Friday, March 23, 2007

Challenge to the Church

Here's a quote from "Christian Mission In the Modern World" by John Stott. We read this book as a church staff several years ago. It is relevant because a lot of people both at Parkview and in Evangelical churches around the nation are having discussions about the role of social transformation and cultural renewal within our churches.

Should evangelicals only concern themselves with spiritual conversion? Should we leave social justice issues to mainliners and only be about the important business of saving souls? If we believe in the value of cultural renewal, what does that mean for us? Here are some thoughts from John Stott and others.

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Going into the world means presence. Moreover, it is to be the visible presence of a church which bears an attractive aspect. As Samuel Escobar wrote in his paper for the Lausanne Congress: "The primitive church was not perfect, but evidently it was a community that called the attention of men because of the qualitative differences in its life. The message was not only heard from them, it was also seen in the way they lived" (Let the Earth Hear His Voice p. 308). There can be no evangelism without the church. The message comes from the community which embodies it and which welcomes into its fellowship those who receive it. The fact immediately brings a challenge to the church. Dr. Visser't Hooft in 1949 referred to the boomerang effect of the evangelistic question:
"The Church which would call the world to order is suddenly called to order itself. The question which it would throw onto the world: "Do you know that you belong to Christ?" comes back as an echo. The Church discovers that it cannot truly evangelize, that its message is unconvincing unless it lets itself be tranformed and renewed, unless it becomes what it believes it is. (Philip Potter in his 1967 address to the WCC central committee in Crete).
(Christian Mission, Page 56)

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Evangelistic efforts are invalidated if the church is not being truly Christian in its behavior. We need not choose between the cause of spiritual or physical transformation. An "either/or" construct must be replaced by a strong commitment to "both/and". This means ministering to widows, helping the poor, and healing the sick must be a shared priority with evangelizing the lost and discipling the flock.

3 comments:

First Theology said...

Scoot- Good food for thought. I like Stott's work here – and feel like he and I implicitly agree - but I’d like some kind of explication/explanation in terms of biblical theology...

What I mean is, I agree with his conclusions, but I want to explore the rationale behind it. To me that rationale is rooted in God's good creation now estranged. Designed to operate one way, but now terribly dysfunctional, corrupt, and in need of redemption (individually & cosmically) - the kind of a fix that only comes thru God's radical grace. So we start with creation in this odd tension of good-yet-estranged... packed with good stuff like the image of God and common grace AND bad stuff like fallenness and corruption/decay... a walking contradiction (even in us as believers – simul iustus et peccator - as one lil' German theologian said). Thus fundamental catalyst for engagement is God’s creation design (and the teleological purposes we see in Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15, and Revelation 21-22 - ultimately a [re]new heaven & earth). Holding this truth in tension and the critical concern that the means (not goal!) by which folks enter that new reality/kingdom is thru personal/individual conversion... So this paradigm leads us toward a stewardship mentality where we love other image-bearers most (b/c they have unique dignity bestowed by God at creation), yet we must not loathe the rest of creation simply to make the point of how much we love image-bearers as forcefully as possible. The pragmatic side of this is: Can I really hold that all in tension if I don't start with creation good-yet-estranged? I haven't seen anyone really work this out in their life/community w/o this paradigm of good-yet-estranged. To me it all comes back to the one great Story of the world... how are you going to tell it?

Hmm... Do I have an opinion here? :)

scooterpastor said...

Josh, you should do a little blog series on this issue. If you do, I'll link to them. I'd like to see the fully developed theological construct behind these ideas.

First Theology said...

Scooter- Good idea... obviously there is a lot to unpack here (hence the last comment might have seemed really confusing and cryptic to some) but a blog series might be helpful.