Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Thom Long’s book was fantastic and I will definitely be using several of his ideas in my own ministry.  Long states, “A society that has no firm hope for where the dead are going is also unsure how to take the hands of its children and lead them toward a hopeful future.”[1]  This is profound and truthful.  If everything is for not, then what good is life or what purpose is there apart from nihilism or hedonism?  If there is no future hope, then we have no future to orient ourselves toward or that draws us into that future!  Funerals are about proclaiming the hope that we have found in the death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

Long notes that funerals arise out of “necessity, custom, and conviction.”[2]  We have to do something with the body of the dead.  There is a prescribed (generally) way of disposing of the body and acknowledging this life.  And, the manner of our convictions often dictates how we do this as a community.  We must be aware of our culture, the assumptions underlying that culture, and we must ultimately see those in light of the Gospel.

Dualism, the belief that our soul is separate from our body, is prevalent in the culture and has infiltrated the Church.  But, we are both breath and dust.  Neoplatonism has created a sense that we are merely souls and the body is unimportant.  I agree entirely with Long that we have tried to distance ourselves from death and the bodies of the dead.  We have forgotten the hope of bodily resurrection.  This is a place where the funeral must re-capture the hope of the Gospel.  In this way, the funeral actually becomes a counter-cultural act when we proclaim that Death has no power but has been defeated.  We are not there to commemorate a soul or to imagine a disembodied person that floats off to heaven.  Rather, we assert again that the “perishable has become the imperishable.”

Essentially, there are three ways to view death and resurrection.  First, the body and soul separate at death and reunite at the resurrection.  Secondly, there is a general resurrection.  Finally, purgatory is waiting place for souls “in-between places.”  However, this only takes into account chronological time without eschatological time.  Because we believe that to be human is to be embodied, this presents a problem for the three views mentioned.  However, eschatological time, which is God’s time, might allow for bodily resurrection while the body of the deceased still remains dead with us.  This doesn’t lessen the mystery, but it does allow us to maintain the bodily resurrection without the separation of the soul!  Moltmann suggests that God’s salvation is outside of time because God exists outside of time.  Thus, we are raised in an instant “Today.”

Long outlines two ways Christians understand death: natural death and death as mythic force (enemy of all God wills in and for life).  But, there is a third way to understand death, which is death in Christ.  This is important because death happens both on the individual and corporate level.  There are “powers” that impact all of Creation.  However, “death in Christ” actually, and ironically, becomes the vehicle for life.  Because we are crucified with Christ, we are also raised to new life.  It is about our baptism!  I love this connection.

The purpose of worship, and thus the funeral, is narrating the great drama of the journey to God.  It is the re-enactment of the Gospel.  It is something that must continuously be proclaimed and performed as the community.  As we remember we are re-membered (put back together).  Thus, funerals are not merely utilitarian in nature.  Rather, they are to shape our being.  In this sense, the funeral is a procession.  We march with the dead once again in worship on the last leg of the journey of faith.  We are rehearsing for death but not embracing it – it is a foe.  Rather, we speak a defiant word – the Gospel which is Christ.  But, it should be noted that we die as we live.  Thus, the way we live out our faith in ordinary time will also be the way we die (i.e., begging, blessing, angry).  Anointing the sick with oil is a time-honored tradition.  It recalls baptism and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, therefore, calling to mind that we are God’s children.  As in baptism, we are buried with Christ and raised to new life with Christ also.

There are four necessities for the Christian funeral: holy person, holy place, holy people, and holy script.  Although we don’t lie about a person’s life, we also see their life in light of God’s redemption – which names them as saints of the Church.  This is naming our hope.  Holy place is significant because it recalls the community, the dedication and vows made, it recalls God’s covenant, and it signifies belonging.  Place is vital to who we are.  We ignore holy place to our detriment, not surrounded by the symbols of faith and life.  Holy people is also significant, despite being neglected.  The funeral has become individualized.  This is a place where we can push back on the privatization of the culture.  The holy script helps us to recall the purpose of our meeting: worship.  Yes, the dead is an essential element in the funeral, but ultimately the funeral is not about them or about those grieving.  It is about God.

Long then highlights eight purposes of a funeral: kerygmatic, oblational, ecclesial, therapeutic, Eucharistic, commemorative, missional, and educational.  There will likely be some overlap.  But, these were helpful distinctions that I will certainly employ.  It helps us keep in mind that we are proclaiming the Gospel but that it must also be contextualized.  Depending on the situation, we must be willing to adapt and exercise pastoral wisdom in how we approach the funeral and the sermon.  Long also mentions things that make funerals more difficult: a person outside the faith, cremation, infant death, suicide.  Each of these situations takes pastoral care and consideration, but there are also resources available to aid us in providing meaningful liturgies for the community of faith (and even those outside the faith).  Overall, Long’s book was immensely helpful and challenging.


[1] Thomas G. Long, Accompany Them with Singing: The Christian Funeral (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 7.

[2] Ibid, 8

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ImageIt is Good Friday.  That is a somewhat strange title for such a gruesome day.  After all, it is on this day that we are reminded that God was not the one demanding the cross, we were.  On this day we stood in the crowd and told Pilate: “You are no friend of Ceasar’s if you let this man go.”  Even as Pilate returned from questioning Jesus and said he found no fault with the man, we were not satisfied.  We yelled, “We have no king but Ceasar!  Crucify Jesus!  Crucify him!  Crucify him!  We demanded that a life be taken.   

But the “Good” was not found in us… it was found in him.  Jesus had told his disciples he would be raised up and would draw all nations to him.  The crucifixion, of all things, would be the very means by which God would draw people to God (John 12:32)!  God transformed the instrument of our violence (the cross) into an instrument of God’s peace and reconciliation. Miroslav Volf helps us think about this deeper: “Christ is not a third party inserted between an angry God and sinful humanity; he is the God who was wronged embracing humanity on the cross.”

