas comments:

The cross is Jesus’ ultimate dispossession through which God has conquered the powers of this world.  The cross is not just a symbol of God’s kingdom; it is that kingdom come.  It is only by God’s grace that we are enabled to accept the invitation to be part of that kingdom.  Because we have confidence that God has raised this crucified man, we believe that forgiveness and love are alternatives to the coercion the world thinks necessary for existence.  Thus, our true nature, our true end is revealed in the story of this man in whose life, we believe, is to be found the truth (87).

The cross is the fulfillment of the covenant given to Abraham.  The covenant portrayed a community, a family.  It envisioned a people without division in accordance with the life-giving purposes of God, which countered the destruction of sin seen in Genesis 3-11.  If this is so, the Church is the first-fruits of that reality.  And, in addition, they are the sign to the world of God’s redemptive work.  As such, they are a living reality pointing to a future hope and expectation, inviting the world to become a part of this new soteriological reality and community.  This is all accomplished through the Messiah!

“The answer is that the church, thus united through the grace of God in the death of Jesus, is the sign to the principalities and powers that their time is up” (Wright 173).  This should cause us to reconsider the role of the church in our world!  It definitely is more than a social club.  Perhaps the Church might really be a necessity, able to supersede the individualism that plagues our world.  In addition, the Church is the covenant community that is blessed to be a blessing to the world.  Thus, as we receive Love we are called to love the world.  This is the Church’s chief end.

2.      What are the primary narratives that inform the missional church? (Rather than re-write the entire Bible focus on the question: what do you see as the primary narrative themes that inform the missional church)?

The primary narrative, as I best understand it, is love.  As stated above, Jesus points out that the whole purpose of the Law and the Prophets was to direct people to love God with everything that they were and to love their neighbors as if they were their neighbors.  It all revolves around having proper relationship, shalom, that is the fruit of love.  As such, I believe everything that Scripture has to offer must ultimately be interpreted through the lens of love.

John Wesley understood this concept to inform the whole of Scripture as well.  “No matter which door one enters into his thinking – holiness, sanctification, perfection, cleansing, faith, man, God, salvation, or any other – not only does each of these begin to flow together and intertwine with the others, but the whole is channeled inevitably into love” (Wynkoop 21).

John Wesley wrote:

It were well you should be thoroughly sensible of this, ‘The heaven of heavens is love.’  There is nothing higher in religion; there is, in effect, nothing else; if you look for anything more than love, you are looking wide of the mark, you are getting out of the royal way, and when you are asking others, ‘Have you received this or that blessing?’ if you mean anything but more love, you mean wrong; you are leading them out of the way, and putting them upon a false scent.  Settle it then in your heart, that from the moment God has saved you form all sin, you are to aim at nothing more, but more of that love described in the thirteenth of the Corinthians.  You can go no higher than this, till you are carried into Abraham’s bosom’ (Wynkoop 22).

In order to understand who the Church is to be, we must first understand who God is.  I believe that Trinity is the primary driving force that shapes the missional church.  How one understands Trinity dramatically impacts how one understands the purpose and work of the church.  And, a Trinitarian understanding of God impacts our view of what it means to be truly human, imago Dei.

If it is true that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16) and if God’s character does not change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8; James 1:17), then it can be said that God’s very essence is communal.  Furthermore, true love is not a power-structure relationship, but is one of equality.  It is a constant interpenetration of the Father, Spirit, and Son; so that when one acts they all act as One.  Love is not a static reality.  It is constantly moving, both toward and from each of the Persons in the Trinity.  To describe God as Love is to understand God as community.

This opens us up for a better understanding of Scripture.  “God’s concern for God’s glory is precisely rescued from the appearance of divine narcissism because God, not least God as Trinity, is always giving out, pouring out, lavishing generous love on undeserving people, undeserving Israel and an undeserving world” (Wright 70-71).  Love is a dynamic reality, not static.  Love always flows back out to others, which is the essence of the Triune life.

Wright believes, “God had a single plan all along through which he intended to rescue the world and the human race, and that this single plan was centered upon the call of Israel, a call which Paul saw coming to fruition in Israel’s representative, the Messiah” (35).  If the Trinity is truly Love, then it makes perfect sense why that Love would then be extended to a broken, sinful humanity.  That was Christ’s entire purpose.  Colossians 1:15-20 states:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.  And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.  For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross (NIV).

