The Mission of the Church

Vision and mission statements provide businesses and services of all sizes and shapes and persuasions with a foundation upon which to build.  When the work of building grows tiresome or difficult, the vision and mission statements serve as rallying points.  They are reminders for what is at stake with respect to success or failure.  Sometimes these vision and mission statements go by another name called purpose statements.  It is true that there are semantic differences between the words vision, mission, and purpose.  My main point is that each statement based on those terms still functions like an anchor for the company and its employees.  Anyone within the company or organization can point to its vision or mission or purpose statement in order to assess his or her progress.  How does my particular line of work contribute to the company’s vision, mission, or purpose?

Good leaders use these purpose statements as guidelines for staffing changes, setting goals, delegating tasks, and company-wide assessments.  The church or the body of Christ is a living organization run by the head, who is Jesus (Ephesians 4:15-16 & Colossians 1:18, ESV).  The passage of scripture known as the Great Commission functions as the vision, mission and purpose statement of the church:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age'”  (Matthew 28:18-20, ESV).

Christ spoke those words over 2000 years ago, but the force of them remains in effect until his second coming.  No matter what takes place in my community or city or state or nation, my Lord commands me to make disciples of people of all nations anywhere and everywhere I set my feet.  It definitely makes me wonder how I have been doing in this regard.  This does not mean that I am employ complex surveys in order to assess the best methods of evangelism, discipleship, and preaching and teaching.  It might encompass something along those lines; however, I think Jesus had something much more simple and uncomplicated in mind.  For example, build relationships with my colleagues over time while living what I believe.  Will they see an impact that my faith in Christ has upon my life?  Am I punctual?  A hard worker who excels at his work?  A trusted colleague on the same team who looks out for his teammates?

Ministry, missions, preaching and teaching the word, these all have some measure of formality to them.  They are disciplines to study and examine at seminaries and universities.  There is tremendous value to learning different methods, techniques, and formulae with respect to ministry, missions, and preaching and teaching; however, if I bring us back to my personal example of being a living witness at work, the academic approach or approaches fade away into the background of distraction.  For example, do my colleagues enjoy being around me?  Knowing the latest methods of ministry, evangelism, discipleship, and the like add up to zero if I am a dirtbag to my colleagues.  Underneath the outward lies the inward condition.  I may have the trappings, but do I have the life of Christ within me?  There is no way to make disciples of Christ if I am not a disciple, too.  If I do not have him in me, then there is no way to display him to others in accordance with the Great Commission.

My heart condition is crucial in the area of making disciples.  The word itself suggests that I am under someone and his teaching.  In my case, this refers to Jesus and his words.  I submit my life to him as Lord by obeying his commands, which he enables me to do by the person and presence of the Holy Spirit.  The very life that I live is in constant discipleship to one greater than me.  I have kicked and screamed over the years as a follower of Christ.  When I recall such moments in my life, these soften my heart while transforming the way that I see men and women around me.  I am no different than the next person save for the fact that God set his love upon me by grace through faith.  Because Jesus is the ultimate teacher, I remain an eternal student of life and living.  This means that I will not arrive thereby becoming the paragon of Christian living and/or living life as a true disciple of Christ.  Being an eternal student of my Lord means that I do gain insights into who I am and who he is and how these impact my life.

Someone once said that I am a beggar telling other beggars where I found bread.  I find that to be wonderfully uncomplicated, which is the heart of Christ’s command to his church to make disciples of all nations.  Too many ministers and laypersons struggle for ways to share the gospel and to be a witness; consequently, their churches and denominations exemplify this struggle.  “New ways” or “new expressions” of churches have cropped up throughout the US over the last fifteen years.  There are the seeker-sensitive churches, the Emergent types, the Progressive ones, and many many more; however, each of those “new streams” refuses to yield to Christ and his word in subtle ways.  Some embrace views of the afterlife that redefine God’s character and the nature of the atonement.  There are others who call into question the bible as God’s authoritative word by employing deconstructionist forms of scripture interpretation, and/or by employing radical re-contextualizing methods to make the bible more relevant to today.