Remember the night of Jesus betrayal?  In that “Last Supper” with his disciples, Jesus took the bread and after giving thanks, he broke it, saying, “This is my body…”  Likewise, he took the cup and blessed it, saying, “This is my blood…”  It is only with time that the disciples begin to better understand that God’s taking on flesh through Jesus, God’s participation with humanity, paves the way for our participation with God.  His flesh sanctifies our flesh.  His life becomes our life.  In Christ, God becomes accustomed to “tabernacling” with humanity and humanity becomes accustomed to living with God.  The cross becomes the means by which God demonstrates God’s unfailing love for the whole of creation.  It is the tangible action showing God is willing to go to the very depths of hell to save all of Creation. God received our violence while pouring out his grace. 

In the final moments on the cross, Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”  By the tree in the Garden of Gethsemane, sin and death entered this world.  By the second tree, the cross, sin and death have been conquered.  Christ became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21).  Reconciliation.  Redemption,  Recapitulation.

With his last breath, Jesus “gave up his spirit.”  At this moment, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two.  The earth shook and the rocks split.  Everything that had once seemed so sure, so rock-solid… everything was shaken to the core. Sin, the means by which we live for ourselves, secure our desires, and maintain “control” – shaken.  Enmity between humanity and God – shaken.  Our inability to live obediently as God’s people – shaken.  Death, the bedrock of all we know – shaken!  All these things had given way to a more solid reality: God’s Love. 

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.  7 Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. 8 But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. 9 Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the punishment of God. 10 For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11 But more than that, we even boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. 12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many.  16 And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17 If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19 For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20 But law came in, with the result that the trespass multiplied; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, just as sin exercised dominion in death, so grace might also exercise dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5: 6-11;15b-21).

            Dennis Minns sets out a brief introduction of Irenaeus by following his polemical arguments in Against Heresies.  This document is Irenaeus’ refutation of the Gnostic tradition  as espoused by Valentinus, as well as, the Marcionites, who differentiated between the God of the Old Testament and the God of Jesus, as per Marcion.  By following Irenaeus’ arguments, Minns hopes to establish the ancient writer’s overarching theology, even though it far from a systematic work.  Minns uses this approach for Irenaeus since much of his biography is unknown and speculative at best.

            Due to the limited information concerning Irenaeus’ life, Minns suggests that Irenaeus must be understood in light of his polemic.  In other words, Irenaeus’ theology is forged in response to the “heretics” of the early Church.  Although Irenaeus does respond to the Gnostic problem, it is difficult to imagine this then qualifies him solely as a “polemical theologian.”  This label suggests his theology is merely response and reaction.  Plus, it suggests that it is entirely negative (i.e., “it is not this but this”).  I find this a difficult category to adequately contain the whole of Irenaeus’ work and legacy for the Church.  After all, Irenaeus helped form the canon and the regula fidei as guides for the Church.

We should remember that Irenaeus’ theology was formed under the tutelage of Polycarp long before Against Heresies was written.  In other words, Irenaeus’ theology is well-formed by the time he actually set out to respond to the Gnostics.  Furthermore, with so little knowledge about Irenaeus’ total life, it may be unfair to label him solely as a “polemical theologian” based on his limited writings.  As a “man of peace”, it could be that Irenaeus was much more than a “polemical theologian.”  In fact, Irenaeus’ “polemic response” may be more out of concern for unity than orthodoxy (although right doctrine is important).

            Irenaeus’ primary concern in Against Heresies is combating the false doctrine of Gnosticism.  Gnostics bifurcated all of life into spirit and flesh.  The body and everything material was considered evil and corrupted.  The spirit, on the other hand, was considered pure and good.  Those that had received special revelation were given the ability to transcend the material and would inherit eternal life in a disembodied heaven.  Irenaeus’ theological response to this issue is a great contribution to the Church.  We are both “dust and spirit or breath.”  We are both physical and spiritual creatures.  We cannot be human without both of those present.    

            Irenaeus outright rejects the Gnostic notion for several reasons.  His most powerful arguments center on the fact that to be human is to be embodied and part of the material world, despite its broken state.  We are all the progeny of the first Adam because we have been molded from the same mud by God’s hand.  Furthermore, God’s economy of salvation is established and completed in the work of Christ who is the second Adam.  Through Christ we participate in the new life of resurrection, which will be a bodily resurrection. 

The grace of God available through the sacraments of the Church attests this bodily redemption.  Baptism cleanses the body and the Eucharist allows us to receive Christ’s body into our own bodies.  By being joined with the glorified body of Christ, our bodies, too, are glorified by the Father.  Irenaeus employs the Scriptural notion of “recapitulation” to describe this reality.  Christ’s participation in our humanity makes way for our participation in his glorification.

            Marcion believed that the Creator God of the Old Testament was different than the loving God that Jesus claimed as Father.  As such, Marcion omitted the Old Testament and heavily redacted the New Testament in light of this conviction.  Conflicting views in the New Testament were harmonized or done away with altogether.  This violates Jesus’ own words that he came “to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.”  John’s Gospel, which was also popular among the Gnostics, connects the Logos (Christ) with the Creator God of Genesis 1.    

            Again, Irenaeus went to task against Marcion’s understanding.  Irenaeus integrally linked the economy of creation and salvation together.  Thus, the first creation is fundamentally a part of the new creation that will be ushered in with the New Jerusalem.  God’s Creation was created “good” not evil.  In other words, the work of the Creator God in the Old Testament cannot be separated from the work of Jesus’ Father in the New Testament.  Irenaeus will go on to point out that there is only One True God in Three Persons.   

There are not two gods, as the Gnostics and the Marcionites suggest.  Rather, there is only the One True God whose image is Christ.  Although Irenaeus tends to emphasize Jesus’ humanity, he does not do so to the detriment of Jesus’ relationship as Son to the Father.  Jesus is divine as well as human.  He is conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the same mud as Adam through Mary.  This is an essential response to particular forms of Gnosticism, especially under Marcion, that conceived of as Jesus being fully human but adopted as God’s son.  Irenaeus holds Jesus’ humanity and divinity in full tension. 

