For several years now, there has been a “worship wars” struggle in many Western churches. I have overheard comments expressing dissatisfaction over some activities in which churches seek to reach “the world” on its own turf. Using techniques like including videos in a worship service and contemporary music, candles in worship – all, according to some, in questionable taste. Everyone wants to “reach out to the world” but how much is too much? When do we go overboard? What are we calling people to, and what about holiness?
This struggle, being the people of God as well as the witness of God to all people, is the tension with which Israel grappled. The church lives within this exact tension. The church of Christ emerges when its members increasingly participate in the church’s being in the world through loving one another, proclaiming Christ as Lord, serving one another and the least of these, and witness. The church must be prophetic, priestly, and kingly in every context, which means that it is in the world but not of the world.
The church points to the kingdom of God. It is not the kingdom; the kingdom is much more than the church. The church, birthed as a mission to the world by God, is to proclaim the gospel of Christ so that people might enter the present and future kingdom. Yes, one might say that the kingdom is present now, yet it is also in the future. When we speak of the kingdom as present, we acknowledge the fact that both the church and the kingdom find unity in Christ whom is both the King of the kingdom and Head of the Church. Anywhere there are believers that acknowledge the Lordship of Christ, there is the present kingdom.
The implications of this for our ecclesiology are significant. Our practice of church becomes a mission ecclesiology. Being “missional” in Christ occurs when someone is willing to die to him or herself and risk entering into the “ex nihilo” or void that is the necessary condition for God’s Word to minister. We act on our faith because we hold central that all ministry is Gods, and the point at which ministry occurs, is the point of human powerless. Therefore, a “Missional Church” is a church that risks everything that it thinks it knows, to enter into situations of powerlessness, so that the Spirit of Christ can minister to the world through the church and in so doing, the church can encounter Christ anew.
The arena for such action must include the world or our action becomes inward looking and we become apathetic to those whom share our common humanity. Such apathy can cause us to overlook Christ who we can always find in the middle of those whom are neglected and marginalized.
Maybe the church has gone a bit overboard. It seems that anytime a congregation becomes a “place to gather” rather than the “Christian people” in a community, you cross a boundary. Perhaps the boundary crossed in like changing food sources. The source of our food as the people of God in a community is Christ who is before us in the community reconciling people to God through him. We engage the community not on its own “turf”, but on God’s “turf”, as Paul reminded us, God through Christ has reconciled the whole world (Romans 4-5, 2 Cor. 5:18-19).
If this is so, and the scriptures tell us that it is, then perhaps we have gone a bit overboard. Maybe our attempt at church (both traditional and modern styles) has been feeding us from individualistic self-love rather than from Christ. “Feeding” on Christ requires an empting of ourselves so that we can receive and give the love of Christ that flows from such emptying. 1 John 3: 11-24 challenges us not to withdrawal from the world in fear and regret. We should enter the world more deeply. We should give ourselves as a living sacrifice to be transformed-so that we can be a witness to the presence of Christ in our midst.