From the outset, Jesus makes no secret that his followers/friends/disciples are to be engaged in the very things that he, himself, is engaged in. They are to be like branches on the Vine, which bear the same kind of fruit. All that follows in his teachings defines the sheer pragmatism of what he designs this community of his New Humanity to be and to do. Implicit in all of his teachings is that: they (we) are to be those who are the sons and daughters of Light in the midst of the darkness, i.e., that they/we should go looking for where the darkness is the greatest, that we are called to storm the gates of hell—all of us!

My thesis in this series of Blogs (on the four gifts given to the church) is that it is the purpose of the Risen Lord that every one who identifies himself with Christ’s cause by profession of his/her faith and baptism, is to be equipped and commissioned to be a mature participant in the same mission for which Jesus came, namely the realization of his New Creation, or Kingdom, right here and now—no exceptions. That is why the threshold to such faith is also a call for a radical change of mind and direction (called repentance). We are delivered from our captivity to unbelief and darkness in order to go right back into that same culture of unbelief and darkness as agents of the Light.

There are listed in Ephesians 4, the four equipping gifts that Christ gives the church. They are all critical to the task. They are also symbiotic—they interpret and inter-animate each other. They are: apostle, prophet, evangelist, and teaching-shepherd. I began my last Blog by interpreting the teaching-shepherd as one in the community who teaches, and models, and coaches God’s people so that: they are formed by the Word of Christ. But that is not just some ‘cool’, religious activity. Not at all! It is quite (again) pragmatic. To invade the darkness, one must be wholesomely and contagiously and intentionally formed by the great passion of Christ for this very world. Yes, and the context of this world is a context that is often one of rebellious darkness, and that can express itself in hostility, in frustrating circumstances, in difficult persons, … like: not always congenially receptive to the Light.

Now note: in the church’s times of vigor and health and missionary fruitfulness, that is exactly what happens: “the word went everywhere.” Every believer should know that by virtue of his/her baptism, that they are commissioned to be part of the mission, to go as light into the darkness. (They are definitely not called to be ‘religious snobs’ who escape into church meetings!) Which gives fascinating meaning to the first three of Christ’s gifts. The first is right out there in front: it is that we are to be equipped for our missionary calling, and that gift is apostle. Every follower of Christ is called to be part of the: “… as the Father has sent me, even so do I send you” apostolate. Every believer is a potential church-planter wherever he or she resides, or operates.

The second mentioned dimension of our equipping is to be, in a very intentional and healthy way, those who understand the nuances of the particular culture, or mini-culture in which we operate. Every believer is equipped as a prophet, in the sense of being one who exegetes the cultural context of his/her incarnation. This is a continual and demanding and ever changing role. Cultural settings are not static. We need to know who or what are the ‘principalities and powers’ of the darkness, and not be surprised. We are to be equipped to meet those dwellers in the darkness on their own turf, and able to operate right there as agents of the Light.

And then, … every believer is to be a robust, sensitive, caring, courteous, humorous, warm communicator of the love of God to those dwellers in the darkness, i.e., an evangelist. Got it?

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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