Thus, in Christ both divinity and humanity are brought together.  Recapitulation of Christ as the second Adam bridges the gap between the “vengeful God” of the Old Testament and the “loving God” of the New Testament.  It is in the person of Christ that the full manifestation of the Word of God, God’s character and nature, are on full display for us to know and see.  And, at Jesus’ second coming, Irenaeus argues, we shall come to full maturity.  This is participatory language.  Through Christ’s participating in humanity, humanity participates in the very life of God – Father, Spirit, and Son.

Liturgy literally means “work of the people.” Many people think of liturgy as formal rituals. But, it’s more than that. Even churches that are not “formal” in style have a liturgy. Liturgy is the community of faith‘s response to God’s grace. And, it’s how a church orders itself and works together. Every church has a particular rhythm and pattern of life and worship together (not just the services on Sunday). Liturgy is the practices that shape and inform faith. This can be on a bigger scale, too. There are liturgies that are unique to particular denominations (i.e., not drinking alcohol) and liturgies unique to all Christians (i.e., communion and baptism).

 

Another word for this is “tradition.” Tradition is the practices that have been handed down to us by the community of faith over time. Sometimes traditions are fairly recent (i.e., use of guitar in worship) and some have a very long history (i.e., saying “amen”). You can even distinguish between “thick” and “thin” practices or liturgies. “Thick” liturgies are the significant practices that we will always keep (i.e., prayer, communion, baptism, preaching, to name a few). We keep these because they are significant ways that we are shaped. If we stopped doing those things, our identity would be something entirely different than Christian. “Thin” liturgies are practices that aren’t nearly as significant in shaping our identity. These will usually change from time to time. This might be as simple as saying that we always have three songs before we go to a time of prayer in a service. We could change it to four songs before the prayer and it wouldn’t change our identity.

 

Ultimately, liturgy should be Christ-centered and in line with the teaching of the apostles. When it goes beyond those boundaries it’s probably a good idea to remove, re-purpose, or replace that liturgy. Tradition sometimes needs to be corrected and changed. Although tradition can be extremely useful and helpful, if it becomes the sole authority over our lives, it becomes quite destructive. When that happens it is called “traditionalism.” This statement helps me to distinguish between tradition and traditionalism: “Tradition is the living faith of dead men. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living men.” Liturgy and tradition should always point toward Jesus, not back to the tradition or liturgy.

 

Anytime you go into a new culture, it takes time to learn the language and way of life in that new community. The same is true of visitors in a church. It takes time to learn the liturgy of a church. But, that doesn’t mean that the liturgy shouldn’t be accessible to guests. Since liturgy is the “work of the people”, the people of the congregation should help guests understand what is going on and why they do the things they do together. Pastors will often help with this by continuously explaining what is happening and why it is happening. As guests become a part of a church, the liturgy becomes a part of them and they then help shape the liturgy for the future.

This is a very short book, but it is extremely dense.  Berkhof makes several observations about the Powers.  First, it is important to recognize that the Powers were created by God as part of the “good” Creation.  They are instruments to bring order to the Creation and they find their purpose in Christ, who is their Head.  However, the Powers are broken due to sin.  This legion of Powers now often works in ways that are not reflective of God’s character and nature.  They are coercive and their way always leads to death.  On the surface, they promise well-being and stability.  In some sense, they deliver on that promise, but always at the cost of our very lives.  It is both a material and spiritual problem.  We are enslaved to the system.

The work of Christ in his crucifixion and resurrection breaks the dominion of the Powers.  Christ’s crucifixion actually unmasks the Powers for what they truly are.  The resurrection is the sign of Christ’s reign and the Powers “dethronement.”  The Church is also a sign that the Powers no longer rule.  The Body of reconciled believers that contains both Jews and Gentiles, demonstrates Christ’s reign once again over Creation.  The Church is called to stand firm against the Powers, not defeat them… that is Christ’s role.  Rather, the Church unmasks the Powers by living out Christlikeness.  The Powers are further destabilized by preaching and teaching Christ, which opens our eyes to the true reality of our broken world.

The Powers can never really come back to autonomous authority.  But, we live in the “now and not yet” which means that the Powers still vie for dominion.  They do so in three ways: secularism, legalism, and “restoration.”  Berkhof suggests that the Church is largely responsible for these trends and offers the only worthwhile response to the de-stabilization of the Powers: following and embodying Christ.  In other words, we recognize that the Powers are still at work, but we maintain their proper role, which is subordinate to Christ.  We recognize that the “authorities” are broken people needing to be reconciled to Christ.  We do not follow “ideology” but continue to pray that Christ would be made manifest through the Powers’ work.

Berkhof states it succinctly, “It can happen that Christ’s church, by her preaching, her presence, and the patterns of life obtaining within her fellowship, may represent such a mighty witness and so forcefully address the consciences of men far beyond her borders, that they generally orient themselves by this reality, tacitly accepting it as a landmark.  They do so because they know of no better gaurantor of a decent life, of mercy, freedom, justice, and humanity than a certain general acknowledgment of the sovereignty of Christ, or (as they prefer to say it) of ‘Christianity’ and ‘Christian values'” (58).

INTRODUCTION

Statistics indicate that new churches are “more effective at winning people to Christ.”[1]  Church planting has become a very popular way of reaching certain areas, communities, and people groups.  The Church Growth Movement has had a significant contribution to this trend.  Although there have been some positive results, there have also been several drawbacks.  As such, we need to carefully consider what growth should look like in our churches.

We will accomplish this task in several ways.  First, we will explore the purpose of the Church, a synopsis of globalization, define culture, and differentiate between multicultural and cross-cultural ministries.  Next, we will dissect strengths and weaknesses of the Church Growth Movement and suggest an alternative view of growth in church planting.  Finally, we will recommend several practices that will help us to fulfill the Great Commission and plant healthy, cross-cultural churches.

THE PURPOSE OF THE CHURCH

Jesus says, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  As you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”[2]

The Great Commission plays an integral role in shaping the identity of the Church.  Jesus’ words to his disciples set the agenda for their ministry and what shape it will take for future disciples, as well.  In fact, it is what many reference as the beginning point for understanding our mission as the Church in the world.  We are a sent people.