Christ came as the representative of God’s love.  John 3:16 reminds us of God’s purpose for sending Jesus into the world, to save it.  “It is thus in the cross that Christians see the climax of God’s way with the world.  In his cross we see decisively the one who, being all-powerful, becomes vulnerable even to being a victim of our refusal to accept his Lordship.  Through that cross God renews his covenant with Israel; only now the covenant is with the ‘many.’  All are called to be his disciples through this one man’s life, death and resurrection, for in this cross we find the very passion of God” (Hauerwas 81).

If this is the way of God, then as the living Body of Christ we are called to live such a cruciform life.  It is a life of sacrificial love.  1 John 4:7-12 exhorts us:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.  This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Soninto the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

As such, it cannot help but inform the missional church’s identity.  “Christian ethics does not begin by emphasizing rules or principles, but by calling our attention to a narrative that tells of God’s dealing with creation” (Hauerwas 24-25).  “Furthermore, to be a Christian is not principally to obey certain commandments or rules, but to learn to grow into the story of Jesus as the form of God’s kingdom.  We express that by saying we must learn to be disciples; only as such can we understand why at the center of creation is a cross and resurrection” (Hauerwas 30).

As discussed previously, Jesus makes it very clear that the whole purpose of the Law and the Prophets was Love.  We are called to love God above everything else and we are called to love others as we love ourselves.  Love, it would seem, is the clearest theme that binds the narrative of God together and propels the story to its culmination.

For instance, Creation plays a foundational role throughout scripture.  Creation can quite possibly be best understood as a labor of love.  The dynamic reality of Love is a creating love that causes life and desires relationship.  That hardly means that God was lonely since God is already perfect community.  However, it could mean that God desires to expand community and create beauty.  If this is truly a labor of love, we can properly understand the agony of sin’s devastating disruption of relationship.  Because God is a loving Creator, God is also a loving Redeemer.

Covenant must also be seen through the lens of love.  God’s desire for saving creation leads to covenant.  God has a plan of salvation to bring creation back to what it was intended to be, including humanity.  Covenant is God’s way of saying that He is committed to this relationship, even if the other party is not.  For instance, the covenant with Abraham is sealed because God holds Himself personally responsible should the covenant fail.  And, it is through this covenant that God intends to bless the world.

Even God’s judgment when Israel fails to uphold its part of the covenant is best understood as God’s loving correction.  As Leviticus 26:22-24 tells us, “I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted.  ‘If in spite of these things you do not accept my correction but continue to be hostile toward me, I myself will be hostile toward you and will afflict you for your sins seven times over’” (NIV).  The punishment is designed to cause Israel to return back to God.

The missional church must be concerned about being an extension of God’s love.  Love is both our end and our method.  Currently, we are having so many discussions about how to be relevant.  Cultural fads will always come and go.  However, Love is always relevant.  Love can speak most convincingly to the hearts of those who find themselves broken, estranged, and dead.  Love can break in and revive hearts of stone, making them flesh again.  That is how we go about the task of discipleship.  People are not won over by power and wise arguments, but by servanthood and love.  The missional church is a cruciform people.

3.      What are the key communal practices of the missional church?

“Liturgies or worship practices are rituals of ultimate concern that are formative of our identity – they both reflect what matters to us and shape what matters to us” (93).  They are the practices that grab hold of our love and direct it to some “ultimate” end.  As I have said earlier, I believe that our telos is Love.  There are many “liturgies,” acts that shape our desires, to be found within the Church (and outside the Church).

James K. A. Smith notes, “This liturgical affirmation of materiality is commonly described as a sacramental understanding of the world – that the physical, material stuff of creation and embodiment is the means by which God’s grace meets us and gets hold of us” (141).  The sacramental imagination, as such, is the intuition that God meets us here in the material reality and we are called to respond in material ways.  It is through these practices that God shapes us to embody the Kingdom of God back into the world.

“These are habits that play a significant role in shaping our identity, who we are.  Engaging in these habit-forming practices not only says something about us, but also keeps shaping us into that kind of person” (Smith 82).  We must be intentional and cautious about participating in ritual without a proper understanding of that ritual.  Otherwise, we engage in traditionalism, which places highest priority upon the act, not the end goal.  However, ritual is important in that it keeps us continually in remembrance of our calling, which is a constant call for the Israelites in Deuteronomy.  We often forget what God has done and become swayed to follow foreign gods.

