Continuing these Blogs on the nature and mission of the church, there are lots of high flown theological definitions of the church, but we always need to come back to a basic concept that somehow the church is the flesh and blood community of God’s new creation/new humanity in Christ, the age to come, by which he is now invading this present age. It is the more interesting that in this quest of ours, that as Matthew records the life and ministry, he preaches the gospel of the kingdom (new creation) and seems intent on spelling out the practical dimensions of this kingdom in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).

What is the more interesting is that he introduces this sermon, not with some abstract formula, but rather with the in terms of the lifestyle of the kingdom, and hence the lifestyle of the community of the kingdom of God, the purpose of that lifestyle (as he explains, at the conclusion of these specific dimensions of the lifestyle, —the Beatitudes) is so that men may see the good works of God’s kingdom people and give glory to God.

Jesus launches right in with these very specific and existentially realistic lifestyle dimensions. He teaches how incredibly wonderful is the news, that those, who with him:

  • Are the poor, or who identify with plight and needs of the poor are those whose is the kingdom of heaven/God.
  • Those who mourn for the brokenness with which they are engaged, for they will be comforted.
  • The meek, (the little people? the nobodies?) for they shall inherit the earth.
  • Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness/justice, for they shall be satisfied.
  • The merciful, for they shall receive mercy themselves,
  • The pure in heart, for they will see God.
  • The peacemakers, for they shall be called God’s children.
  • Those who are persecuted for pursuing what is right for the kingdom of heaven/God belongs to them.
  • Those who are reviled, persecuted, and against whom all kinds of slander is uttered falsely. They are to rejoice and even be glad because their reward in heaven will be great.

Visible discipleship. No rose-colored glasses here. To be part of God new creation in Christ, his kingdom of Light, is to be in missionary confrontation with the kingdom of darkness in which we operate. No ‘comfort-zone Christianity’ here. Rather, the church (the ek-klesia) is to faithfully demonstrate before the watching world what it means to be God’s new creation/new humanity in Christ, … and it comes at a price, but ultimately is God’s incredible good news.

At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, we are told that it is those who faithfully hold to these teaching of Christ who build their lives on a secure foundation which can withstand the storms of life. So, when we’re asking what the church looks like, it looks like ordinary people living out God’s mew creation design in communities of God’s new humanity.

Conversely, to have a handsome building, an eloquent preacher with a theological degree preaching inspiring sermons, and a remarkable good choir, plus compatible church-going friends, … may have nothing at all to do with God’s design for communities of his new creation people (alas!) as described in these Beatitudes, … which is what outsiders are meant to see when they see the church, God’s kingdom people. And when they see ostensible churches demonstrating the opposite of these beatitudes, it is no wonder they are confused. (to be continued)

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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