The nature of the Church has always been missional.  We are to be disciple-makers.  Those welcome to enter the Kingdom of God will be from all nations, not just a particular group.  In fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, God will make Abraham’s children (those born through faith) to be a blessing to all nations.[3]  Through Christ Jesus, a descendent of Abraham[4] and Head of the Church, the Church is also empowered to bless all peoples.  The Kingdom transcends culture, ethnicity, and nationality.  It is diversity in unity, gathered together as the very Body of Christ.[5]

The Great Commission, as such, has two ways that the Church will inevitably grow as it lives out this missional orientation: quantitative and qualitative growth.[6]  In other words, the Church will naturally grow numerically (quantitative) as people are reached with the Good News and respond in repentance.  “Making disciples” indicates that we are called to proclaim the Gospel among those who have not yet heard (the nations) about Jesus.

Secondly, discipleship is not simply about numbers.  Discipleship is also about growing in a deepening relationship with Jesus (qualitative).  This will be evidenced by the person’s obedience to God’s call to also be disciple-makers, teaching others everything that Christ has taught us!  Thus, “growth” will be cyclical, both quantitative and qualitative.  These two must be held in creative tension.  To focus on one without the other is to become stagnant and ineffective in living out the Great Commission!

In taking the Great Commission seriously, a truly missional church plant will look at qualitative and quantitative growth together.  And, furthermore, it will be a congregation that increasingly reflects the call to be a blessing to all nations.  In other words, it will be a cross-cultural congregation (in as much is possible given its context).  This will undoubtedly call for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and creativity to live this out effectively.

GLOBALIZATION AND THE GLOCAL CHURCH

            The world, in some sense, is becoming smaller.  Nearly everyone on a daily basis is confronted by the realities of globalization.  Oliver Philips notes, “Every village, community, school, town, institution, and place of employment brings us face-to-face with the reality that these countries have become a salad bowl of minority groups, languages, and cultures.”[7]  A “glocal” church refers to a church that is more and more reflecting this trend of rising diversity.  Impacting and engaging a global world is no longer only done only through mission trips but is also done in the local community.

The borders that previously divided us (time, space, geography) are becoming less and less a barrier due to advances in technology.  Travel is cheaper and faster, making world travel more accessible.  Internet, computers, and phones make communication across great expanses of space possible and instant.  Civil unrest forces many to move from their homes into foreign lands.  The result is increased connectivity and communication with a variety of cultures that are greatly diverse.

The emphasis on relativism, tolerance, and personal experience in the post-modern culture has helped sustain and increase this trend.  Many are no longer satisfied reading the accounts of missionaries, business people, and dignitaries concerning other cultures.  Rather, an increased number of individuals, especially within the American context, are willing and able to experience new cultures for themselves.  Thus, interaction across a vast array of cultures is increasingly the norm.

Globalization creates significant challenges for us all, including the Church.  We increasingly have to learn cross-cultural communication.  We learn new languages, customs, and beliefs.  This can be stressful and stretching.  In some sense, such change can even be perceived as threatening our identity.  However, globalization also provides a rich harvest field.  The world is no longer simply “out there.”  It’s in our own backyard!  And, we need workers to send out because the “fields are white with harvest.”  The Church has a tremendous opportunity before us!

DEFINING CULTURE

            It is important to realize that culture goes beyond ethnicity, though it does not exclude it.  Charles Gailey and Howard Culbertson define it as such: “Culture means the customs, ways of thinking, and material products of individual societal groups.”[8]  Thus, various cultures can exist even in places of homogenous ethnicity.  Culture can distinguish age groups, socio-economic groups, regional groups, educational groups, to name a few.  One need only think about the “worship wars” that have occurred in churches to see the clash of cultures.

Although we typically define culture by ethnicity or race, it is important that we have a broader perspective of culture.  Everything that we do in the Church is in some way needing to be contextualized within the framework of several cultures, even if all of the congregants are American.  As such, every local church is in some way a multicultural church.  In order to communicate the Gospel fully and appropriately, it is imperative that leaders learn to speak the “language” of the various cultures represented in the congregation.

MULTI-CULTURAL VERSUS CROSS-CULTURAL

Diversity of cultures in a congregation does not equate into cross-cultural ministry.  There are many congregations that can be labeled as “multi-cultural.”  There may be a wide variety of cultures represented in the people of the church, including ethnicity.  However, those cultures may be creating insulation from intersecting with the surrounding cultures.  Like water mixing with oil, people may be attending the same church yet not integrating and partnering with one another.  In these instances, the church has yet to become cross-cultural.

Darrell Whiteman tells the story concerning two groups that claimed to be Christian, divided by ethnic differences.

On April 6, 1994, at 8:30 in the evening, two missiles shot down an airplane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi, killing all aboard. Hutu extremists used the event to unleash their preplanned horrendous genocide, which began to unfold in the nation of Rwanda in central Africa where 80-90% of the population were [sic] Christians. Two ethnic groups, the Bahutu and Watusi, speaking a common Kinyarwanda language, and with a harmonious history of hundreds of years living together in a symbiotic relationship, suddenly turned on each other in a blood bath.[9]

Ethnic, national, and tribal allegiances trumped these two tribes’ commitment to Christ.  Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident within the Church.

Kansas City is a great example where homogenous churches frequently exist.  Although the racial tensions that plagued the city during the Civil Rights movement are not as pronounced, the segregation that was once mandated is still attested to each Sunday morning.  A large portion of churches are predominantly black or white.  A much smaller portion has been successful in being integrated together.  Likewise, many churches in the suburbs or inner city tend to be homogenous socio-economically and ethnically, as well.

The image of the Body of Christ found in 1 Corinthians gives us a hint how diversity working in unity is a reflection of the Triune God.  Although there are many different parts, they are working in unity together.  When one part of the Body is unhealthy, sick, or hurt, the whole Body suffers as a result.  The parts of the Body are entirely interconnected.  The diversity of the many parts is necessary for the proper functioning of a healthy Body.  The Church must consider this when working with a multitude of cultures in the same context.  It is not good enough to simply be in the same place, but we must be partnering together as the Body of Christ sent out into the world.