The point is very simple or basic.  If I have a desire to obey Jesus’ command to go and make disciples of all nations, then it starts with me being his disciple.  This is a call to obeying him and his word or teaching.  When I claim that Christ is the Lord of my life, then by definition, I embrace his teaching as authoritative.  Acknowledging Jesus as Lord goes hand in hand with ordering my life according to his word.  When I create a false dichotomy between the two, my testimony to others about Christ will suffer somewhere down the line.  If I say that Jesus  is Lord, but then reinterpret his word to lessen its force, or to make it more appealing to culture, then I no longer love him.  In the fourteenth chapter of John’s gospel, the Lord states unequivocally that those who love him will keep his commandments and see him (John 14:21-24, ESV).  In the last book of the bible, Jesus warns the church at Ephesus to return to their first love, or else he [the first love] would remove their lampstand from his presence (Revelation 2:4-5, ESV).  There is no middle ground for the church and for me.  Jesus is Lord and his word is authoritative.

Here are a few questions to consider: 1.) Am I, are we, being his disciples by yielding to him and his word? 2.)  By virtue of our submission to Christ and his word, are we making disciples who submit to him and his word?  and 3.) What needs to change in us (in me) to continue being Christ’s disciple who makes disciples?

“A church that witnesses to the law and to the prophets is an inevitable torment to the world; and it seems that in many places now, as never before, when Christians are liquidated ‘they that dwell on the earth rejoice over them, and make merry'” (Revelation 11:10, ASV).

(J. Barton Payne, Chapter 4 “Antecedents to the Imminent Appearing,” The Imminent Appearing of Christ, p118, 1962)

 

The Liquidation of the Church

In the Image of God

Throughout church history, the historicity of the bible undergoes constant assault.  The tactics vary, but the end result is to undermine the authority of the scriptures.  Enemies come and go, but they pursue the same goal.  George Santayana is famous for many reasons, which I am unable to explore.  His quote about history gets to the heart of the matter: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  It is my humble opinion that today’s church is woefully ignorant about its past. There are numerous aberrant doctrines or teachings on the rise, which had been refuted in the past by our forbears.  At the risk of casting aspersions upon anyone, I want to say up front that I embrace the old adage, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.”

Ok…let me get down to brass tacks.  What are some of those aberrant doctrines floating around in the body of Christ?  The following notions have resurfaced over the last decade.  Here they are in alphabetical order: 1.) Justification by faith with works (the New Perspective on Paul advocates this view); 2.) Rejecting the biblical notion of gender identity as male and female; 3.) Rejecting the substitutionary atonement of Christ’s redemption; and 4.) Universalism.  All of these positions come to the surface in a variety ways.  Some are more subtle than others with the exception of the second one.  It is this view that I aim to tackle in this post.  Before I begin one sentence in this direction, here is the biblical text that I will use to support my point-of-view:

26a Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’ 27 so God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.  28a And God blessed them…” (Genesis 1:26a – 28a, ESV).

There are a couple of things that I want to highlight about this passage.  First, it occurs toward the end of the creation account in the first chapter of Genesis.  Therefore, and this second point flows out of the first, the creation of man serves as the capstone or the culmination of God’s act of creation.  Mankind or men and women occupy the highest position on the earth by virtue of the sovereign purpose of God.  This is not an accident from my perspective.  There is another key point to notice in this passage.  God uses the plural pronoun us, which references the three persons within the Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Each one participates in the act of creation (Genesis 1:1-2 & John 1:1-3, ESV).

Most scholars agree that Moses is the writer of Genesis; however, I submit to my readers and followers that the true author, the Holy Spirit, inspired him to organize the content of Genesis chapter one in such a way as to highlight the importance of man being created in God’s image (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV).  Nowhere in Scripture do we read that the angels bear God’s image like men and women.  It is true that angels occupy a higher position than humans (Psalm 8:4-5; Ezekiel 1:5-13; Revelation 4:6-8, ESV), that they are spirit beings with personalities (Luke 1:19-20), and that they possess the ability to take on human form (Genesis 6:1-4 and Daniel 9:21-23, ESV).  That being said, it is mankind who bears the image or likeness of God.  It goes without saying that no animal reflects God’s image the way men and women do.  The ramifications of human beings bearing the imago dei is immense or far-reaching.

First things first, it must be said up front that the Genesis account indicates that both genders bear God’s image equally and fully.  God created women to bear his image, and he created men to do the same.  In this respect, men are not greater than women and women are not greater than men.  There are differences between the sexes to be sure, but those flesh out God’s image in ways that need to be acknowledged and embraced.  Our culture and society desperately needs to embrace this biblical truth for our own good.  If I stand upon this divine truth about men and women, then would I engage in behavior (whether thoughts, words, or actions), which denigrates the image of God in them?  Let me phrase it another way.  Does the truth of God creating men and women in his image shape how I perceive and interact with people?  I believe it should, but easier said than done.

