The starting place for our sojourn into embracing an adequate understanding of the church begins with having an adequate understanding of the huge, awesome, and all-encompassing understanding of what it was that Jesus came to be and to do. That may sound obvious, but it is right here that the so often minimalistic, inadequate, and misunderstood concepts of the church begin. What Jesus came to be and to do is (again) huge, awesome, and totally transformational. The apostle put it this way: God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself and entrusting to us he ministry of reconciliation.

Jesus did not come to initiate a new religion, or to tamper with Judaism, or anything humanly imaginable, or so narrowly spiritual, or to be the religious component added to the fringe of our lives. He did not come to create a religious institution with sacred places, and sacralized church professionals in leadership. Such a common misunderstanding is a subversion of Christianity.

No! Rather, he came to make all things new. He came to initiate the invasion of this present age with the age to come. He came to unveil God’s ultimate intent for his creation, and to make that possible by his reconciling death, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. He came to create a new humanity as the communal dimension of that new creation (i.e., the kingdom of God) that is being continually recreated into the image of the Son of God.

The church is about God’s new creation in Christ, and the church is that community called to be the missionary arm of God in making that new creation visible. The church, and every disciple of Christ, becomes, in its very nature, an integral part of God’s great seek and rescue mission in this lost and confused scene. In the invasion of God’s new creation, the church and its individual participants renounce this age of darkness and the powers thereof, and to embrace all that Jesus came to be and do as they are conformed to his image, and to live out their human lives as radiant displays of that divine image in the warp and woof, in the existential realities of their daily lives.

The church, as that communal expression of God’s new humanity in Christ, is continually being tempted, or subverted, albeit, into a ‘religious christianity’ that is immunized against the radical mission of that new creation, so that one can become a passive participant, or an appreciative observer of religious rites in that community, and avoid the demands of discipleship. God’s new creation is transformational in its very essence. The church, as the community of God’s new humanity, becomes right here and right now: the dwelling-place of God by the Holy Spirit.

The church is, individually and communally, the radiant display of the divine nature in a context that is seldom congenial. Even in the most sordid of circumstances, it’s calling is to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of God, the ‘sweet aroma of Christ,’ everywhere (II Corinthians 2:14-15). The church, as the community of God’s new humanity, is always in process, always provisional, … but it is always intentional in its understanding of its purpose in God’s ultimate design of new creation.  … Something like that.

It is critical, in our quest to understand the church, then, to understand the nature of God’s design in sending his son, and the awesome part the church is to play in that design.

Stay tuned …

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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