CHURCH GROWTH MOVEMENT MODEL

            The Church Growth Movement (CGM) has recognized the evangelistic need in our communities and world.  Given that we are increasingly in a post-Christian context, our world desperately needs the light of Jesus.  Church planting initiatives and other models of growth have been offered as a way to reach as many individuals as possible with the Gospel.  Undoubtedly, this is a serious need that the Christian community must address.

McIntosh comments on Donald McGavrin’s, founder of the Church Growth model, understanding of Church Growth:

Evangelism… was an input term meaning that the lost should be won to Christ and then baptized and brought into the church.  The result was an output term: Church Growth!  As coined by McGavran, Church Growth is simply the expected result of being obedient to the Great Commission.  Church Growth was, and is, effective evangelism.[10]

Thus, “getting people saved” is the impetus and goal of evangelism in the CGM.  That is not to say McGavrin was not concerned with discipleship, but it was not his primary focus.

CGM views church growth as the natural result of living out the Great Commission.  This is achieved through the proclamation of the Gospel.  Although good works or social works are important, these fall far short of the goal of missions.  For McGavrin, effective evangelism emphasizes three points:

God wants his lost children found and enfolded… Responsible research into the causes and barriers to church growth must be conducted… Taking the initiative to set goals and develop bold strategies to win people to Christ and to plant new churches must be the practical results of meaningful conviction and research.[11]

By all means, according to McGavrin, reaching the unreached is the very heart and purpose of God.  As a result, it must be the heart and purpose of the Church.  And, it must be done intentionally and by whatever means are most effective in a particular context.

By contextualizing evangelism and doing so boldly, the result can be numerically rewarding.  Speaking in a language and form that is accessible provides natural bridges for the host culture to enter into the Gospel story.  These cultural bridges enable the Gospel story to be socially embodied within the culture.  This emphasis within CGM has dramatically changed the way we approach evangelism.  Through intentional planning and research, we continue to refine the way we communicate to a culture.  This has thoroughly become part of our modus operandi.  One need only think about Gallup or George Barna’s work.  We often look to them to see “trends” in the larger culture and how we might address them.

This is not an entirely bad thing.  We are able to adapt quicker with the culture and address the needs therein.  The Church can learn to listen to what the culture is saying and how it is being said.  It provides a starting place for ministering to the world in which we find ourselves.  And, it helps us to think intentionally about how we might engage our context by providing dialogue.

However, within the American context, this has developed into the “seeker sensitive” model, which often comes under intense scrutiny.  Opposition to the “seeker sensitive” approach is generally based upon an aversion to approaching worshippers as consumers.  In other words, the church becomes a McDonald’s vendor of spirituality in which people are consumed with self.  The result is an affirmation of the dominant culture and a self-seeking emphasis that tends to blind us to the plight of others.  The result is evangelism that does not promote or produce very deep disciples.

This is a significant issue in fulfilling the Great Commission, which includes all nations.  In an increasingly globalized world, ethnocentricity and nationalism can drastically hinder the Gospel for other cultures.  Not to mention, churches blinded by their allegiances to their own cultures become deaf to the radical call of the Gospel that transcends culture.  Homogenous churches that are entrenched remain homogenous.  Although there may be a degree of multicultural ministry happening, progress toward partnering cross-culturally will be hindered.

Homogeneity may not be entirely avoidable in our world.  After all, culture revolves around shared stories, beliefs, and values.  It is something we can readily identify with others.  There is something comforting about speaking our native tongue.  However, becoming settled in one’s own culture can significantly limit our ability to be changed and transformed.  We really do need the entire Body of Christ!  And, more importantly, we need the Holy Spirit to enliven the Gospel message in God’s Church!

Although we need not entirely abandon the good points of the CGM, we may need to significantly modify it in order to provide a more holistic and biblical understanding of “church growth.”  We do not want to dismiss the importance of salvation, but we must also not neglect the qualitative aspects of discipleship.  Furthermore, discipleship requires us to be engaged cross-culturally if the Church is to engage and transform our increasingly diverse communities.

There is an inherent danger in focusing upon numerical growth, which is much of the focus of CGM research.  In a consumer-driven, business-oriented culture, the Church quickly becomes another institution where people are commodities to be found and resources to be used up.  Churches that operate on a business model will “compete” in order to survive or thrive.

In looking at alternative ways for the Church to live out its call, Jim Petersen observes the dangers of focusing on numerical growth.

Numerical evaluation of ministry eventually becomes manipulative.  It may start out well, but when slump time comes, the temptation is to apply pressure to get people to perform according to our definition of success.  When that happens, everything gets turned around.  Those being ministered to end up serving the leaders in the accomplishment of their goals, because people are the bottom line in this ‘business.’[12]

In such a system, people are not truly valued apart from their usefulness for accomplishing a church’s goals.  “Unproductive” workers tend to be neglected, demoted, or “fired.”  The cultural power structures that are often abusive and oppressive in our culture are merely re-affirmed by the Church.  In these instances, great harm is done to the Church, the congregants, and the Gospel.

This hardly seems to reflect a God that gives rest to His Creation and invites us into relationship.  The first thing humanity sees God doing is resting, not working.  God does not seem primarily concerned with productivity.  Placing our focus on growth alone can create an idol that does not reflect the Living God we are called to serve.  After all, we should be able to distinguish the Church from the Country Club.  Christ, not growth, distinguishes us from other organizations!

HOLISTIC GROWTH MODEL

            A holistic view of growth should be considered here.  The Church Growth Movement has tended to focus on being “seeker sensitive” so as to win as many converts to Christ as possible.  This is an admirable goal in many ways, but it can be detrimental to a holistic view of discipleship.  Discipleship is not simply about quantitative growth but is also concerned with qualitative growth in the Body of Christ.

In fact, within the Great Commission there is a focus on discipleship, which is done through both proclamation and teaching.  In other words, salvation is not the emphasis of the Great Commission.  Rather, relationship is the emphasis.  It is to be a life-long journey of growing closer to Christ.  It begins by hearing the Gospel (preaching) and continues in a deepening of relationship as we learn obedience to Jesus’ commands (teaching).

