The Church Captive (11)
Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When God brings back the captivity of His people,
Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad. Psalm 53.6
“The Bible tells us that every member of the body has a gift necessary to the functioning of the Church. When I looked at what went on in Cornerstone, I saw a few other people and me using our gifts, while thousands just came and sat in the sanctuary for an hour and a half and then went home. The way we had structured the church was stunting people’s growth, and the whole body was weaker for it" (emphasis added).
- Francis Chan, Letters to the Church
Viola, Barna, and Noble aren’t the only voices crying through the contemporary wilderness-wanderings of the evangelical movement. Francis Chan is one who has escaped the cave and its shadows of the true reality of faith, and has begun to see the Gospel and the Church in the full light of Scripture. Chan came to see himself and the mega-church he founded as trapped in a structure and culture that were keeping his congregation from its full Kingdom potential. Chan resigned, and moved to southeast Asia to wait on the Lord.
It was not long before the Lord led him back to the United States to start from scratch a movement of disciple-making, leadership development, and house church congregations, which he writes about in his book, Letters to the Church.
Chan came to believe that the evangelical Church in America was ensnared by the temper of the times: programmatic, efficient, materialist, entertaining, and person-centered. The spirit of the naturalism of the age has crept into our thinking, and we have spiraled, like Yeats’ falcon, far from the voice of the Spirit, dangerously adrift from our Kingdom moorings.
Chan is disturbingly forthright: “We’re not doing people any favors by pretending they are the center of the universe. Either people will be awed by the sacred or they will not. If the sacred is not enough, then it is clear that the Spirit has not done a work in their lives. If the sheep don’t hear His voice, let them walk away. Don’t call out with your own voice.”
But calling out with our own voice, the voice that wants to please and make everyone happy, is precisely what we have done, until the falconer’s call – the prophetic and apostolic voice, which is our proper inheritance – is only faintly heard, if at all, in churches today.
Have we substituted a person-centered, too-small gospel, for the Gospel of the Kingdom? And are we depriving Christ’s people of their Kingdom inheritance and calling?
A too-small gospel
This is the argument Ian K. Smith makes in his book, Not Home Yet. According to Smith, the Gospel is Good News, but only when the Gospel is lived and proclaimed as Jesus and the apostles taught. This is the Gospel of the Kingdom, not the truncated, person-centered gospel we hear so often today – forgiveness of sins and assurance of going to heaven when we die.
Smith writes, “When we understand that the end of all things is the renewal of all things, then all things become important.” Biblical religion is more about God coming to earth with blessing than of the blessed going to heaven to be with God. The temple, as a refashioning of the garden of Eden and foretaste of the work of Christ and the new creation, reminds us that God has a plan for redeeming the whole of creation by fitting His servants to know and serve Him according to His wise and good plan.
What Jesus accomplished in His resurrection is to refocus the dwelling of God on Himself, and to create in Himself “many rooms” for those who believe in Him to abide, grow, and work for the redemption of all things. In the Kingdom of God, everything matters. All of life is affected by the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection, and so every vocation and every task have the potential of being holy offerings unto the Lord and of bringing Him glory. This means that every day, and every moment of every day, is the day of salvation, the day for the redeemed of the Lord to carry out their original calling to exercise dominion for good over all the earth.
Practically, what this means is that making disciples is a much larger, much more exciting and demanding, and potentially much more fruitful and transforming endeavor. We are the recipients of a great salvation, an experience of grace and truth that brings the reality of heaven into every nook and niche of everyday life. We have Good News for the world – the news of Christ’s resurrection, that brings the goodness of God to all of life and the whole of creation.
We need to be clear about Jesus – Who He is, what He’s about, and what it means to follow Him in His Kingdom – if we are to fulfill our calling as the bringers of Good News to the world.
This is precisely the burden Skye Jethani unpacks in his important book, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God. According to Jethani, we’ve invested too much of our disciple-making into encouraging people to seek the blessings of God, or to work for God. In the process, we’ve lost sight of the fact that our salvation is not from God or being over God so that He responds to our every need; or merely living for God or under Him. Our salvation is God Himself, specifically, our Lord Jesus Christ. And our calling is to be with Him, and to know, enjoy, abide in, and derive power for obedience and fruitfulness as we live and walk with Him.
We must not seek the Lord as the means for acquiring the treasure of happiness and eternal life. We must see that God Himself is the treasure we seek– knowing Him, delighting in Him, being filled with Him, walking in obedience with Him, suffering with Him, and glorifying Him in all we do: “The primary purpose of our worship gatherings, preaching, and programs should be to present a ravishing vision of Jesus Christ. When people come to see who he is and what God is like, treasuring him becomes the natural outcome.”
But as long as we remain captive to the person-centered gospel of the day, we will never realize the righteousness, peace, joy, and power of the Gospel for making all things new in our lives and world. We will only treasure God, and thus enjoy the fullness of life and the great salvation He gives, as we focus more on Jesus, seeing Him as He is and living with Him in every aspect of our lives. Only by focusing on Jesus, rediscovering Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords, can we “live in constant, unending communion with God”, Who alone is our treasure and joy.
What are the implications of this for our preaching? Our worship? Our disciple-making and shepherding? The facilities and other resources entrusted to us? Surely, in everything we are and have and do, as signs and outposts of the Kingdom of God, we must be led by that ancient request: “We would see Jesus” (Jn. 12.21). For until we see Jesus, and learn to abide in and with Him, we will continue to long for lesser things, and our great salvation will slip ever further from our grasp. “The call to live in continual communion with God means that every person’s life, no matter how mundane, is elevated to sacred heights.”
And from those heights, seated with Christ in the heavenly places, we will gain a true perspective on our callings as His disciples, and we will know the truth that sets us free from whatever binds and ensnares us.
The captivity, of which he makes mention, is not the Babylonish, or the dispersion of his people among the heathen nations; it rather refers to an oppression at home, when the wicked exercise dominion like tyrants in the Church. We are, therefore, taught by these words, that when such furious enemies waste and destroy the flock of God, or proudly tread it under foot, we ought to have recourse to God, whose peculiar office it is to gather together his Israel from all places whither they have been dispersed.
- John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 14.7 (53.6)
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Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Unless otherwise indicated, quotes from Church fathers are from The Ancient Christian Commentary Series (InterVarsity Press).