Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Great Commission

The threefold purpose of the church

As I read the New Testament, the evidence accumulates that there is a threefold purpose for the existence of the church. Each of these purposes is connected to, and dependent upon, the other two. Perhaps we could call this a three-legged stool and whenever one of the legs is shorter than the others it creates an unstable situation.

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1. To Glorify God
The first purpose is to glorify God. “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb. And all the angels stood round about the throne, and about the elders and the four beasts, and fell before the throne on their faces, and worshipped God, Saying, Amen: Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might, be unto our God for ever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 7:9-12). This passage is set around the throne of God in heaven, but we must begin glorifying God here and now in order to be able to continue in eternity.

The fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace and all the rest, must be evident in the church. Joy should not be muted in the name of humility, or forced, out of a sense of duty. Peace must be genuine, based on thankfulness for God’s forgiveness and readiness to forgive others.

2. To be a safe place for God’s people
The second purpose is to provide a sheepfold for the God’s flock – a place where they can be fed, have their wounds cared for and be protected from the enemies seeking to harm them. “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:13-16).

The church should be a place where the wounded and weary can find true brotherly love that will be a balm to their wounds and speed their recovery. Yet the church must also be pure. Weak members should feel welcome, those who live in wilful disobedience must be reproved and if they do not repent they must not be retained in the sheepfold lest their disobedience be a snare to others.

3. To make new disciples in our home communities and in all the world
The third purpose is to proclaim the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to others. “And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; to wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

The Great Commission says to teach, make disciples of, all nations. Proclaiming the gospel is only the beginning. When those who here are converted, that is still the preliminary stage of fulfilling the mission Jesus has given to us. New converts need the help of seasoned Christians to discern if a new life has sprung up within them, or merely a desire for a new life. They need teaching, support and encouragement as they forsake their old pathways and learn to walk with Jesus. We all need the support of genuine believers all through our Christian life.

I don’t know that any one of these three purposes has preeminence over the others. If we are truly led of the Holy Spirit, we will accomplish all three. If we let the Spirit do His perfect work in us, there will be no wobbliness in the way the church is perceived by others.

Four kinds of Christians?

In musing over the many directions taken by Christians I have encountered over my lifetime, it seems that they fall into four basic categories: ritualists; activists; survivalists and disciples. I don’t pretend that this is the nec plus ultra of analyses, but it is something that has helped me sort things out in my own mind.

Hmm, nec plus ultra, that says exactly what I am trying to say, but I wonder now if it helps anyone else understand what I am trying to say. It is Latin and means “nothing more beyond.” I think it would be understood if I were writing in French, which I’m not. What I wanted to say back there is that this explanation works for me but somebody else might be able to do a better job.

I’m not sure that I’ve found the best word to typify each category either, but here is what they mean to me;

  1. Ritualist. I would include here all those who feel the need to regularly sit in on a worship service at a certain day and time. This includes those who are strongly attached to a liturgical form of worship, but I would include all those who feel the important thing is to be there. They are not specifically drawn by the preaching or the fellowship, they just want to be part of what’s happening. Perhaps the best way to describe them is as consumers of spiritual food, rather than contributors.
  2. Activist. This includes all who feel they are called to change the world. this might include the Christian ecologist, the one who feels a burning call to enlighten the world about him about the need to prepare for the sounding of the sixth trumpet of the Apocalypse, or one who feels he has to share the message of salvation with every person he encounters, on the street, in stores, at football games.
  3. Survivalist. The opposite of category two. They have given up on the world and all their efforts are focused on just hanging on. They see danger everywhere, are suspicious of everyone. Sometimes they gather in  communities and protect themselves from outside influence by restricting social contact, sometimes even speaking a different language.
  4.  Disciples. To disciple means to teach. To be a disciple means to be a learner. This is a life-long process where one never gets to the point where he has nothing left to learn and no need of others. One cannot really be a disciple in isolation from others, or according to one’s own plan or schedule. Discipleship includes the idea of being part of a disciplined and orderly group where learning is possible.

Lest I be misunderstood, I want to emphasize that I have encountered true Christian believers in all four groups and I can recognize all of those tendencies within myself. Left to our own devices we all tend to go off on some tangent. As an elderly neighbour was wont to say “There is no moderation in the human race.”

The Great Commission is a call to make disciples of all peoples, including those next door if they are willing to listen. It is not enough to lead someone to salvation and then leave them to carry on as best they can by their own devices. The Great Commission is not fulfilled until there is a disciplined body able to function as a body, not merely a collection of disconnected body parts.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to paint a picture of a group of mindless zombies led by a dominating leader. Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Shepherd of the church. Yet He has called for the establishment of a servant leadership to watch over the spiritual health and growth of each assembly.

I mentioned moderation. It is listed as part of the fruit of the Spirit and is not something that can be taught. Yet it seems that we need to be taught the need for moderation. Part of the whole life of discipleship is learning how to relate to one another in a way that is supportive and encouraging for all and will maintain a purity of faith and life. This is what our Lord and Shepherd expects of us and the better we come to know Him, the better we will be able to relate to one another.

What is an indigenous church?

An indigenous church is one that has been planted in a new environment, taken root and grows and thrives without outside support. People in the community do not see a cultural barrier between themselves and members of the church and conclude that any differences between them and the members of this church are due to their spiritual beliefs. The faith remains true to its roots, unmixed with local spiritual beliefs and practices, but lifestyle and culture have adapted to the new environment.

