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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.

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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?

Monday, April 22, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 4, FOR the world

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. 4 -- The Church FOR the world

I would add one final observation that doesn’t appear explicitly in Jesus’ prayer in John 17, though it certainly underscores Jesus’ understanding of what it means for his followers to be the faithful people of God.

For many in the Church today, it will be a challenge and stretch to turn back from retreat and engage the world in the manner modeled by Jesus and entreated in his prayers. But it is an insufficient understanding of this purpose and calling if we only do so fearfully and reluctantly. Church-in-the-world is not God’s backup plan or merely obligation for Christ-followers. It is God’s revealed purpose from the beginning.

I frequently remind my congregation (and give thanks!) that when humanity turned from God in the Garden, God did not turn from us, but has continued to pursue us in mercy, grace, and love. This is not to say there were not dire consequences for sin, but to say that God did not abandon us to ourselves. When God cut the covenant with Abraham in Genesis, it was not to set aside a special people to withdraw out of the world into a new Eden, but to mark a distinct people in blessing for the purpose of blessing the world (see previous comments on “sanctify”). So also the Church, grafted in as God’s people, have not been set aside to withdraw out of the world, but to mark a distinct people in blessing for the purpose of blessing the world and witnessing to God’s glory as manifested in Jesus Christ.

The Church, then, is purposed for more than simply co-existing IN the world; we are purposed FOR the world, to live out love, mercy, and grace in witness to God’s great love, mercy, and grace in Christ. This act of witness is, in fact, an act of worship – at least obedience, but hopefully an act of JOYFUL obedience.

We have often been reminded that “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son….” Jesus prays that God will send us as God sent him. This does not mean that God gave the Church to save the world (that’s Jesus’ role!), but it does mean that God purposed the Church FOR the world in love. May we view the world and the people around us as our neighbors, for the sake of Christ and in joyful, worshipful obedience to the One we follow.

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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?

Sunday, April 21, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 3, INTO the world

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. 3 -- The Church is sent INTO the world (v. 18)

Jesus continues in prayer, asking the Father to send his followers (that’s us!) INTO the world. And we are not just sent without direction or any-old-way-we-please; we are sent as the Father sent the Son into the world. (v. 18a) And how is that?
The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw God’s glory… (John 1:14)
One of Eugene Peterson’s most memorable translations is of the phrase “dwelt among us”: Jesus “moved into the neighborhood…” THAT is how Jesus prays for the Father to send us into the world… to move into communities and neighborhoods, to flesh out Jesus’ teaching about “Who is my neighbor?”

And lest my personalization of the teaching miss the greater point, let me re-state this: Jesus desire is for His Church to make a home in this world and enflesh the Gospel in witness to God’s glory in Jesus Christ.

It is true that this world is not our home in the eternal sense. But like the Exiles in Jeremiah 29, God has asked us to make a home here for His glory. We are to build and live and plant and eat and marry and multiply (Jeremiah 29:5-6) in this world, because God sends us as living witnesses to His glory even as God sent the Son to dwell among us.

Jesus then returns again to the SANCTIFY language (v. 19). We now see that in the context of neither losing our identity to the world nor separating from the world, that sanctifying is to happen in the world… in the neighborhood. Somehow we are to be “set apart as holy” in the midst of this world that is both our calling and other.

There is another way to understand being “set apart” and that is as DISTINCT. To be distinct is to be in-the-midst-of yet retaining a particular identity. That is, perhaps, a more helpful way to understand Jesus’ prayer for the Church in the world… that it be made distinct in the truth of God’s Word while continuing to bear witness effectively as good neighbor witness to God’s glory.

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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?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 2, NOT OUT OF the world

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. 2 -- The Church is not OUT OF the world (v. 15)

When we talked about Jesus’ followers not being “of the world” as well as Jesus’ prayer that God SANCTIFY his followers in the truth of God’s word, we recognized that one conclusion that could be drawn is that Jesus’ followers should retreat from the world. After all, what better way to be “set apart” in holiness than to be separate.

But Jesus’ prayer offers some context and a different meaning to our understanding of “sanctify.” He prays in verse 15: “I do not ask you to take them out of the world.” So there, sandwiched between two descriptions of his followers (and himself!) as being “not of the world” he clearly does not understand that to mean separating or removing his followers from the world.

Jesus’ understanding of the Church is not as cloister or retreat or walled community. (There was a model for this in his day in the Essene community; he did not choose that relationship with the world!) There has always been a strain of church-thinking that pushes to withdraw from the world; but that is not Jesus’ desire. Rather, we are to be somewhere between the extremes of looking just like the world and running from it.

What Jesus does pray in v. 15, in conjunction with the plea not to remove his followers from the world, is that God will “keep them from the evil one.” He asks for God’s protection. That begins to frame our understanding of that NOT OF but NOT OUT place the Church is to inhabit. We will not only face the hatred of the world (v. 14) but the attack and deception of the evil one (v. 15). Thankfully, Jesus already intercedes for us and our protection in the place to which he calls us!

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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?

Friday, April 19, 2013

what is the church? - pt. 1, NOT OF the world

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. 1 -- The Church is Not OF the World

At least we’re not supposed to be. Praying, Jesus said that he was not “of the world.” And he said the same of his followers. If we too closely resemble the world around us, then something is amiss. If we so blend in that we are indistinguishable from anyone else, then it may be that we are not following in Christ’s footsteps and purpose quite as much as we might think.

