prodigal_2

Today we look at signpost 7, and continue a conversation that opens space between retrenchment, and revision; between the old Hellfire and brimstone kind of gospel and “a new kind of Christianity.” Geoff and Dave use the metaphor of signposts: signposts connote an authentic journey, a process of learning and discovery.

Signpost one directs us into the cultures of post-Christendom. Signpost two, missio Dei, points us squarely into the middle of this world where God is, discerning where God is working. “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you” (John 20:21 ESV).

This second signpost leads to the third: Incarnation, where the mission of God takes flesh in Jesus. Signpost four is Witness: the journey into the world. “Just as God came to us as one of us, filled by the Spirit, ushering in a new way of life, so we to must enter into our neighbourhoods and live the gospel as a way of life so that others can join in with us: see, touch and hear so as to reveal God’s kingdom…” (62)

Signpost 5 is Scripture. “Living Our Story.” The Bible is now largely a cultural artifact, no longer authoritative in post-Christian cultures, and sometimes disdained. “Scripture is not some great ideological document that seeks to dominate or control. Rather, it tells the story of the prodigal God who comes among “the least of these.” Scripture’s authority is a key component through which the kingdom comes.

Signpost 6 is “Gospel” – “The sixth signpost leads us into the center of what God is doing in the world by leading us into the radical gospel that “Jesus, the crucified and risen Messiah, is Lord.” They write that the personal plan is only part of the story. “Sin is also the destruction of community, between God and humanity and within humanity. It results in both personal and social brokenness. Sin brings darkness, isolation, and death. The gospel proclaims good news over all these ills.” 86

Which brings us to signpost 7 – Church: The journey as the Body of Christ into the world. Geoff tells his story of discovering a church that really believed it was Jesus body in the world.

“I had been raised in a typical evangelical community where the Lord ’s Table was purely incidental—something you did at the end of the service… But at this little church, celebrating Communion actually did something to us. They would say things like, “God ’s kingdom flows out from the table,” or, “At our Lord ’s Table the kingdom comes to us and the world.” It appeared as if they believed that Jesus was actually doing something in and through us when we practiced Communion. This little church believed Jesus was welcoming us at his table.” 97

Geoff summarizes the story to this point in the book:

“In the fourth signpost, we saw that witness refers to someone’s entire way of life—a way of life that embodies (makes visible in the flesh) the reality of God’s kingdom in the world. Christians live as witnesses when our lives exhibit the reality that Jesus is the Lord who is bringing God’s
kingdom. This way of life is shaped around the story of scripture (signpost 5) and centered on the gospel (signpost 6). But this way of life is not an individual activity or accomplishment: it is something expressed in social relationships and inevitably shapes all Christians into communities of God ’s kingdom.” 97

What happens between and among believers is an anticipation of kingdom life with God. As we live into the future presence of the kingdom, we bring it to birth on earth (my words).

One well known book (DeYoung and Gilbert) offers that the worship of God is the necessary precedent to mission. Well and good. They also tell us that the church is a sign of the kingdom. But then they add a caution: the creation of the new heaven and new earth happens only when King Jesus returns in glory. The gospel of the kingdom is something future, while the gospel of the cross is central today. Problem! “The gospel becomes about individual status before God, witness becomes limited to verbal proclamation, and the church becomes a collection of individuals who can get the right information about salvation, [so they can] give it to others.” 99

Is the church only a place for proclamation to individuals? Does the church itself cross boundaries to participate in God’s mission?

As in the last chapter, it’s easy to turn the gospel into a social program (too much kingdom or too little cross) instead of the victory of God over the powers of sin and death. But the church does not merely have a mission (either a personal one or a service occupation), rather the church is mission. The church “proclaims and makes present the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. The church is nothing if not local, incarnational communities practicing the kingdom.” 104

Our kingdom practices shape a community within a neighbourhood and enable us to submit together to the reign of Christ there. These are much more than “organizational tools,” but are the way we live the life of Jesus in the world. The practices – the Lord’s Table, proclaiming the gospel, reconciliation, being “with” the least of these, being “with” children, the fivefold ministry and kingdom prayer, should define us. They are inherently missional, where the kingdom becomes manifest as a sign and a foretaste of the future.

Dave and Geoff spent the longest section (two pages) on the hospitality of the table as founding our hospitality with others. It was good to see a practice of “being with people on the fringes” included in this list. The gift the poor offer to us is simplicity and vulnerability – two gifts we desperately need to recover a kingdom way.

“The Fivefold ministry and gifts” (110). They frame these gifts as not merely ecclesial, for intended for forming the kingdom in the neighbourhood. “Each neighbourhood gathering needs to discern God’s working in the giftedness of its leaders. When they are practiced in submission to the King, the kingdom breaks in.” Dave relates the story of an incarnational effort that had failed to empower the evangelists; once those gifts were recognized, the authority of the kingdom was revealed and things began to open up. (111)

These practices are familiar to Christendom churches. We all know how the Lord’s Table has been reduced to ten minutes of meditation, sitting in the pew, at the end of a gathering. Or we have experienced how being with “the least of these” has become a part of the missions program. Or we have seen how the fivefold ministry was streamlined into the sola pastora frame. And we have also seen Christendom churches closing their doors. Mission and kingdom have been lost. But Jesus offers these practices for shaping the church under his authority into God’s mission. As with Yoder, these practices are social “sacraments” where God is especially active inhabiting the world for his rule. Sin is defeated, and the kingdom breaks in. (Body Politics, 72-72).

Next: Signpost 8