In my own life, I have suffered the consequences of mistreating others and myself.  Every thought, word or act that lessened the honor and dignity of others and myself paved the way for defiling God’s image.  Sometimes I found it easy to do because it came second nature.  The point being is that if I do not care for God’s image within me, then it follows that I will sully it in others.  Now, I realize that this post hits hard.  My heart’s purpose is to spare my readers and followers the horrors of being on the wrong side of judgment day.  The Triune God takes his creation of men and women very seriously…in fact, way more seriously than our cultures and societies do.  Based on today’s passage, women have intrinsic value as women because God put his image in them.  Men have intrinsic value because his image resides in them. When did this occur?  It took place before the fall, before the rebellion of Adam and Eve.

Embedded within the creation of men and women is God’s image.  Despite the rebellion of the first man and woman, this fact remains true forever.  Human beings reflect God’s image to him and to others whether they want to or not.  Do women see in themselves the image of their creator?  What about the men?  From my point-of-view, low self-esteem, eating disorders, drug use, sexual promiscuity, and other like afflictions seem to flow out of a poor self image.  If our culture and society embraced the truth that God made all people after his own image, I think many of those afflictions and disorders would fall away.  Thankfully, Christ came to overturn this bent within men and women.  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  In Christ, there is a way out of our innate or ingrown desire to defile God’s image in us.

The Clarity of Scripture

“In a day when it is common for people to tell us how hard it is to interpret Scripture rightly, we would do well to remember that not once in the Gospels do we ever hear Jesus saying anything like this: ‘I see how your problem arose–the Scriptures are not very clear on that subject.’  Instead, whether he is speaking to scholars or untrained common people, his responses always assume that the blame for misunderstanding any teaching of Scripture is not to be placed on the Scripture themselves, but on those who misunderstand or fail to accept what is written.  Again and again he answers questions with statements like, ‘Have you not read…’ (Matt. 21:42), or even, ‘You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God’ (Matt. 22:29; cf Matt. 9:13, 12:7; 15:3; 21:13; John 3:10, et al.).

“Similarly, most of the New Testament epistles are written not to church leaders but to entire congregations.  Paul writes, ‘To the church of God which is at Corinth’ (1 Cor. 1:2), ‘To the churches of Galatia’ (Gal. 1:2), ‘To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons’ (Phil. 1:1), and so forth.  Paul assumes that his hearers will understand what he writes, and he encourages the sharing of his letters with other churches: ‘And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea’ (Col. 4:16; cf John 20:30-31; 2 Cor. 1:13; Eph. 3:4; 1 Tim. 4:13; James 1:1, 22-25; 1 Peter 1:1; 2:2; 2 Peter 1:19; 1 John 5:13).”

(Wayne Grudem, Chapter 6: The Clarity of Scripture; Systematic Theology, pp 106-107, 2000)

 

Wandering into Myths

I do not know anyone who announces from a mountain peak the following, “Hey everyone, I jumped into a black hole and came out the other side.  Let me tell you what that experience was like.”  Some folks would call the authorities in order to have said individual locked up for the protection of others and himself.  There are others who would ignore such a proclamation as another example of madness to be ignored unless sanctioned by legislative, judicial or executive power.  Normally, the average person slowly unveils core beliefs and values to trusted others in one’s sphere of influence.  This includes ideas or concepts perceived outside the status quo.  It comes down to trust, especially over volatile matters.

In today’s culture, the concept of truth undergoes constant deconstruction.  It is ironic that our society has become an expert at tearing truth down, but hopeless at rebuilding it into something more organic or improved as a result of the deconstruction process.  What is the point of breaking apart truth for the pursuit of truth, and then turn around and say, “to each his own?”  This is a recipe for purposelessness or living without a vision and mission in life.  It is one thing to say that I no longer embrace those beliefs, whatever they may be, but it is something else entirely to come out of that process without a foundation for the next stage of the journey.  It is like a ship that leaves the harbor without a rudder.  At some point, the collective wisdom of our age said that the rudder is not necessary for steering, we will use something else.  Decades later, the ship still sails without a rudder.

