Let’s continue where we left off in the last Blog. Let’s acknowledge that all too much of the church scene, i.e., the image of church institutions replete with professionals and constant recruitment programs to obtain more members … seems to have little resemblance to anything we read in scripture. But that may just point us to the heart of this very dilemma. How many of those who are church members are actually formed by New Testament teachings? How many are absolutely captured by what God has done in Christ? How many are passionate about, and thrilled by all that Jesus did and taught? How many are models and communicators of such?

What you have in the four gospels is the account of the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ, and of his teachings and commands. You have him calling a small group of guys (along with some very faithful women always there) to be with him during his brief earthly career of teaching. At the critical moment when he asked them who they had concluded him to be, it was the erratic Peter who affirmed: “You are the messiah” (i.e., the long-anticipated deliverer anointed of God to make all things new). It was there that Jesus responded that Peter was right on target, and that it would be upon that affirmation that he (Jesus) would build his church—a word that only designated an assembly of people called out for a purpose.

After he had been arrested, tried, condemned, executed on a cross, and raised from the grave—did Jesus then give to his followers the mandate, namely, that they were to go into every ethnic group in the world and “make disciples” … then he gave substance to that command. He said that they were to ‘make disciples’ or maybe to so communicate the sheer and awesome wonder of who Jesus was, so that folk would identify with him, and become part of his mission of bringing into being God’s New Creation / Kingdom of God—“Thy kingdom come on earth …” But then, a key part of that mandate had to do with teaching these same disciples: “ … to observe all that I have commanded you, and, lo, I am with you …” The ‘church’ Jesus was building involved all of those initial followers of his then creating colonies with a whole new understanding of their lives, and of putting into practice (obeying) his teachings. This is a discipline that involved every believer as part of a dynamic mission, i.e., as disciple-makers. Every believer was to be a contagious communicator of this selfsame New Creation thrill. So you find, early in Acts, both public teaching sessions by Christ’s followers, and house to house—around the table—gatherings where these teachings were discussed, digested, and appropriated.

Now to the point: There is no place in the rest of the New Testament where there is any suggestion of any kind of a colony of disciples where there were active professionals and passive recipients of their services. Rather, there is at least one place where it is plainly stated that every believer is to be equipped for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12) and that all are to be equipped to be mature and grow into the very stature of Christ. To accomplish this, the ascended Lord gave four symbiotic gifts (inter-animating). It doesn’t say that there is a special class of folk to accomplish this; it simply says that there are four critical gifts. What is important is that they are given to the community/colony, and so that every one who is part of that colony is to be so equipped, and that they, in turn, become part of the mission. The gifts are all very necessary for one to be a mature part of the mission. The gifts are: 1) apostle/missionary—every believer is a missionary by virtue of his/her baptism; 2) prophet—every believer is to be one who can exegete the cultural setting in which they live; 3) evangelist—every believer is equipped to be a fruitful and skillful conversationalist-communicator of Christ; and 4) teaching-shepherd—every believer is to be equipped to be a model and a teacher of the Word of Christ to others and to be able to encourage and equip new believers. 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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