Christ left his heavenly abode and came down to earth in order to accomplish a multi-dimensional mission. His task involved setting in motion in the physical realm God’s plan to restore humankind to spiritual life and right relationship with him, to provide a mechanism whereby we might be cleansed of our sins, teach us the proper way to live in relation to God and to one another, and to pave the way for the advent of the Holy Spirit. In addition, Christ accomplished numerous other themes, some quite subtle and others quite obvious. His primary mission, however, we have yet to mention.
Christ came to this planet first and foremost to inaugurate his kingdom on earth. This is how he kicked off his mission, by admonishing listeners to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. Christ indeed made progress toward laying the foundation of his kingdom on earth, but when he left our world and went back to the celestial realms, there was a monumental amount of work left to do. Amazingly, he left us in charge of carrying out that mission. Frank Laubach cogently speaks to this startling fact when he says:
When Christ was here on earth, He was limited to performing His ministry in one place and at one time. He was one man, walking beside one sea in one little corner of the earth. He healed whatever He touched, but His touch was necessarily limited by time and space.
Now, does it make sense that the Father would send His son for this limited ministry? I don’t think that is tenable. He made provision to carry on the work through the Holy Spirit: we are to complete His mission. We are his multiplied hands, His feet, His voice, and compassionate heart. Imperfect and partial to be sure, but His healing Body just the same. And it is through the Holy Spirit (Christ’s love which is everywhere at once), that we receive the power to carry on the work of the apostles. It is a challenging and sobering thought: when we receive the Holy Spirit into our lives, we receive the same urgent and life-giving force that led our Master.
Whenever I sit down and prayerfully reflect on the fact that Christ left us in charge of establishing his kingdom here on the planet, I am amazed and awe-struck. Yet that is exactly what he did. When taking an objective look at the church and all its foibles, it would not be a reach to conclude that maybe the Master, in his exuberance and his love for us, may have over-estimated our talents and capabilities. Even a superficial examination of the problems and petty squabbles that have typified church history, along with the current chaotic state of doctrinal disunity and dwindling membership, points to we have, at least to this point, fallen quite short of where we should be.
In spite of these facts, I am hopeful that the Body of Christ will eventually move forward and make great strides in laying a positive foundation for Christ’s kingdom on earth. In fact, I am more than hopeful, I am downright optimistic! A few weeks ago, as we were discussing these very issues, a good friend was stunned when I told him I was optimistic about the church’s future and that I felt that the prognosis was far more positive than generally forecasted by the many pessimistic, hand-wringing naysayers who have all but blown Taps on the church in America.
“How can you possibly be optimistic about the church and the kingdom?” said my friend as he almost choked on his fish taco. “Given the fact that so many people are leaving the church and so many churches are closing their doors, I see no grounds for hope, much less optimism.”
In truth, as a firm believer in the integrity of Christ and the teachings of the New Testament, I cannot be anything but optimistic. Although the numbers of this and the statistics of that are anything but positive, I am optimistic because I rest on the promises given to us by God in the Holy Scriptures.
First, I take primary comfort in the fact that Christ did not leave us as orphans. Instead, he returned to his celestial home in order to open to door for the Holy Spirit to come into this world in a manner never seen before. Whereas in the Old Testament (and in the old covenant) the Holy Spirit “came upon” people on occasion, in the New Testament (and under the new covenant) the Spirit would incarnate within each and every disciple. I take great comfort in this and knowing that collectively, the Body of Christ is empowered by the Holy Spirit I cannot imagine failure as the ultimate outcome. The church will succeed in finishing the work begun by Christ. Further, we are assured in scripture that Christ will complete the work begun in us (Phil. 1:6).
Briefly, two other scriptural revelations assure me that, even if there be fits and starts, we have every reason to be optimistic about the ultimate future of the church. First, we have resident within us the same power that raised Christ from the tomb (Phil. 3:10). I cannot imagine any scenario where sincere and committed disciples of Christ could possibly fail in their God-given, God-equipped, and God-empowered mission when operating with the assistance of this power. Second, Christ has assured us that he will always be with us, even until the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).
In closing, I would be remiss if I failed to mention perhaps the greatest reason for optimism regarding the future church and the establishment of Christ’s kingdom. As the world continues its steady drift away from the teachings and principles of Christ, we can still take comfort in the promises of Jesus. In spite of appearances, setbacks, and obstacles aplenty, the Master has already won the battle. He sums up our primary reason for positive hope when he says, “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world (John 16:33).
© L.D. Turner 2013/All Rights Reserved
- Birthing The 21st Century Church: A Wilderness Journey (lifebrook.wordpress.com)