An Australian Christian recently helped me cut through some of the fog (fog, not nFOG) when, speaking at a Sentralized conference I attended, he said this:
“The mission of the church is not to grow the church… The mission of the church is to alert all people to the universal reign of God through Christ. There are two broad ways you can do that. On the one hand, you can speak about it… On the other hand, you can demonstrate or show people what the universal reign of God through Christ looks like.”
These words from Michael Frost, a leading voice in the international missional church movement and vice principal of Morling College in Sydney, hardly need footnotes.
Oh, you may need to unpack a bit what demonstrating the reign of God looks like. For instance, you can say that if, when the kingdom comes, there will be no hunger, homelessness, war or illiteracy, our task is to work in various ways to reduce those problems now.
I’m not suggesting — nor did Frost — that we imagine, as post-millennialists do, that we can work hard and eventually create the kingdom of God by our own efforts. But I am suggesting — as did Frost — that we can give people a taste of the reign of God now.
And guess what. We Presbyterians — at least judging by the Book of Order — are in almost perfect harmony with the vision of the church Frost described. Here’s part of what section F-1.0301 says:
“The Church is to be a community of witness, pointing beyond itself through word and work to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord.”
See? We are witnesses. That’s what it means to proclaim the Good News. And we do it “through word and work,” or, as Frost put it, through speaking about it and demonstrating it.
The problem, at least in my decades of experience as a Presbyterian, is that sometimes we confuse practice with principle. Which means we sometimes think being church means meeting each Sunday morning to sit in rows of pews and listen to a robed choir and a robed preacher. That’s church only if it also means being people who alert others to the universal reign of God through Christ.
As my own pastor likes to remind us, our church is not just “a place where” but “a people who.”
Who what? Who tell others by word and work the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus.
Why are our churches losing so many of our young people? (The book to read is “You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church and Rethinking Faith” by David Kinnaman.) Maybe because they learn from us that the church is the building people come to once a week in dress-up clothes.
No. If the church is only a place where people gather and not a people who alert others to the in-breaking reign of God, it’s not the church.
Bill Tammeus is an elder at Second Church in Kansas City, Mo., and former Faith columnist for The Kansas City Star. Visit his “Faith Matters” blog. Read about his latest book. E-mail him at [email protected].