The question really becomes how we hold both qualitative and quantitative growth in dynamic tension.  Emphasizing quantitative growth alone tends to end in spiritually immature believers.  The result may be like seed sown on rocky soil.  Emphasizing qualitative growth alone tends to conclude in believers that are so “heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”  Healthy growth in the Church must include both of these working together.  Church plants as part of that missional work must heed this as well.

Holistic growth also understands that growth is not the purpose of the Church.  Growth is not the telos.  The Church’s evangelism and discipleship must be centered upon Christ.  If “growth” is our motivation, as mentioned earlier, it can quickly devolve into competition and business marketing strategies.  Lasting growth that is reflective of God’s Kingdom will necessarily be empowered by the Holy Spirit and there will be marked transformation and change in the lives of believers and the surrounding community.

Interestingly enough, sometimes numerical growth can decrease in a healthy church.  It may not suggest in any way that the church is being unfaithful or failing in its calling.  After all, think about what happened with many of Jesus’ followers when he was arrested.  Many of them scattered never to return.  Others had heard Jesus’ teaching and thought it too difficult to continue to follow and turned away.  A growth in Christlikeness does not always equate into numerical rise in attendance, members, or conversions.  As such, we must be careful how much stock is placed in such measurements of “success.”

Growth can also be superficial.  This is especially important to realize for new churches.  A rise in attendance may simply be people transplanting from one church to another.  In such cases, the church may not be reaching the community.  Others may be excited about getting in on the ground floor of a new work and jump on board searching for adventure.  Again, it may suggest we are impacting the community more than we truly are.

The reality is that there is a large degree of turnover in a new church within the first five to ten years.  As such, the artificial growth that was first experienced may plateau or even decline, yet the church may be healthy or merely beginning to show the signs of decay that were unnoticed because the church was “doing good.”  If the impetus is on numerical growth, people can become disheartened experiencing downward trends.

The Holistic Growth model will also take serious the Great Commission’s emphasis on “all nations.”  If we are not consumed with marketing and a business-oriented church, then we will be less worried about demographics.  This frees us to emphasize a journey in grace.  Growth includes both salvation and sanctification, becoming Christlike.  Interestingly enough, as people become more Christlike, they will find their passions drawn back out into the world to serve it as the hands and feet of Christ.  In other words, discipleship should lead back into evangelism.  It is a cycle that is self-perpetuating.  Growing in Christ is both personal and social.

PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

An African proverbs states:  “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.”[13]  Holistic growth should consider longevity.  Establishing new churches is a marathon rather than a sprint.  This will be best accomplished through connection with a network of people and resources.  As we partner together cross-culturally “the sum [is greater than] their parts.”[14]  We multiply our impact when we work together as equal Kingdom partners for mutual transformation.

Any excursion into cross-cultural ministry will be a demanding task that requires intentionality.  Cross-cultural ministries require that we be changed, whereas, multi-cultural churches may only require superficial change.  To truly make room for the other, we may find ourselves living as “150% persons.”[15]  This demands persons accommodating and adapting to cultural norms of other cultures so that communication might happen between people.  This may mean a diminishing home in our native culture, but it opens up wonderful possibilities for being transformed as followers of Christ.

Engaging people within their native culture will take time, patience, and a willingness to learn and adapt.  As such, we cannot enter into another culture with the Gospel without learning that culture.  It takes effort to learn the language and understand the values.  Ministering cross-cultural (not merely multiculturally) takes intentional effort and time.  As such, we must take the posture of a learner when entering into a new culture, even if it is not a vastly different culture from our own.  We begin by listening.  And, our ministry must be incarnational.[16]

As we learn the culture, it becomes possible to build bridges to that culture so that the Gospel may be heard in a way that is accessible.  This goes beyond searching for numerical growth because it is a relational approach that sees the other as a person not simply a warm body to count.  By valuing others cultures, you are valuing the very people to whom you minister.  This leads to our next aspect.

It is always easier ministering within the culture you are most familiar.  The most effective leadership will be someone that knows the culture and can integrate appropriate cultural forms without compromising the Gospel message.  Developing leadership is an absolute necessity for new church works.  First, discipling future leaders help you become further acquainted with the culture and they are able to help you navigate the complexities of that culture.  Furthermore, they are able to communicate and operate within that culture much more proficiently.  The result is that the Gospel is able to be communicated to more people faster.  And, further discipleship with others from that culture!

One person cannot hope to reach an entire culture; it must be a community effort.  Partnerships and team-based leadership creates a synergistic ministry that is not based upon competition.  Rather, it values the gifts that each person brings to the table and how each one has something to contribute!  We learn and are strengthened by each other as we minister to a community as the Body of Christ!

Arising out of the development of leadership and learning about the culture and community, church planters must also begin to assess the needs of the community.  Again, this should be done in partnership with the community and the leaders.  Several needs may come to the attention of the leadership.  In this case, it is important to prioritize the level of need and which would be most appropriate to address.[17]  Are there needs that are connected?  What does the leadership and community understand to be the most pressing issues they face?  By beginning to address the vital needs of a community and involving that community in the solution, you create a sense of true partnership in which everyone is engage and contributing.

Community is a necessity for building a real partnership.  However, community in a cross-cultural setting can be excruciatingly difficult to develop and maintain.  Jim Petersen writes about culture, stating, “Every culture is ethnocentric.  Almost all of us think our ways are the best and that others are inferior.”[18]  Where this attitude is alive, there can be no true community that is cross-cultural and partnering together.  As such, we must also be cautious not to come in with all of the answers and solutions, but must allow the community to make significant contributions.  It may be uncomfortable for us.  But, our purpose in discipling others is not to make them resemble our culture.  We desire for them to resemble Christ.

I once heard it said, “A church should be born pregnant.”  There is a lot of truth in that statement.  Again, our motivation is not numerical growth alone.  But, a healthy church is a church that reproduces.  When planting a church, plant it with the intention of giving birth to future churches.  The form will change with the context (i.e., cell groups, traditional churches, mother-daughter churches, etc.).  Regardless the vehicle, the message will be transported to more people that have yet to encounter Christ.