Now, this whole analogy of a ship without a rudder begs the question as to its ability to sail the seas.  Basic seamanship requires any ship, no matter how big or small, to have a rudder in order to guide the vessel along the water.  All analogies break down at some point, but I think truth is that rudder.  Of course, the objections will rain down left and right.  For example, who determines which truth to apply to this situation?  How do we assess what is even good and necessary truth at all?  Each of these has good responses, but the basic point is simple.  Back to the nautical analogy, a ship needs a rudder for it move along the water.  At some point, the deliberation ceases to have any value as long as the ship remains without a rudder.  Many of the churches in America fit this analogy to a tee.  The apostle Paul said as much in the following scripture passage:

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths (2 Timothy 4:3-4, ESV).

The immediate context of the apostle’s words has to do with an exhortation to his successor, Timothy.  Paul writes these words from a prison in Rome right before his execution for preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Because the apostle has seen it all, he reminds Timothy about getting back to the basics of his ministry: “…preach the word…” (2 Tim. 4:2a, ESV).  It is a simple and profound charge that cuts through the red tape of ministry and running a church.  The word of Christ gave Paul and Timothy new life in their savior (1 Tim. 6:12 & 2 Tim. 1:1, ESV).  It gives new life to the church, which is the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27, ESV).  Because the people of God have this new life within them and hence within the church, she is to be a giver of this new life to the surrounding people, cultures, societies and nations (Matthew 5:14-16 & Philippians 2:14-16, ESV).

Basically, the people of God and the church have been given the truth through the Word of God, who is the Messiah, by the person and work of the Holy Spirit.  We have a rudder to guide our ship unlike the culture; however, Paul’s words to Timothy, his young protege, warn about a time coming when God’s people and the church will reject the rudder just like the surrounding cultures, societies, and nations.  The apostle states without equivocation that “[people] will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim. 4:4, ESV).  In the Greek language, myth has a variety of uses, but in this context it refers to falsehood or wrong beliefs.  According to the apostle Paul, God’s people and the church allow the surrounding culture to shape and guide it rather than God and his word.  This is what it means to wander off into myths, or to put it more succinctly, to exchange God and his truth for the false wisdom of mankind.  Instead of being in the world and not of it, the people of God and the church become of the world while in it.

Reformed Theology and the African-American Community

http://resources.thegospelcoalition.org/library/theological-imperialism-and-the-black-community

I found this video to be quite insightful, but I wanted to hear more. From my perspective, this is the strength and weakness of this discussion.  Eric Mason is one of the leaders behind The Resurgence, which sprang up from Mark Driscoll’s Seattle-based ministry, Mars Hill Church.  The Resurgence brings together a team of evangelical leaders to provide resources for pastors, ministers, and church planters.  Mason leads his own church in Philadelphia called Epiphany Fellowship.  Reformed rap artists, Trip Lee and Lecrae, join Pastor Mason in chronicling their journey from non-Reformed beginnings into a more Reformed view of the scriptures.  In the case of Trip Lee, he is actually attending Boyce College as he pursues a career in the ministry.

Apparently, Reformed theology within the African-American community is highly volatile subject, but it is largely unknown to ethnic outsiders.  The silence on this subject raises questions about my own involvement or lack thereof with my brothers and sisters in Christ, who are African-American.  For my part, I am pleased to see three grown men of God explore ways to bring the gospel into their churches and social contexts.  One of the men recounts an interaction with a fellow African-American about Jesus, the gospel and Christianity.  The initial response was that Christianity was a white man’s religion.  I say that the gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, but is that really how others see it?  This is by no means the end of this discussion.  It is only a beginning.  Something tells me that men like Mason, Trip Lee and Lecrae are sorely needed to raise this issue in intelligent ways.

The Power of Stories and Myths

Two of my favorite genres to read and watch are science fiction and fantasy.  I enjoy the alternate worlds and characters within these stories whether book, play, movie, poem, you name it.  When it comes to science fiction and fantasy stories, the writers and creators tackle ambitious themes related to the human condition and the ultimate big questions.  Here are some examples: how did mankind get here; where is mankind headed in the future; and what is the relationship between the individual and society?  Here is the point…science fiction and fantasy genres employ fictional worlds to comment on the human condition.  At the risk of sounding pretentious, these two genres operate from a moral perspective.

Myth is another term that intersects with the genres of science fiction and fantasy.  There are two basic definitions of the term: one deals with false notions or beliefs about people, places, and things; and the second refers to a story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.  It is the second definition that peaks my interest.  The worlds and characters that inhabit the genres of science fiction and fantasy require the authors and creators to fashion a mythos, which forms the foundation for the actual story while being the means for examining the human condition.

