BLOG 12/4/18. MISSIONAL VIS-À-VIS CUSTODIAL CONCEPTS OF THE CHURCH
I want to continue to pursue the theme I have begun in previous blogs, e.g., that the church is to be the communal expression of God’s new humanity, or the communal component of God’s new creation / God’s kingdom. It is that new creation that Jesus came to inaugurate. It is God’s tomorrow invading our today. That understanding inevitably brings us unavoidably to understanding the church missionally: “As the father has sent me, even so do I send you.” That commission is given to all who take their baptismal/conformational vows with any integrity.
It takes on an even more awesome revelation when Paul asserts: “… you also are being built together unto a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:22). The clear implication of this affirmation is that the Spirit that was in Christ and his mission, his search and rescue mission, is also dynamically present in the community of God’s new humanity, dwells in all of those who compose his church. The further inescapable implication of this is that the church is in its very essence missional.
Yet, a huge distortion has invaded our understanding in all too much of the church. That distortion is that the church is, rather, a custodial community, in which passive believers are provided with a safe context to observe their faith overseen by active church professionals/clergy. To be sure, the church as the communal expression of God’s new creation does have a custodial dimension. It is the community’s responsibility to see to it that every believer within its company is continually being equipped and encouraged for their individual ministry/participation in the mission of God the 24/7 realities of their daily lives. To that end there emerged early within the church presbyters/elders who were to be models of God to the community, and those to whom the individuals were to be accountable in their new creation incarnation. There also appear episcopals/bishops whose role was to oversee that the community was faithful to its calling (these could be differing designation for the same function).
Then, there is the fascinating dimension of the community that every believer is given gifts for the benefit of the whole, and these gifts need the oversight of the bishops/elders so that they don’t get misused. There are gifts of administration, teaching, encouraging, helping, healing, etc. (This is a study in itself.) So, there is the need of a healthy custodial dimension to the community, … but only to give it integrity in its missional essence. One of the prominent gifts is that of pastor-teacher, or teaching shepherd. It is by the word of Christ that the church as a missional community is primarily equipped to carry out is mission. One is always blessed by those who are skillful in this gift. But, the other end of that is that every believer is give the task, as the word of Christ dwells in them, to “teach and encourage one another” (Colossians 3:16).
At the heart of it all is God’s search and rescue mission in which the community of God’s new humanity, and the individual participants become the dynamic missional components, become the missionary arm of the Holy Trinity in their daily context.
The sobering flip-side of this is that: according to the letters to the seven churches (Revelation 2-3) a church can actually cease to be a church when it becomes distracted or distorted or forgetful of its true essence and mission, i.e., it can have its “lamp removed from the lampstand.” To that end the church must ever be vigilant that it, with integrity, embody the passion of Christ to make visible the love and grace and forgiveness to all of those still walking in darkness, those motherless children whose lives are without meaning, or hope, or love.
The church is always to be in its totality, a missional community in which no one is passive.
[I always appreciate your feedback. RTH]