The idea of time plays a prominent role in the worshiping community.  The Christian calendar calls our attention upon Christ.  The aspect of time indicates and shapes our entrance into worship.  The colors, the smells, and the lighting all demonstrate a posture that we take in worship.  Whether it be penitence or rejoicing, the Christian calendar calls us to respond to the work of Christ, rather than being fixated on obscure, trivial realities.  Nor, do we orient ourselves in the world by the world’s understanding of time.  Rather, we find Sabbath rest.  In this, we come to appreciate and understand the significance of our lives, which is not wrapped up in production.

Sabbath, as Brueggemann argues, plays a vital role in our liturgies.  Brueggemann writes:

The reason that Sabbath is a radical discipline is that it is a regular, disciplined, highly visible withdrawal from the acquisitive society of production and consumption that is shaped only by commodity.  Work stoppage and rest are public statements that one’s existence and the existence of one’s society are not defined by the pursuit of commodity, and that human well-being is not evoked by commodity but precisely by the intentional refusal of commodity (59).

Sabbath reminds us who we are and who we belong to.  Thus, we are called to live in the world as a particular type of people in a particular type of way.  We are not the world’s and we do not need to live in the world on its terms.  We understand relationships to be of primary importance, even at the expense of our person.

The Gathering of the community in worship demonstrates that we are a called people.  Our gathering together, which could be replaced with a myriad of other activities, signifies that it is a response to God’s gracious call.  As creation was called into being, we too, as a new creation, are being called into new life, formed into a new community.  We become aware of our total dependenc upon God.  God initiates the call and empowers our response.  It is a call to be truly human, as God created us to be.

The greeting of peace is also a significant act within worship.  “Worship is a space of welcome because we are, at root, relational creatures called into relationship with the Creator, in order to flourish as a people who bear his image to and for the world” (169).  As such, we also become extensions of God’s welcome and hospitality to those who are around us.  The passing of the peace is about right-relatedness in this community.  Where there are tensions, it is a call to forgiveness.  And, where there are strangers, it is an invitation to join the fellowship of believers.

Singing, as has been well attested recently, plays an instrumental role in worship.  It gives full-body expression to our praise.  Furthermore, singing hymns and psalms tend to resonate within our memory.  Music can penetrate us like other forms of communication cannot.  Finally, it is a form of compacted theology.  Of course, this can be both good and bad.  Song can communicate to both to the mind and through the entirety of our senses.

The reading of Scripture, especially of the law, suggests Smith, brings about conviction that we have failed.  We have sinned and fallen short of our purpose.  I would want to challenge this, although it isn’t totally wrong.  The purpose of reading Scripture, even the Law, serves as a interjection of hope and a re-orienting of our lives around God’s purposes.  Further, it paints a “social imaginary” that reveals the wonderful ways God is redeeming this world.

Confession can and should be derived from this time of reading Scripture.  We have found ourselves fallen short of the plan and purpose for which God has created us.  Although called to be a reflection of God in the world, we instead often reflect the brokenness of humanity in the world.  As such, we confess our sins together, calling out to the merciful Savior, so that we might live as imago Dei.  It is repentance for the ways we have fallen short of perfect love.

Baptism plays a major role in our formation.  We are constituted as a new people, buried and risen to new life in Christ.  We are instituted into the family of God.  More than a simple picture, baptism enacts in us, by the Spirit, a new way of life.  Not only are we brought into the fold, we are commissioned into the priesthood of believers.  And, we are called to live by a kingdom politic, putting to death all that would pull us away from God.  We are no longer our own.  Instead, it is Christ who lives within us (Gal. 2:20).

The creedal statements of faith provide a number of elements for our worship.  First, they are a sort of “pledge of allegiance” for the Christian community.  Second, they situate us in a historical context, rooting our faith in the faith that has been handed down by each successive generation.  Finally, the creeds provide succinct beliefs that we affirm and which create a common ground upon which we stand as a community of believers.  They help us establish the essentials of faith by which we are constituted as the family of God.

