Monday, January 03, 2005

The Witness of the Church - A Letter to a Friend (1998)

(This post is an addendum to this previous post,
The Emergent Church Discussion and Ecclesiology ,
which itself is a response to the following posts over at Gideon Strauss on Church Renewal and again here on Veritable Proclamation Hub. Note: I am not saying we ought not to be a veritable proclamation hub in one of our functions BUT that this metaphor is problematic in describing the role of the church in God's program.)

Back in 1998, I wrote the following letter to a friend/pastor in the vineyard. I am going to post an unedited quote from this letter. I had preceded this section with an exposition of Rev 21:9ff on the New Jerusalem. The passage I take to be a picture of God's ultimate intention for the church as the place where His Moral Attributes are displayed:

(begin quote)

Individual Sanctification is a Means to the Greater Goal of Corporate Sanctification
The city or community model is revolutionary with respect to how we do church and what we define as "doing church".
Whether our model of doing church started with Constantine, Capitalism, or with the alienation which resulted from the fall, we have been doing church from the following model for a long time. This is how we've been taught to do church. Picture the following scenario:

It has been a hard week and you need to be strengthened. You go to church. You go to encounter the Lord. The worship is great. You encounter God. He speaks to you deep in your heart. Then, the pastor preaches. His sermon is strong doctrinally and the application speaks straight to you. You are filled with a biblical revelation of God and His purpose for your life. Maybe, you even go forward for prayer. The prayer is very practical and the prayer team member has accurate words. Overall you are greatly encouraged and filed with clarity for your life and even commitment to the body. Refreshed and filed you go home to take on the world and be a shining light in a dark world. I am intentionally picturing a positive God Glorifying personally healing and sanctifying church experience. But is this God's ultimate plan for church? Is the purpose of assembling together only to empower you to be a witness as an individual in the world? Or, if the City itself is to be the witness, is the purpose of church also to be a witness of the love of God by how we love one another when we assemble? I believe that the present model is a therapeutic model and an individualistic model (which simply does not witness well and does not disciple all that well either.) There is a better way, or as Paul would say "Let me show you a more excellent way", a way that "never fails".

In the community model, the values are not ultimately individualistic. Individual sanctification is only a means to a greater end of corporate sanctification. If God's church is to fulfill His purpose by how it lives harmoniously as a people, loving, forgiving, bearing one another's burdens, then, if I am leaving church filled with the spirit and the word but without relating to my brothers and sisters, I haven't done church.

(end quote)

Is the church to be first and foremost the place where we learn about the Christian worldview and learn a set of skills or is it to be first and foremost a community that reflects the "heavenly pattern of life", the kingdom? I say the latter.

In these times where authentic community and the tribal witness is so vital, I believe it is time to reexamine our paradigm of church.

The church is not to be ONLY a disciple-making machine where it produces individuals to go out and witness in the spheres of life, BUT, first and foremost, the community itself and how it functions as family and city is to be THE GOD ORDAIN MEANS OF EFFECTIVE WITNESS. The moral aesthetic of our community life is the pimary evidence the world has of Jesus' power and the reality of His Lordship.

We, the church, are to be the city set on the hill. This blog is dedicated to promoting "Morally Beautiful Community". I believe it may very well be precisely in this re-thinking of our ecclesiology that we may find the reforming principle for the 21st Century.
God Bless,

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