This brings me to my final point.  Whether we are discussing the purpose of the Church, the need for evangelism and discipleship, understanding growth in the Church, or ministering cross-culturally in partnership, it is imperative that we center everything on the person of Christ.  It is God’s mission.  Jesus calls us to join in the mission.  Christ makes the Church grow and we are the harvesters sent out into the Master’s fields.  God is a God of all nations, and we are called to offer the hand of friendship where the world divides based on culture.  We proclaim, we teach, we disciple – all because we have received such a rich gift through Christ Jesus.  Knowing Christ and reflecting his character and nature back into the world is our primary objective.

CONCLUSION

Church planting can be a tremendous way for the Church to address the issue of globalization and reaching numerous people of various cultures for Christ and God’s Kingdom.  It is one platform for seeing the Kingdom grow in exponential ways.  After all, the research indicates that church planting is a very effective way for bringing people into the Church.

However, as we mentioned earlier, church planting based on a certain definitions of growth can tempt us from our primary purpose, which is to glorify Christ.  Working from a quantitative model of growth tends to be much more homogenous in the people that it reaches.  This nurtures cultural biases rather than challenges the dominant cultural assumptions that are opposed to the Gospel of Christ Jesus.  The result is a large amount of people that have the title “Christian” but look little different than our culture.

The Holistic Growth Model is a more appropriate way to approach growth of the Church.  It is concerned with discipleship, which is both qualitative and quantitative growth.  In other words, God’s Kingdom is not only about “getting saved” but about living in relationship with God.  And, we find that as people are discipled, they will in turn evangelize their community.  Quantitative growth and qualitative growth are inextricably interconnected.

Evangelism and discipleship are two sides of the same coin.  A healthy, growing church will have both dynamics at work in their congregation.  We are indeed called to reach an unreached world with the Gospel, but we must also teach them everything that Jesus has commanded.  Our task is not simply about salvation, but it is concerned with “sanctification” as well.  As we engage in both evangelism and discipleship, we will see the cyclical nature of these two pieces.  One should naturally lead back into the other.  Healthy growth will result when we live these two dynamics out.

Bibliography

Gailey, Charles R., and Howard Culbertson. Discovering Missions. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2007.

Hesselgrave, David J., and Earl J. Blomberg. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: A Guide for Home and Foreign Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Marvin Keene Mayers. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. Print.

Nelson, Gary Vincent, and Gordon King. Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. Print.

Petersen, Jim. Church Without Walls. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992.

Sanchez, Daniel Raul, and Ebbie C. Smith. Starting Reproducing Congregations: A Guidebook for Contextual New Church Development. Atlanta, GA: Church Starting Network, 2001.

Sullivan, Bill M. Churches Starting Shurches: A New Church Evangelism Missional Call to Nazarenes Everywhere. Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 2001.

Towns, Elmer L., and Gary McIntosh. Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.

Whiteman, Darrell L. “The Role of Ethnicity and Culture in Shaping Western Mission Agency Identity.” Missiology: An International Review XXXIV, no. 1 (2006): 59-70.


[1]  Sullivan, Bill M. Churches Starting Shurches: A New Church Evangelism Missional Call to Nazarenes Everywhere. Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 2001. 39.

[2] Matthew 28:18-20.

[3] Genesis 12:2-3.

[4] Matthew 1:1-2. My translation.

[5] 1 Corinthians 12:12-31.

[6]  Hesselgrave, David J., and Earl J. Blomberg. Planting Churches Cross-Culturally: A Guide for Home and Foreign Missions. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1980. 118-19.

[7] Sullivan, Bill M. Churches Starting Shurches: A New Church Evangelism Missional Call to Nazarenes Everywhere. Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 2001. 81.

[8] Gailey, Charles R., and Howard Culbertson. Discovering Missions. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 2007. 90.

[9] Whiteman, Darrell L. “The Role of Ethnicity and Culture in Shaping Western Mission Agency Identity.” Missiology: An International Review XXXIV, no. 1 (2006): 59-70. 59.

[10] Towns, Elmer L., and Gary McIntosh. Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 15.

[11] Towns, Elmer L., and Gary McIntosh. Evaluating the Church Growth Movement: 5 Views. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004. 15-16.

[12] Petersen, Jim. Church Without Walls. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992. 116.

[13] Nelson, Gary Vincent, and Gordon King. Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. Print. 106.

[14] Nelson, Gary Vincent, and Gordon King. Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. Print. 108.

[15] Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Marvin Keene Mayers. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003. Print. 119.

[16] Ibid, 27.

[17] Nelson, Gary Vincent, and Gordon King. Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders. Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2011. Print. 133-34.

[18] Petersen, Jim. Church Without Walls. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1992. 142.

“You will be to me a royal priesthood and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6).  Delivered from the shackles of slavery, Israel now had a high and holy calling.  Quite simply, God had set Israel apart, not to rule over the other nations, but to serve the other nations as reflections of God’s character and nature.  Even as God had invited the Creation to participate in God’s creative activity in the world, so now God was calling Israel to engage in the mission of God in the world.  Israel was to be a microcosm, a small world within a world, of God’s Kingdom reigning on earth as it is in Heaven.  The Kingdom starts small but is intended to expand to all Creation.

The Church has always understood itself to be an extension of Israel’s calling.  1 Peter reminds us that we are called to be a “royal priesthood and holy nation.”  Just as Israel was called to serve the world, the Church as the Body of Christ is also called to serve our world.  We serve even as Christ models servant-hood for us: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped for his own advantage;rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.   And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:6-8).

We are familiar with the Great Commission: “As you are going, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them everything I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20a).  The world is rarely transformed through eloquent argument or great displays of power.  Rather, discipleship looks more like Calvary’s Hill than the political games of Capitol Hill.  It resembles a Cross and not crossed swords.  The Kingdom looks more like the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Suffering, than it does the American Way.  Following Jesus’ resurrection, he appeared to his disciples.  Showing the disciples his nail-pierced hands and feet, Jesus told them, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”  The journey of discipleship just might be a painful and deadly one.