Prayer is the affirmation that “there is more than meets the eye” in this world.  Appearances aren’t always what they seem.  Smith divides prayer into two areas: intercessory and illumination.  First, intercessory is the outpouring of our hearts for others.  It orients us to be others-centered, rather than self-centered.  It is the understanding that we are called and blessed so that we might be a blessing back to the world as God’s image bearers.  Secondly, the prayer of illumination realizes that we are solely dependent upon God for revelation and understanding.  It is posturing ourselves in humility to be open to the Spirit’s movement.  And, it is seeking God’s wisdom rather than any wisdom we might try to artificially conjure up.

The sermon primarily is about world making.  An ultimate portrayal of reality and life are offered within the pages of Scripture.  It is a normative text that guides our lives on a certain trajectory, shaping our affections toward the kingdom.  This alternative reality that is held up as a counter-cultural world allows us to see the “powers” for what they truly are.  And, we are given an alternative to the violent power games that the world would have us play.  The message of Scripture is given voice in our contemporary context so that the Word of God may convict and equip us for our mission.

The Eucharist is an amazing part of worship.  It is a blessing over the creation and the value that humans add to the creation.  Bread and wine are not naturally occurring substances.  It is taken from creation and further developed for the sustenance of our bodies.  However, this is no typical meal.  This is a kingdom meal with an open invitation to all.  It is a united kingdom, the Body of Christ.  It is the servants of Christ putting on the sufferings of Christ.  The kernels of grain and the individuality of the grapes are threshed and crushed out.  These are then formed into the one loaf and the one cup.  In the same way, we are identified as the One Body of Christ.  And, it is a mandate for all believers to be the Eucharistic sacrament to the world, an invitation to God’s table of fellowship.  It is also a reminder that we will one day enjoy fellowship eternal with God, rather than simply imbibing this meal of the wilderness.

The offering is probably one of the most difficult parts of a service due to some of the historical abuse of money in the Church.  The offering and tithe help us to recognize that we live by a kingdom economic.  We are dependent upon God for provision.  Likewise, we are blessed to be a blessing back to the world.  In a real sense, we are to live a Jubilee politic with our pocketbook.  It is a reminder that Christianity is not simply a “spiritual endeavor”, but must take bodily form.  It must be lived out in the world.  And, it is a reminder that we are simply stewards of our resources, God is the owner.  Thus, we live knowing that we are merely temporary holders of our resources.  Everything, including my life, is God’s.

Finally, the benediction blesses the gathered community.  But, again, the blessing is not to remain with us.  The blessing is given so that we might be a blessing back into the world.  Therefore, it is a commissioning of the Body of Christ to be the Church in the world.  It is an invitation to partner with God’s creative, redemptive action in the world.  As we are called, so we are sent.

Each of these elements shapes our character by practicing the politics of the kingdom.  The Triune God is at work within the sacraments and practices in our worship.  They mold and form us into a particular of people, empowered to be God’s hands and feet in the world.  Our desires are sculpted to reflect the heart of God, by which the Spirit creates a passion to live for the kingdom of God… not simply by intellectual assent, but by cruciform living.

4.      What are the most important virtues of the missional church that help it to move toward its telos?

“Plato and Aristotle considered rules to be secondary to the virtues, which served to direct us to their true end, the human good.  In our own day, however, questions concerning our ultimate end (‘telos’), or what characterizes ‘the good life’ have been dismissed because they are not subject to rational argument” (Hauerwas 20).  Although describing an ultimate end may be difficult, the Christian community believes that there is a specific telos.  As such, it is fitting that we discuss what virtues might steer us toward that ultimate good.

As I have tried to point out prior to this question, I believe that both the telos and the virtue by which we arrive at that end are one and the same: Love.  We are called to participate, to be in a relationship of love with the God who is Love.  Therefore, our ability to act virtuously, to love, is dependent upon our relationship with the Source of Love, namely God.  It is only when we understand that we are loved can we love in return.  And, it is in this dynamic relationship with Love that we discover the most important virtue for the Church: love.  That is not simply a task, but a foundational characteristic of the Church’s identity.

“From the perspective of an unqualified ethic it is assumed that only when we can answer the question ‘What ought we to do?’ can we answer ‘What ought we to be?’  While I have no wish to argue that an ‘ethics of virtue’ must be prior to an ‘ethics of obligation,’ it is nonetheless the case that concentration on the latter has left us with too few resources to face the moral dangers of a violent world” (Hauerwas 22).

