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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 5, what to be?

Jesus prayed in John 17 for his followers and those who would come after them. In his prayer, Jesus reveals several things about the relationship of the Church to the world. In doing so, he also reveals a significant part of the purpose of the Church.
13 “But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 15 “I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. 16 “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth. 18 “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 “For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth. 20 “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; 21 that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. (John 17:13-21, NASB)

Pt. 5 -- What is the Church to be?

These reflections on Jesus’ prayer in John 17 have several practical implications for us as we envision what it means to be the Church today. You may have heard it said by now, but it becomes clear that “Church” cannot refer to our buildings and property; it must refer to the communities of people following after Jesus Christ. If such communities have a building or property, those can be tools in the hands of the Church; but those things are not the Church.

So what are the communities of people following Christ as the Church to be?

Here are some beginning implications of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:

If we are not to be of the world, then our lives must not be indistinguishable from the culture around us. Whether that’s our personal witness through language, lifestyle, and actions or the way we worship (re-wording the latest pop song as worship music or selling “Holy Grounds” coffee at church come to mind; but there are many more examples).

If we are not to be out of the world, then we must also not retreat completely into a “Christian sub-culture bubble.” Examples of this retreat are more “gray”: some examples may represent retreat; others may actually be intentional engagement with the world! Christian sports leagues, Christian schooling, Christian retail stores, and more can be positive engagements with the world or retreats from it (or both at the same time!). Christians are well-advised to give prayerful thought to the purpose and functions of such endeavors in their own lives. [I realize each of these examples may be controversial; my main point in mentioning them is to invite thoughtful reflection in relation to the subject of these scriptures and posts rather than assert a pro/con position on them.] We must guard against complete withdrawal, whether that withdrawal is geographical and physical (moving to a remote compound somewhere; relatively rare) or psychological and in-place, where a Christian is so “in the bubble” that he or she would be hard-pressed to identify any “non-Christian” to interact with in daily life.

If we are to be in the world, we should be interacting regularly with people not like us! These are people of other faiths or no faith. These are people disconnected from the Gospel or unfamiliar with the Gospel. If a Christian does not know anyone like this, then the scope of being the Church has shrunk too small! This also means that life, witness, actions, and more will not be as clean and tidy as some have come to envision Christianity. Our “hands will get dirty” and our hearts will be broken as we live among the ones Jesus would identify as “our neighbor.” (Re-read the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30ff!)

If we are to be for the world, then this is not just a church committee assignment or periodic outreach; this is a way of life for every Christian and it is a defining characteristic of being the Church! This way of living life in the world and for Christ is to be not just our mission, but our worship and our joy! It is a way of living that the Father intends for us; it is something for which the Son prayed for us; and it is a direction the Holy Spirit is pleased to lead us.

Posts in this series:

pt. 1 The Church is not OF the world
pt. 2 The Church is not OUT OF the world
pt. 3 The Church is sent INTO the world
pt. 4 The Church FOR the world
pt. 5 What is the Church to be?

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