What Does It Mean to be the Church?

Many people answer this question in different ways. We might think that it requires a two-part answer such as, ‘we reach out to others with God’s love and we lead people into a growing relationship with Jesus.’ I usually say those same words during the times when we gather together for worship on Sunday mornings. Another two-part answer is reaching out to others with the Gospel, which is evangelism, and caring for our own people with pastoral care.

Photo by John Cafazza on Unsplash

However, a case can be made for saying that the Christian Church does not have two different functions or tasks, but only one: To engage in the one mission that God is carrying out in the world, to renew and restore all things under His rule and reign.  Our two-part answers are really two different ways of describing the same task.

When God first created human beings, He placed them in the Garden of Eden, but He gave them dominion over all the earth. We read in Genesis, “Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” (Gen. 1:28) The God-given task of our first parents, before the Fall, was to fill the earth and thereby extend God’s reign over all creation as His image-bearing caretakers. This was God’s original design and it was very good (v. 31).

Sin and its fallout of brokenness and estrangement from God happened sometime later, and all of creation was corrupted. But the mission has remained the same. The Holy Spirit has given us faith in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and Jesus has given us citizenship in God’s kingdom by taking away all the guilt that was keeping us out and giving us His birthright as a child of God. We have been given by God the same role as pre-Fall Adam and Eve. We seek to extend God’s realm, within which renewal and restoration happen, by blessing others with what God has given to us: His promise of forgiveness, acceptance, life, healing and hope. We are God’s designated caretakers of creation, serving under His authority with His gifts to accomplish His mission. And we engage in this one mission everywhere, both inside and outside the church.

This mission has become increasingly hard for us over the years because the world around us has changed. Christians use to have favor and privilege in the Western world. Being part of a church was considered to be a good thing in society and people wanted to belong to a church. In the past, you could gather some Christians, start a church, make it attractive and people would come. But the desire to be part of a church is increasingly rare in our society. This means that we are facing an adaptive challenge. This is different from a technical challenge which requires getting better at doing the things we are already doing. An adaptive challenge means that we need to learn how to do new things because the old things we used to do don’t work anymore.

This can be very scary for us because of we tend to fear the unknown. We may feel like strangers in a strange land. But God’s people have been in situations like this before. Whether it was when Adam and Eve found themselves outside the Garden for the first time, when the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, or when fear-filled followers of Jesus huddled together in an Upper Room encountered the risen Jesus, God’s message to us is the same: This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

We may find ourselves without a map to guide us in this strange, new world. But we have God with us. He will provide us with the resources we need, He will supply cultural natives to guide us through our unfamiliar surroundings, and He will unfold the wonderful future that He has planned for us and all creation.

So, let us lean forward into the future with confidence in our faithful Lord! He has proven Himself faithful in the past and He will be faithful to us too!

Dear God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, please help Your Church to move forward into the future with confidence for You are with us. Amen.

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