The three self principle
These principles of an indigenous church in another land or culture were first described 150 years ago by a Christian missionary. I was a little put off at first because Communist China has appropriated the three self label for what is essentially a state-controlled church. But I haven’t found a better way to describe the working of an indigenous church.

1) Self-governing. The faith has taken root in the new location and local leaders can be trusted to replace the missionaries. They are grounded in the faith and following the lead of the Holy Spirit. From now on the local church will make its own decisions with an understanding of the local culture that a missionary can never quite attain.

2) Self-supporting. Members are giving sacrificially to their church and it is able to meet its own needs. Outside financial support, except in cases of dire emergency, will undermine the local church and damage relations between them and the churches in other countries.

3) Self-propagating. This church will extend its ministry in its local area and beyond without outside help. If we wish to spread the gospel around the world we need to establish churches that will then start other churches.

Discipleship
The Great Commission says “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The Greek word that is here translated teach is the verb form of the noun that means disciple. Thus, Jesus is telling us to go and make disciples in all nations. It is not enough to baptize new converts, they need to be discipled: taught, mentored, and encouraged so that they are equipped to help disciple others. “. . . the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16).

Why am I doing this?

I have been doing some reflecting of late. And not much writing.  I’m happy to see people are still looking at my blog, even if I haven’t posted anything since Monday.

Why am I writing? What purpose is there in wanting to communicate clearly, either verbally or in writing?

I attended a Toastmasters meeting Wednesday evening and I think I found part of my answer. There was a young lady there who had suffered a stroke at birth and multiple seizures after birth. The doctors told her parents that she had irreparable brain damage and would never leave the hospital, or if by some miracle she did survive long enough to go home, she would never walk or talk.

This young lady not only learned to walk, she became a runner, competing in Special Olympics events. Wednesday evening she read her speech, but she read clearly, without mispronouncing or stumbling over any word. She wrote the talk herself and made only a passing reference to her disability. Her point was that we are all called to  do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission.

We are acquainted with the family; her mother has written a book about Amee.  I am impressed at how she is continuing to grow and learn and has become an articulate and bubbly young lady.

So here I am, an old geezer with a lifetime of experience outside and inside Evangelical Christian circles.  And a head packed full of stories and information that I’ve lived, observed, heard or read. It seems to me that I see things outside that circle in a way that many people inside just do not comprehend. And I see things from the inside that are just not getting through to those on the outside.

I am also someone from a non-Anabaptist background who has chosen the Anabaptist faith as the truest expression of the Christian faith. It seems to me that we all – Anabaptists, Evangelicals and non-Christians – live in our hermetically-sealed bubbles, passing each other on the street, but unable to speak intelligible words to each other.

The things we say make sense to us and others who live in the same kind of bubble that we are in.  Those words may be misunderstood by others; they may even sound like nonsense. We sense that we are not getting through, so we say the same words, just a little louder. That doesn’t work either and we begin to suspect that the others are just not able to think very clearly.

We really need to get out of our bubble and connect with people. We don’t need a new gospel in hipster language, but we may need to drop some of the expressions that have been repeated over and over through the past two generations. I don’t think they really worked two generations ago and they certainly don’t now. Nor do we need more important sounding words. The deepest truths are communicated with simple words. But to really communicate, we have to become vulnerable, drop our masks, overcome our fears and become real people to those we meet.

Perhaps I have as much of a handicap as Amee. She has spent her life up to now in a battle to overcome her disabilities – and she is succeeding.  What’s stopping me?

Lift up your eyes

Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.  John 4:35

We often quote this verse in evangelical circles when the topic comes to missions.  Do we remember the circumstances in which Jesus spoke these words?

He was sitting on Jacob’s well near the Samaritan town of Sychar.  His disciples had just returned from purchasing food in the town and they urged Him to eat.  He tried to explain to them why He didn’t feel hungry.

The disciples probably wanted to make this trip through Samaria as quickly as possible.  Like all Jews, they viewed the Samaritans as spiritually, morally and ethnically corrupted.  They did not want to spend much time with these people.

However, during the time that the disciples had been food shopping, Jesus had carried on a lengthy conversation with a Samaritan woman at the well.  The woman had rushed back into the town to tell people that she had met the Messiah.  Right now, while Jesus was talking to the disciples, a long stream of Samaritans was coming toward the well to see this man of whom the woman had spoken.

Thus, when Jesus spoke the words, “Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest,” the disciples could see the crowd of Samaritans coming to meet Him.

Samaritans!!  Can you imagine the shocked look on the disciples’ faces?  Of all the people in this country, why Samaritans?  Yet Jesus remained in this town two days to teach the people, and many of them believed on Him.

Is Jesus telling us today to lift up our eyes?  Is He telling us we are not looking where He wants us to look?  We probably have a clear picture in our mind of the kind of people who would make good Christians, if they would just give their hearts to the Lord.  The kind of people we would feel comfortable sitting next to in church.

Could it be, just maybe, that Jesus is trying to tell us that these nice people are probably too good in their own eyes to see any need of conversion?  But there is a group of people over here who know that something is very wrong and are searching for an answer.  Many of them will believe if someone can present the gospel in a way they can understand.

We can refuse to look in that direction and life will go on more or less as before.  Occasionally one or two of those nice people will get converted, and we will comfort ourselves that we are truly obeying the Great Commission, it’s just that there are very few people interested in the gospel.

How long can we avoid Jesus’ command to lift up our eyes, before our own spiritual life grows cold?

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