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is one of the best literary examples of fantasy literature that employs a complex mythology of its characters, language, and history.  All of these elements function together to anchor readers into Tolkien’s world while mirroring our own.  The complex histories of all the various peoples and languages within the fictional landscape of Middle Earth bears such striking resemblances to our world that Tolkien’s narrative transcends cultural and language barriers.  His themes or messages are universal in that they speak to the common experiences of men and women and boys and girls all over the world.  This is at the heart of the second definition for the word myth.

George Lucas’ original Star Wars Trilogy attains to even higher heights than Tolkien’s Middle Earth simply due to the immediacy of the motion picture medium.  Movies reach far more people than books, especially if the creators package their cinematic narratives with a credible mythos from the audience’s perspective.  Back in 1977, Lucas’ original Star Wars movie shattered all box office records known to the film industry.  This space-age fantasy struck a chord with audiences.  Its impact upon the culture was immediate and long-lasting. If Steven Spielberg’s Jaws announced the summer blockbuster, then Lucas’ Star Wars confirmed its existence forever.  Lucas’ space fantasy spawned a whole line of toys, clothes, bedding, stationary, magnets, and much much more.  For example, my two brothers and I owned hundreds of Star Wars figures and toys.  I can hear someone saying, “So what, Matthew?  You’re not saying anything new that I didn’t already know.”

Science fiction and fantasy stories have a way of impacting cultures and societies across the globe as evidenced by Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and Lucas’ Star Wars Saga.  I see those two genres as being key for helping to shape the moral compass of the peoples of the earth.  Of course, saying that sounds awfully cheesy or idealistic, but I think there is great potential for harm and good through the genres of science fiction and fantasy.  Back in the 1950s, Hollywood released a spate of science fiction movies dealing with the reality and consequences of living within a nuclear age: The Thing from Another World (1951), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Them! (1954), The Forbidden Planet (1956), and The Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956).  These films not only represent bold and creative visions by their creators, but they reveal artistic and business minds working together to express alarm over mankind’s trajectory.  Is not that a good thing?

Storytellers possess the potential for being either true or false prophets.  The motion picture industry is a double-edged sword in the best sense of the term.  Hollywood’s sci-fi flicks of the 50s demonstrate the good edge of this sword.  It is my humble opinion that this current decade and the previous one represent the bad edge of the sword.  In defense of Hollywood, the executives and creatives have been releasing plenty of science fiction and fantasy about mankind’s ultimate end.  Some of these have portrayed various dystopian outlooks of mankind’s future; however, these films have lacked any staying power with the audiences and therefore the culture and society.  For example, movies like Oblivion and Elysium create vivid, futuristic worlds, but the characters and story lack emotional resonance.  Mark Romanek’s Never Let Me Go is better than those two previous movies; however, its portrayal about what it means to be human is too painful for viewers to watch.  Plus, it is a drama whereas the other two were mindless action flicks masquerading as clever, science fiction, adventure yarns.

In the end, there are few movies today displaying both a mind and a heart behind them.  Most of them are soulless and joyless works of automation rather than living and breathing cinematic narratives.  There are novels and short stories and poems being written that put their screenwriter cousins to shame.  Because the former work in a medium that takes much longer to influence a culture, the impression is that books are a waste.  Libraries struggle to maintain a viable presence within today’s culture and society.  Reading comprehension continues to plummet along with the ability to write in the proper grammar and syntax.  There is power in story and myth.  These should be used in service to the culture and society.  This might require business and creative minds to step outside of the box in order to examine the contents.  Is the status quo worth maintaining?  Are there harmful business and creative unions, which choke the ability to fashion narratives that speak to the human condition?

There is a real place for storytellers to influence the culture and society for its good; however, this requires a ruthless commitment to principles.  Because I stand upon God and his word, those two guide my principles.  I call other storytellers like me to stand firm upon God and his word.  This is not something that I expect of those who disagree with me about God and his word.  All I ask of them is to remain true to their hearts’ convictions.  When it comes to those in my Christian circles, my exhortation is straight from the pen of the apostle Paul, “[do] not teach any different doctrine, nor to devote [your]selves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.  The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:3b -4, ESV).  Storytellers who claim to be of Christ must realize that their craft is an issue of conscience and faith before God and men.