Monday, February 28, 2005

The Church as Prophetic Witness

Worldview - The Church as a Prophetic Witness and a People of His Presence

Gideon Strauss, in his post for Feb 28, 2005, articulates the relationship between a person's loves and their course of action. This reminds me of Jonathan Edwards' position that religion is primarily an issue of Affections. Edwards' position is that Grace changes the things we love and hate. Over the last month, I have been reviewing my life story and have more than ever come to realize that God has worked a work in my life, by grace, that has given me a profound love for the church. I have in many ways here at 21st Century Reformation argued for an extremely high view of the church and a vision of the church which I call morally beautiful community.

The Influence of Edwards on My Worldview
This term Morally Beautiful Community came to me while reading Edwards' "On Religious Affections" many years ago. Edwards speaks of the Spirit, through the Gospel, revealing to the heart the Moral Excellencies of Christ. To Edwards, the work of Grace produces in the heart of the believer affections for these moral excellencies. Therefore, our chief end in life is to display these moral attributes of God in our life. Edwards represents the height of the pietist and revivalist history in the Reformed tradition. I see the chief end of man not to so much to display the excellencies of God in the world as individuals but as a body. We, as people, by the way we LIVE TOGETHER, are to be this "city on a hill" that displays God's manifold beauty. We are to become the Morally Beautiful Community.

Our Beauty and Evangelism
Edwards, in his life and the life of his congregation, experienced seasons of Grace that transformed the community around them. The fruit of the people, the winsomeness of their worship, and their artistic expressions, all came forth from the community and led to great cultural renewal. Such a view of the role of the church and the potential for the church, I believe, constitutes a distinct worldview. The question is, "why do some Christians have a worldview which maintains this high and prophetic view of the church while others do not?". I for one cannot read the bible without seeing the call to become this radically distinct and morally beautiful people, a corporate vision. I believe that this is the Hebrew worldview. Western individualism has undermined this corporate aspect of the biblical worldview.

Church as Prophetic Witness
I will make just a couple of many possible explanations of why I personally, and I assume others, might maintain such a high view of the church in God's program.

First, our personal experience with church effects our definitions of what is normal church life. First, I was not raised in the church. Secondly, my first Christian experiences were of a fully renewed church body. I was saved out of the American dream into a Morally Beautiful Community. The church I first attended was highly mobilized. All my friends participated in church daily. The church had three lengthy prayer meetings a day. I lived in highly intentional community with 8-12 other single men. We did works of justice every weekend in neighborhoods in Southern California. The church grew by over 1500 people in the first 5 years I attended. Testimonies of significant life change were very regular. Monthly baptisms took most of an afternoon to accomplish. I lived in the same house as my mentor. All these experiences inform my expectation of church.

This church though reformed in doctrine at the highest levels was negatively effected by the anti-intellectualism of American evangelicalism and the most hyper streams of Pentecostalism. Nonetheless, the positive church experiences created in the participants a very high definition of God's intention for the church. I believe that such a view of the church is biblical. The book of Acts stands as a picture of the prototype of the church. The normal mode of the church then is to manifest the moral attributes and the qualities of the church in Acts in our generation. Such a view of the church leads the believer to see the church as a prophetic picture which like the New Testament church produces evidence of the Lordship of Jesus Christ by its distinctive story. Such a view of the church sees the North American church as existing in an abnormal or subnormal condition. Such a worldview is compelled to focus much attention on the urgent need for church renewal. Such thinkers begin to contemplate deeply the problems with the North American church at large and seek to understand the root causes of what ails the church.

Believers who maintain such a high view of the church tend to have an rather low view of the role of politics or the state as a means of cultural renewal. I do not claim that this view of the state and politics is necessarily correct. For example, the church in China is considered to be relatively renewed and is it not possible that this renewed church is playing a significant role in the democratic movements in China. I do not know. But what I do know is that a renewed church is the foundation of such a movement toward the renewal of the state.

So the question would be. How does one's view of the church effect one's view of the path to cultural renewal? How does one's personal experiences effect one's passions toward church renewal? Would you say that you hold a high or low view of the church as Morally beautiful Community? Would you say that the renewal of the church is central to your personal commitment? If so why? If not why not?

God Bless,


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