“The choice not to focus [on individual transformation] .. is because we have already learned that the transformation of large numbers of individuals does not result in transformed communities.” Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging
Way back around 1978 I read George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom. Ladd was pulling together threads that had been noticed by others, but he did so at a time and in way that was focused and memorable – and in a stroke brought to prominence a gospel theme that was often minimized. Today it is ALMOST axiomatic to say that the Gospel Jesus preached is the gospel of the kingdom of God – the good news of God’s reign (see Mark 1:14,15 or the close of Luke 4 for examples).
About five years ago I wrote a simple syllogism.
1. The true Gospel has transforming power, producing faithful communities of Jesus followers.
2. I don’t see many faithful communities. I see many communities which are inwardly focused, Christian clubs.
3. Therefore the question – are we holding to the true Gospel?
Many have noted that the frame for the gospel in the pragmatic western churches in modernity grew increasingly narrow, with self at the center rather than God’s kingdom at the center. Gradually our frame has been expanding, taking in more of the biblical story. I used to think the problem was simply a missing telos. What do I mean by that? Steven Covey put it like this: “begin with the end in mind.” Let’s have a quick look at the gospel frame by frame as it expands, starting with the most narrow point —
“Jesus died for your sins.”
Notice – no telos. Unto what purpose did Jesus “die for your sins?” Where does redemption take you? What’s the end goal?
Add telos – an “unto.” “Jesus died for your sins so that you would live forever.”
That’s still only part of the story, and it leaves self at the center, a me-centric gospel, but it’s a bit wider. Now the gospel has a goal, but the goal is other-worldly. Maybe transformation isn’t so important in this life – we get it all in the next. (In contrast to Jesus prayer for the kingdom to come “on earth as it is in heaven.”) Let’s expand the frame a bit more.
Add telos and remove the veil between sacred and secular, heaven and earth. “Jesus died for your sins to restore your relationship with God so that you can follow Him in this life and reign with Him in the next.”
ok, now we are getting pretty close to an Ephesians frame – a cosmic gospel that unites heaven and earth, now and the world to come, Amen. We have not yet included a corporate dimension. We could still be talking about individual Christians without a covenant connection to the one new man God is creating in Christ. There is no “body language” in this frame yet; no “polis” in the Yoderian sense. Newbigin writes,
“It is surely a fact of inexhaustible significance that what our Lord left behind Him was not a book, nor a creed, nor a system of thought, nor a rule of life, but a visible community. (Italics mine) He committed the entire work of salvation to that community. It was not that a community gathered round an idea, so that the idea was primary and the community secondary. It was that a community called together by the deliberate choice of the Lord Himself, and re-created in Him, gradually sought – and is seeking – to make explicit who He is and what He has done. The actual community is primary; the understanding of what it is comes second.” The Household of God, 20
Last week on FB Dave Fitch posted a statement for comment.
3 people meeting in a room is not a “church” because the word “church” (ecclesia) means “political presence” in the neighborhood. Agree? (Fitch)
In Yoder’s words, ecclesia is a polis because, “it has ways of making decisions, defining membership, and carrying out common tasks. That makes the Christian community a political entity in the simplest meaning of the term.” To maintain that the church has a “political presence” means that in the structuring of the social body, the church lives out a particular way of life that is in keeping with the Kingdom of God – an alternative to the existing social order. The church, in its common life, is a city on a hill. Gerhard Lohfink writes,
“It can only be that God begins in a small way, at one single place in the world. There must be a place.. Visible, tangible.. where the salvation of the world may begin: that is, where the world becomes what it is supposed to be according to God’s plan. Beginning at that place, the new thing can spread abroad. All must have the chance to behold and test this new thing. Then, if they want to, they can allow themselves to be drawn into the story of salvation God is creating. Only in that way is freedom preserved.” Does God Need the Church?
Gordon Matties on the scope of redemption.