But, that is neither cause for despair or fear that leads to self-preservation.  “Those who lose their life will gain it.”  Through Christ Jesus, Death and the Grave no longer hold the victory.  They have been defeated.  Death has been crushed to death.  Our cry, “O, what a wretched person I am.  Who can rescue me from this body of death?” is answered by the definitive proclamation, “Thanks be to God – through Christ Jesus our Lord.”

We have been given this great Light and great Hope.  The darkness does not understand it and will try to snuff it out.  But, even as the darkness could not conquer Christ, the Church will not be the victim of destruction.  We are made to be more than conquerors through Christ Jesus.  Our fight, however, is not with flesh and blood.  It is against the powers and the principalities of this world.  It is against the Pharaohs and Pilates trying to shape us in their image.  Thus, we are called to “normalize the Kingdom” in the midst of a sometimes hostile world.

In doing so, we find ourselves surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on.  We follow the Pioneer of our faith in this race of endurance.  We allow God’s vision for this world to become our vision, proclaiming, “I have a dream” with Martin Luther King, Jr.  We stand up for what is right, stating, “Here I stand!  I can do no other” with Martin Luther.  We see the needs of our world and are burdened for them, recognizing, “The world is my parish” with John Wesley.  We find unity within the Body of Christ, despite differences we may have, acknowledging, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” with Saint Augustine.  And, when we find ourselves persecuted and attacked, we pray, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” even as Jesus and Stephen, the first martyr, prayed.

Theological Constructs

1) God is Triune: Three-in-One (Although this term isn’t used in Scripture, the basis can be found in Deut. 6; Gen. 1?; John 1, 14, 15; Matt. 28).  God is communal and dialogical, not only within the Godhead but with all of Creation.  God invites and empowers the Creation to participate in the creative activity of God in the world (Gen 1-2).  There is a degree of freedom inherent in the Created order, but it also depicts a relational God that is deeply and intimately involved with the Creation.  As such, God is not unaffected by what happens in the world.  This is most demonstrated in the Cross.  God is so committed to the Creation that God is willing to enter into the Creation and live with it, even at the cost of great suffering.

The language of Body of Christ and “royal priesthood and holy nation” (1 Pe. 2:9, 1 Cor. 15) suggests something that is collaborative and interdependent.  True faith cannot be privatized.  Rather, as Wesley suggests, “There can be no personal holiness without social holiness.”  We are created to be in community as a reflection of the Triune community.  Thus, the missio Dei is intrinsically connected to the Church as a community.  Each part has its role to play that helps the Body of Christ function as it should.  Therefore, communal language is appropriate to communicate this aspect of faith.

2) The Kingdom is an essential concept (Matt. 3-4 and Luke 4).  The Kingdom embodies God’s reign in the world.  It signifies God’s true intentions for the Creation.  God’s call is not about national identity, although it sometimes reduced to that belief.  Rather, the Kingdom transcends nationality and national allegiances.  The Kingdom is the shalom of God bringing about the unity of the Spirit in Creation with the Creator.  Israel and the Church are the microcosm of Christ’s peace being lived out in tangible ways that reflect God’s character and nature back into the world.  In other words, this is a matter of holiness.  We are in the world, but not of the world.  There is a Kingdom ethic that guides our lives and it is modeled in Christ Jesus’ death on a Cross.  The Way of the Kingdom is the way of cruciform, Incarnational living.

Pastors equip the people for “doing every good work” (1 Tim. 4:11-13).  This is not over and above the congregation but alongside the congregation as co-laborers in Christ Jesus.  Leadership is not something to be “lorded over others” but to empower others.  Christ is the Head of the Church, not the pastor (Eph. 4:15).  Rather, the pastor should be the first to pick up the “towel and the basin” and wash feet.  Pastors are servants of servants.

3) God invites response (Gen 1-2, Heb 3-4).  Although I did not get into the specifics of praxis, the theology of a dialogical, relational God shapes our praxis.  Understanding God as reaching out to all of Creation to restore it undermines nationalism, imperialism, militarism, consumerism, to name a few.  As Terrence Fretheim suggests, “God always acts directly, but always through agents.”  God desires to share this Kingdom with all of Creation.  We are all called to be “a royal priesthood and holy nation” (1 Pe 2:9).  Our response is gratefulness for the grace we have received through Christ Jesus.  It is also the call to extend that same invitation to others as God’s ambassadors in the world.

            God’s perfect love invites us to respond in new ways that go beyond fear (1 John 4).  This not only includes the fear of punishment from God, it includes the way that we live in the world.  “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline” (2 Tim 1:7).  The Church needs to learn charitable discourse, especially among its members.  Jesus warned his disciples that the world will hate them because of him.  But, that does not then permit us to fight the way the world fights.  Rather, a sign of our maturing in Christ is the ability to discuss, even as God is dialogical, without fear of being destroyed.  God’s love brings a peace that passes understanding and allows us to stand firmly while maintaining charity.

Bibliography

Birch, Bruce C. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. 2nd ed. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005.

Braaten, Carl E., and Robert W. Jenson. Union with Christ: The New Finnish Interpretation of Luther. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1998.

 

Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982.

 

Brueggemann, Walter. The Word Militant: Preaching a Decentering Word. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.

 

Brueggemann, Walter. Mandate to Difference: An Invitation to the Contemporary Church. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2007.

 

Brueggemann, Walter. An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Hebrew Bible. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

 

Cladis, George. Leading the Team-Based Church: How Pastors and Church Staffs Can Grow Together into a Powerful Fellowship of Leaders. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1999.

 

Fretheim, Terence E. Exodus. Louisville: John Knox Press, 2010.

 

Hauerwas, Stanley. The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1983.

 

Hauerwas, Stanley, and William Willimon. Lord, Teach Us to Pray: The Lord’s Prayer and the Christian Life. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002.

 

Outler, Albert C., and Richard P. Heitzenrater. John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002.

 

Volf, Miroslav. After Our Likeness: The Church as the Image of the Trinity. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998.

 

Yoder, John Howard. The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.