Thursday, December 06, 2007

Building a Culture of Faithfulness (Part 13)

Reclaiming a Kingdom Perspective

Jesus Christ commanded us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). How can we reclaim a kingdom perspective for our lives in 21st century American society? How can we live as citizens of heaven in this present age? How can we live according to our confession – Jesus Christ is Lord?

The first three points I present here, though not developed in great detail, are truly the most important and weighty aspects of building a culture of faithfulness. If we forget these, then no matter how “conservative” we may be in practice, we are not being faithful to God.

The Word of God Must Be Our Guide!

We must uphold the complete authority of Scripture. It is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. We must be confident in the sufficiency of Scripture.

The Purpose of God Must Burn In Our Hearts!

The glory of God must be our driving desire (Romans 11:36). The completed work and coming kingdom of Jesus Christ must be our foundation and our message (1 Cor 2:2; 15:1-4). The power of the Spirit must be our enablement (1 Cor 2:4). With this passion, the gospel will be central to our lives, and thus…

The Mission of the Church Must Be Our Focus! The local church is the center of gravity of God’s work in the world today, and it should be the center of gravity of our lives.[i]

This means, first of all, that we must strive for God-centered worship in the church. I firmly believe that worship drives culture. This is just another way of saying that we become like what we worship. David Peterson rightly says,

“Throughout the Bible, acceptable worship means approaching or engaging with God on the terms that he proposes and in the manner that he makes possible. It involves honouring, serving, and respecting him, abandoning any loyalty or devotion that hinders an exclusive relationship with him. Although some the Scripture’s terms for worship may refer to specific gestures of homage, rituals or priestly ministrations, worship is more fundamentally faith expressing itself in obedience and adoration. Consequently, in both Testaments it is often shown to be a personal and moral fellowship with God relevant to every sphere of life.”[ii]

In a sense, adding “God-centered” to worship is redundant. Genuine worship by its very nature is “God-centered.” But I add this qualifier because much of what passes for worship is not really “engaging with God on the terms that he proposes and in the manner that he makes possible.” In order to be God-centered, worship must be thoroughly biblical. It is never merely formal. It must always respond to God precisely as he has revealed himself (see first four commandments; cf. John 4:23-24). It is always driven by faith (Heb 11:6; 12:28). As Christians, our entire lives should be a proper response to God (Rom 11:36-12:2). The focal point of this worship is in and through the local church.

This also means that we must pursue God-centered evangelism/missions, or disciple-making, through the church (Matt 28:18-20).[iii] Disciple-making must be rooted in the doctrines of grace and produce a passionate effort to call all the earth to the obedience of faith. Disciple-making must incorporate a proper understanding of conversion. It must also refuse to get sidetracked into purely social action (food, medicine, clothing, etc.). Finally, disciple-making must keep God’s sovereign glory as the central focus. It must not degenerate into a sales pitch or benefit evangelism.[iv]

Discipleship necessarily occurs in and through the church, for Christ’s command to baptize forms an unbreakable link with local church organization and life (Matt 28:19). Discipleship is concerned with passing on three interconnected aspects of life under Christ’s Lordship. One is orthodoxy, which can be upheld by a commitment to biblical authority, rigorous doctrine, and expositional preaching and teaching. This orthodoxy must then connect to orthopraxy, the right practice of the faith. This would include baptism and the Lord’s supper, holy living, Bible study, prayer, fellowship, and evangelism. Orthodoxy and orthopraxy must be infused by orthopathy. This is love, a mindset of joyfully pursuing and proclaiming Christ with steadfastness and unity, and spiritual affections which spring from right judgment cultivated by right practice.[v]

In order for this discipleship to be most effective in building a culture of faithfulness, certain conditions must be met. I believe there are two things that have occurred in our history which have hindered this kind of disciple-making. The first problem is the splintering of the local churches, particularly when those divisions occur over insubstantial matters. There must be maximum possible unity in the church, including both historical continuity and contemporary unity. Structuring our churches according to market niches or demographic profiles or generational characteristics is a sure-fire way to destroy the fabric of time-tested truth and self-sacrificial love that is at the heart of biblical body life. Furthermore, starting new churches indiscriminately for non-essential reasons in areas where there are already Bible-believing churches can actually lead to degrading the gospel in the eyes of the community. It promotes confusion over what the church is all about. When we operate this way, we are assuming that the gospel works in the same way that Wal-Mart works, and we are making it practically impossible for the church to be the church[vi] and thus properly represent the gospel of Christ.

In addition to unity, there must be a clear line of demarcation between those who hold to the faith as revealed in Scripture and those who do not. While unity is essential to the church, this unity must always be according to truth. Any other unity is not spiritual unity at all, and unity with false teachers is fatal to the life and ministry of the church.

[i] This is in contrast with the so-called para-church ministries which proliferate in our age. I believe that those activities which fall within the parameters of the mission and purpose of the church should be reserved to the church. Christians may participate in other legitimate activities and organizations; however, these should not be considered equivalent to the mission of the church. For example, Christians who wish to apply their Christian principles to politics may rightly do so (in fact we all must do so), and they may determine that they would like to form a political action committee to accomplish this objective. This is good. But it is not good for them to claim that they are fulfilling the Great Commission or making disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ did not leave his disciples with a political agenda that they were to pass on to others. Christ’s disciples are responsible to pass on the truth of God’s Word, and this is properly the function of the church. Another example: I recently received a letter introducing YWAM Colorado Springs. It stated, “YWAM is a multi-denominational and multi-cultural mission movement that operates in 150 nations. YWAM Colorado Springs has four main areas of Ministry: training and equipping believers to go the mission field, sending missionaries to the least reached people of the earth, mobilizing the North American church in missions, and sustaining long-term workers in the field.” While there is a legitimate role for missions agencies, I would argue that YWAM has gone far beyond its bounds and is usurping the place of the church in God’s plan.

[ii] Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1992), 283.

[iii] This famous quote from John Piper bears repeating: “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions” (Let the Nations Be Glad [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993], 11).

[iv] For an excellent biblical/theological/historical consideration of these issues, see Doran, Johnson, and Eckman, For the Sake of His Name (Allen Park, MI: Student Global Impact, 2002), especially chapters 4-6, 8.

[v] Perhaps it is here that I should note what I believe are the deep connections between this point and what follows. If we want the church to be unified in accomplishing the mission of Christ, it is going to require a shared sympathy, a common sense of spiritual affection, and this is developed and worked out in our culture. Building a culture of faithfulness is our whole-hearted effort to work out in everyday life what it means for us to glorify and enjoy God forever.

[vi] For example, how can meaningful church discipline take place or lasting discipling community occur when professing Christians can simply church-hop to whatever church suits their taste at any given time?

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