Remedies for What Ails the Church: Christ’s Proactive Love (Part Three)

St Augustine's Commentary on THE SERMON ON THE...
Image by Fergal of Claddagh (Gone to Poland till August!) via Flickr

Mick Turner

(continued from Part Two)

I find it fascinating that the churches that seem to be most negligent in educating congregants in the realities of what it means to be “in Christ” are those at opposite ends of the theological spectrum. Our liberal churches often ignore the phrase altogether or describe it as a quasi-mystical state resulting from long-term arduous spiritual training. It is described more often as a state of consciousness rather than a gift of grace through the Holy Spirit’s empowerment. At the other end of the stick, many of our fundamentalist brothers and sisters are so absolutely obsessed with sin and the “blood of the Lamb” that they never get beyond the theme of atonement and justification. Themes like empowerment and sanctification rarely cross their lips.

Once we come to an understanding of who and what we are “in Christ,” we need to have a thorough education in God’s great mission of restoration, renewal, and the primacy of the Kingdom agenda. We need to know what God is up to and discover how we fit into that agenda both as a church and as individuals. This entails education regarding the kingdom, God’s “Great Story” of restoration, and our equipping in terms of spiritual gifts. Understanding the “kingdom” purpose is especially important as this was the central focus of Christ’s teaching.

Underlying all of our efforts as the Body of Christ is the notion of working along with God to establish the “Kingdom.” I can’t stress this notion of Kingdom enough and, if you take a close look at the gospels, neither could Christ. His first public statement was “Repent for the Kingdomof Heavenis at hand.” After beginning this way, Christ repeatedly stressed that his mission was to inaugurate the Kingdom. As ongoing agents of incarnation, it is now our mission to pick up where Christ left off. This is the foundational mission of the church. Even the great commission is aimed at this and this only: Bringing God’s Kingdom to Earth.

The coming of the Kingdom is really the heart of the gospel. The forgiveness of sins and the work on the cross, although of central significance, is not the heart of the gospel. It is not that which brings life to the body. No, it is the coming of the Kingdom that constitutes the life of the gospel. Unfortunately, the church, especially since the reformation in general and Calvinist theology in particular, has primarily defined the gospel in terms of the remission of sins by the work of Christ. Again, I am not downplaying the importance of this. All I am saying is that it is not the core of the gospel. Jesus repeatedly stressed the coming of the Kingdom.  The remission of sins is part of this, but it is far from the whole enchilada.

Dr. Myles Munroe, author of several books dealing with God’s kingdom, echoes the centrality of the kingdom agenda for today’s Church:

“How important to the Body of Christ is the message of the Kingdom of God? Frankly, we have nothing else to teach. The message of the Kingdom is good news, and the Church exists to proclaim it. If we are doing our job, everything we are about will be Kingdom focused: every sermon we preach, every Bible study we teach, every ministry we perform, every activity we accomplish, and every worship service we celebrate…The Kingdom of God must be our highest priority; Jesus gave us no other commission.”

As individual members of the Body of Christ, it is our duty to share the kingdom message at every opportunity. In doing so, however, we must take care to present Jesus’ kingdom manifesto is ways that are relative to today’s world. Howard Snyder also points out the contrast between kingdom people and non-kingdom people. His words paint a clear portrait of why the church must educate its members in depth regarding Jesus’ concept of “Kingdom”:

The church gets in trouble whenever it thinks it is in the church business rather than the kingdom business. In the church business, people are concerned with church activities, religious behavior and spiritual things. In the Kingdom business, people are concerned with Kingdom activities, all human behavior and everything God has made, visible and invisible. Kingdom people see human affairs as saturated with spiritual meaning and Kingdom significance. Kingdom people seek first the Kingdom of God and its justice; church people often put church work above the concerns of justice, mercy and truth. Church people think about how to get people into the church; kingdom people think about how to get the church into the world. Church people worry that the world might change the church; Kingdom people work to see the church change the world…If the church has one great need, it is this: to be set free for the Kingdom of God, to be liberated from itself as it has become in order to be itself as God intends. The church must be freed to participate fully in the economy of God.

 I find the Church’s lack of focus on establishing the kingdom even more remarkable when considering other popular pulpit themes. A few years back I was conducting research on the growth of several denominations in the county where I live. This research necessitated my visiting eight different congregations over an extended period of time and provided an opportunity to hear firsthand the kind of topics preachers from a variety of denominations were expounding upon. Frankly, I was amazed. I heard at least four sermons on prosperity, four more on the reality of sin, three on the importance of speaking in tongues, two on how speaking in tongues was the work of Satan, at least two sermons detailing the importance of voting Republican in the upcoming 2008 election, and one meandering, 40-minute bombast without a discernable core.

In short, the church is supposed to be in the business of turning out “kingdom people” rather than church people. So, along with the other themes discussed in this article, I feel it is imperative that the church also include as a part of its educational agenda information on just what the kingdom is all about.

I should say at this point that I rocked along as a Christian for many years before, by the grace of God and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit, I began to at last encounter Christ in a more profound way. In spite of my personal beliefs and biases, misinformation gleaned from myriad sources, including the church, and perhaps most subtle of all, my own intellectual arrogance and theological snobbery, a sliver of divine light managed to break through. Augmented by much prayer and meditation, this thin beam of illumination expanded into an unexpected eruption of insight and wonder. It was as if some sort of spiritual dawn had exploded across the horizon and standing at the center of this sublime awakening was Jesus Christ – Jesus as I had never seen him before; Jesus as I had never understood him before; Jesus, as he had never impacted me before.

My reaction to this encounter was one of reverence, awe, and wonder. I think the phrase coined by Hebrew writer and scholar Abraham Heschel sums up my feelings quite accurately. When the dust settled and I began to embody the new revelation of who and what Christ was and is, I was literally overwhelmed with a sense of radical amazement.

This sense of wonder, awe, and amazement created in me a desire to obey Christ in things both great and small. I was (and I remain) far from perfect in terms of my obedience, but with divine assistance each day I get a little bit better it seems. More significantly, this revelation of Christ’s nature, his accomplishments, and his ongoing mission created in me a desire to create and maintain a level of excellence in my life that greatly exceeded the  level at which I had been operating. Cutting straight to the chase, my personal mission statement became:

To become the optimal version of myself for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

The way I saw it, and still see it, is anything less than my best shortchanges Christ. I am not talking about perfection, nor am I employing any sort of legalistic program of puritanical holiness. Those flavors of teaching prove time and time again to create more problems than they solve. What I am driving at here is the importance and the necessity of making a consecrated commitment to excellence.

I am convinced that the vast majority of us are living far beneath the level we are capable of, whether in terms of our personal relationships, our professions, our level of knowledge and wisdom, and our moral values. All I am saying here is that in light of the great gift Christ has given us, we can and should do better than half-measures.

Christ gave us his best and our response should be nothing less than our best.

Think about it.

© L.D. Turner 2011/All Rights Reserved

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