Sunday, December 7, 2008

The Week In Review

The New Testament Church
Written March 29, 2007

The author, Gilbert W. Stafford, in his book, Theology for Disciples, gives reference to idealistic and realistic views of the New Testament Church. The question is how can these ideas help bring renewal to the contemporary Church? When these ideas are coupled together, they can be useful for the contemporary church today because they can help better define her goals and to see her areas of need.

Stafford first states that the Gospels are placed at the beginning of the New Testament to signify the priority that the early church placed on discipleship as the basic category for understanding the nature of the church. The church as Stafford points out was called many names, such as the people of God. He explains how these ideas were to be enacted within the body of believers.

His first definition of the church as the body of Christ placed the accent on the church as the ongoing means by which the risen, ascended, reigning, and coming Lord makes himself known in history between his first and second advent (160). In other words, the church is to have a role in the mission of presenting Christ’s redemptive power to the unsaved.

His second definition is that the church is a place where the reconciled come together. Those that are both reconciled with God and with each other. It is the place where God’s presence is on earth. The third definition of the church is as the people of God, with the accent on its vocation.

Therefore, the idealistic view of the church is it is a fellowship of those who trust in Christ. It is the people of the new covenant linked to those of the Old Testament. They are a group of believers devoting to growing in Christ. It is a body of divine grace for the edification of believers and for blessing all. It is an expression of God’s mission to the world. It is also the community of believers waiting for Christ’s return.

This idealistic view however when placed alongside the realistic picture of the church, it does not always live up to the idealistic idea. The New Testament church had struggles, corruption and deficiencies within its structure as it attempted to grow and spread the gospel.

While fellowship was important some fell short and problems arose such as those that wanted believers to obey the laws (such as circumcision). There were some devoted to growing in Christ, but there was also a problem for example of sexual sins that Paul had to address that was taking place within the church. The church was to be an organism of divine grace for the edification of believers, but there was a time the church was a stumbling block to believers (for example the debate of eating meat used within idol worship ceremonies). There were problems with gifts and confusion about usage of tongues. The church should have been an expression of God’s mission to the world, but the Asian churches were lacking in missionary zeal.

One of the greatest examples the New Testament church can be to the contemporary church is it was not perfect but it was in the process of growing into what God was calling the church to be. Even in her state of lack, God still added to the church daily. Stafford explains that the view of the idealistic is that the church is pure, spotless, blameless, holy and concerned only with the salvation of people and the glory of God. On the other hand the realist sees the church as too human, harsh, intolerant full of every kind of failing.

Instead, the church today needs to take a blend of both to help the church become what it should be. The church is the body of Christ, but it is in the process of growing and therefore has many shortcomings. The church can however still find comfort in knowing that as she is becoming, God is still adding to the church as he sees fit. It calls for the church today to view itself as a body of believers in need of divine guidance, directing and renewing to continue to grow into what God is calling her to be. The church needs to hear again, and again her purpose, her mission and her calling so that she can continue to be corrected when she goes astray from her mission so that with a loving hand the reality of what is taking place is being joined with the idea of what she can become.

The Week In Review

Theology of Ministry – part 1 (Written 11/23/07)

When one speaks of ministry, several possible scenarios may come to mind. Most of those scenarios have to do with the individual and their particular calling; however, what should come to mind first is God. Ministry begins with God’s activity in the life of the individual and one should look at this calling from that perspective to understand the significant role God wants to play in the life of the minister. If ministry is examined from the understanding that it starts with God, then what does this imply to the individual in terms of what you “do” in ministry? These questions must be addressed before one can do what a particular calling requires.

The author of the book, Biblical Foundations & Contemporary Strategies: Missions, Gailyn Van Rheenen, illuminates an important point regarding ministry or as he labels it, missions. In the text he states, “Mission does not originate with human sources, for ultimately it is not a human enterprise” (14). This is a biblical truth, which is stated in this manner, “ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you” (John 15:16).

When one examines this scripture it speaks of God being the initiator of the mission. Van Rheenen reiterates this point when he writes, “God the originator of the mission of deliverance, then sought a person to carry out his mission” (15). He sums up the mission in this way, God is the originator of the mission, Jesus Christ enacted the mission, the Holy Spirit gives power to the mission the church (each of us individually) carries the mission and the world hears the mission (18).

Since this mission is originated with God there are some significant points that should be understood. According to Van Rheenen, the mission first flows from God to us and does not originate in us. Since the mission is from God, he will equip and empower the believer. The Holy Spirit gives power for the mission that God originated and Jesus came and enacted. The Spirit also gives the minister and/or pastor the freedom to understand themselves in the sovereignty of God.

The minister or pastor that starts with the understanding that this mission or ministry is God’s can focus on God and not on self. Paul warns us of this in scripture when he writes, “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves” (Philippians 2:3). I must always contend to keep my focus on God so that I do not lose the heart of the calling, which is to do the mandate of God.

With this understanding and with great vigilance, I set about being careful as the scripture says, “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory; but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (John 7:18). This scripture implies to me that what I do in ministry must always, without fail, line up with what God is calling me to do. It does not matter how good an idea may sound, I must still seek God’s guidance to see if this is his directive.

God is the originator of the mission; therefore he knows what is needed in every situation. I could gain a false sense of comfort if I do things right and begin to rely on my own understanding, but this is not wisdom at work in my life. God’s word warns against relying on my thoughts. I can find comfort in any area of uncertainty by knowing that since this is God’s mission, it will succeed. I must, however, be willing to understand success from God’s perspective. His success may not mean that I will pastor a large congregation or that I will be well known and sought out to speak at big events and important functions. It might mean that I am a pastor that is obedient to God and not known by anyone other than those I lead. Yet, if this is the mission God is calling me to, then I can go forward with confidence that it will be accomplished.

This mission (ministry) or work of God is to reconcile sinful men and women to himself. Christ is the center of this message and as one that accepts that mission I must always seek to place God center stage of everything I do. This is the significance of ministry beginning with God. If it begins with God and stays focused on God then a pastor/minister is able to be successful in taking the next step of now walking in the special call upon his/her life.

Cited Work

Thompson, Frank Charles, D.D., PH.D. The Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, 5th ed. Indianapolis, IN: B. B. Kirkbridge Bible Co., Inc., 1988.

Van Rheenen, Gailyn. Biblical Foundations & Contemporary Strategies: Missions, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.