Whether it is over-identifying Christianity with a political party, equating our faith with a particular country, or indulging in the sins of the surrounding culture, Jesus’ followers are clearly intended to be a distinct people.

In the same breath that he identifies his followers as not of the world, Jesus says that he has “given them God’s word” and that “the world has hated them.” The first is a strong reminder that we don’t create the Jesus we follow, but we follow his teaching (and more broadly, the scriptures). The second is a realistic acknowledgement that being distinct in this world may be costly. It certainly was for Jesus.

Then, Jesus says it again in verse 16: “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.” This time he speaks again of God’s word, identifying it as truth, and asking God to “sanctify” his followers in that word of truth.

This proves to be a key word in understanding the relationship with and role of the Church in the world. SANCTIFY can be translated as “set apart” or “make holy.” Certainly in the context of this prayer and the phrase “not of the world” we get a sense of being set apart and different. One logical conclusion might be to think, then, that the Church should withdraw OUT OF the world. That would certainly set it apart. But that proves not to be the case…

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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?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

what is a pastor? - pt. 4

This and the posts linked below explore the question: "What is a Pastor?" I'd love to hear your thoughts or responses in the comments!

Some Personal Comments
  1. In a very important sense, the responsibilities of a pastor are the responsibilities of all Christians.  We are all to be faithful disciples, obedient servants, and loving neighbors.  We are all to encourage and spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  We are all to follow the example of Jesus Christ and give ourselves humbly to draw others toward the grace of God in Christ. 
  2. What sets pastors apart from the general responsibilities of being Christian?  In a word, it is their “call” – brought about by the Holy Spirit, witnessed by the Church, and signified in their anointing and ordination for service.  That “call” is how God called forth leaders, judges, and prophets of old; it is how Jesus formed the disciples, and it is a pattern by which God equips the body of Christ (Eph. 4:11).  It does not grant an earthly or human authority to be wielded in power, but a Spirit-borne authority in the service of Christ.
  3. While various gifts and skills may be helpful in ministry, it is certainly clear in scripture that God can and does work through human weakness.  Moses was no public speaker; Jonah ran the other way; Jeremiah and Timothy were seen as too young; Paul admitted an ongoing “thorn in the flesh”; Peter denied his Lord; Thomas doubted.  But the Lord called each of these to service to God’s people.  Another distinguishing aspect of pastoral leadership is that it is in terms of groups rather than the general Christian responsibilities towards other individuals.  A pastor, then, is an ordinary Christian called to oversight of a flock – part of the body of Christ.
  4. What I believe God desires of His flock everywhere is that they be “shepherded” after the example of Jesus Christ.  My desire is to shepherd after the pattern of Christ and, in doing so, to point the flock heavenward, toward their perfect Shepherd.  

Part 1: Pastoral Charge to Peter 
Part 2: The Nature of Pastoral Authority
Part 3: On Shepherding the Flock
Part 4: Some Personal Comments

Related Posts:



Monday, April 15, 2013

what is a pastor? - pt. 3

This and the posts linked below explore the question: "What is a Pastor?" I'd love to hear your thoughts or responses in the comments!

On Shepherding the Flock

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." (Acts 20:28, NASB)
  1. Guard yourselves and your flock
  2. The Holy Spirit has made you shepherd of God’s blood-purchased Church
  3. Shepherd the church (guard, lead, tend, etc…)
Part 1: Pastoral Charge to Peter 
Part 2: The Nature of Pastoral Authority
Part 3: On Shepherding the Flock
Part 4: Some Personal Comments
Related Posts:


Saturday, April 13, 2013

what is a pastor? - pt. 2

This and the posts linked below explore the question: "What is a Pastor?" I'd love to hear your thoughts or responses in the comments!

The Nature of Pastoral Authority (Oversight)

Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:1-3, NASB)

“Shepherding the flock” has several implications here:
  1. A gentle authority – “oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily”
  2. A godly authority – “according to the will of God”
  3. A willing authority – “not for sordid gain (not only money, but power over others), but with eagerness
  4. A humble authority – “nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge”
  5. Exemplary authority – “proving to be examples to the flock”

Part 1: Pastoral Charge to Peter 
Part 2: The Nature of Pastoral Authority
Part 3: On Shepherding the Flock
Part 4: Some Personal Comments

Related Posts:


Friday, April 12, 2013

what is a pastor? - pt. 1

This and the next several posts will explore the question: "What is a Pastor?" I'd love to hear your thoughts or responses in the comments!

The Pastoral Charge to Peter 

So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus *said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He *said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He *said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He *said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He *said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus *said to him, “Tend My sheep." (John 21:15-17, NASB)

Responding to Peter’s declarations of love, Jesus charges him to:
  1. Tend (food, water, basics) my lambs
  2. Shepherd (all-encompassing – safety, protection, guidance, leadership) my sheep
  3. Tend (food, water, basics) my sheep
By extension, I understand this to charge pastors with:
  1. Teaching the Word and worshiping in Spirit and Truth  (feeding and ‘watering’ God’s people)
  2. Caring for the people of God (particularly those under the pastor’s “charge”) in regards to earthly needs (physical, emotional, material) and spiritual needs; includes defense and protection in those realms
  3. Leadership of those under my “charge” – where would the Great Shepherd have this flock go?  How do we go safely and faithfully?
  4. Seeking those who wander astray (lost sheep)… spending extra time and energy to bring them home or to safety.

Part 1: Pastoral Charge to Peter 
Part 2: The Nature of Pastoral Authority
Part 3: On Shepherding the Flock
Part 4: Some Personal Comments

Related Posts:

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