Too often we have been concerned about a checklist that we can operate under.  We have considered holiness and love as a list of activities, rather than understanding them as who we are as the people of God.  The result is a works’ based righteousness that tries to secure the favor of God.  Unfortunately, this often leads to hypocrisy and judgment upon others rather than loving relationships.  It is little wonder then that so many people are leery of the Church.

Christian ethics is concerned with who we are, not simply what we do.  “This is not to suggest that our actions, decisions and choices are unimportant, but rather that the church has a stake in holding together our being and behaving in such a manner that our doing only can be a reflection of our character.  The ongoing history of the church requires persons – characters, if you will – who are capable of living appropriate to God’s activity in the life and death of Jesus Christ” (Hauerwas 33-34).

Remember, Stanley Hauerwas asserts that Christianity is not simply interested in rule keeping.  Rather, we are called to participate in the story of God.  A narrative that we live out involves our very character.  It becomes a consistent testimony to our character.  As such, we understand intuitively that we cannot consistently “do” without consistently “being.”  If this is fundamentally true, then we are “lovers” called to love as we have been loved by the God who is Love (Eph. 5:1-2).  That, I believe, is the kingdom of God that we see breaking into the world which has only known lust and greed, not Love.

“The task of Christian ethics is imaginatively to help us understand the implications of that kingdom.  Or as I have said elsewhere: Christian ethics is the disciplined activity which analyzes and imaginatively tests the images most appropriate to orchestrate the Christian life in accordance with the central conviction that the world has been redeemed by the work of Jesus Christ” (Hauerwas 69).  If this rings true, then “rules” within Scripture may be most concerned about maintaining proper relationship, not providing abstract boundaries for no reason.  Really, rules are boundaries for maintaining and preserving love for God and within the community.

Hauerwas suggests that the Church is not defined by its rule keeping: “Put starkly, the first social ethical task of the church is to be the church – the servant community.  Such a claim may well sound self-serving until we remember that what makes the church the church is its faithful manifestation of the peaceable kingdom in the world.  As such the church does not have a social ethic; the church is a social ethic” (Hauerwas 99).  Hauerwas makes the move that the Church’s virtue is to be non-violent.  However, this cannot be done unless we are consumed by the love of God.  So, even non-violence must flow from the source of Love, it cannot be separate from it.

“For the Christian life is more a recognition and training of our senses and passions than a matter of choices and decisions.  By displaying some of the sense and passion of that life, we may all be better able to see how to live it” (Hauerwas 149).  This makes perfect sense in connection with my hermeneutic of love.  As we understand more and more God’s love for us and for all of humanity, we cannot help but become more responsive in loving Him back and loving others with the same love that He shows us all!

Inversely, as we better understand this Love, the more we realize how far we fall short of this Love.  At this point, we are called to go deeper, to love more sacrificially, to love more selflessly.  We come to recognize God’s movement in the world more and more as we become attuned to His love being displayed toward others.  The Church is called to participate in God’s love by being an extension of that love in the world.  The world recognizes God’s love when it is displayed between people (John 13:35).  Amazingly, the Church becomes most winsome to a fallen world when it lives this out!

As such, works of righteousness “will not earn their performer their membership within God’s true, eschatological, covenant people; they will demonstrate that membership” (Wright 141).  After all, 1 Corinthians reminds us that all the activity in the world is meaningless if it is not performed in love.  To do anything outside of love is essentially done apart from God.

That is why it is mandatory that the Church understands that it is called to be the physical, earthly embodiment of God’s love in the world.  That is the characteristic that both informs and defines the Church.  If the Body of Christ does not operate in this way it ceases to be the Church.  We must be aware of Christ’s warning to the church in Ephesus, saying: “You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.  Remember the height from which you have fallen!  Repent and do the things you did at first.  If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place” (Rev. 2:3-5).  The most important virtue that empowers the Church to move toward its telos is Love.


Works Cited

Brueggemann, Walter. Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church. 1 ed.

Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007.

Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer In Christian Ethics. Notre Dame:

University of Notre Dame Press, 1991.

House, Zondervan Publishing. Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan,


Kallenberg, Brad J.. Live to Tell: Evangelism in a Postmodern Age. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2002.

Smith, James K. A.. Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 2009.

Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church As the Image of the Trinity (Sacra Doctrina).

Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997.

Wynkoop, Mildred Bangs. Theology of Love. Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1972.




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