The Mission of the Church

The following is taken from The Drama of Scripture by Craig G. Bartholomew and Michael W. Goheen.  It think it captures the matter quite well:

The goal of God’s redemptive work is to restore his creation from the effects of sin upon it.  In his death Jesus has conquered sin, and in his resurrection he has inaugurated a new era of salvation and recovery.  The kingdom banquet is ready to be enjoyed, but it does not begin just yet.  More peoples must first be gathered to the banquet table so that they too may taste of the renewing power of the coming age.  This in-between time, after Jesus’ first coming and before he comes again, is a time of mission for the exalted Christ, the Spirit, and the church.”  (p. 171, emphasis added)

Bartholomew and Goheen did not provide a list of Scriptures to go with the above, but the frequently reader of Scripture, who knows the big story, cannot fail to see the unmistakable references and echoes.

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9 Responses to The Mission of the Church

  1. Simon says:

    You’re right about the lack of texts and its irrelevance to the point the author is making. Listing out Scriptural texts can be misleading because these can be taken out of context to make a point. Of course this does not mean that every time an author lists texts to support a theological assertion he is going to be taking the said texts out of context.

    But in this case you’re quite write. If the author were to list Biblical texts to support his point about the Kingdom of God and the mission of the Church, he’d have to reference all four Gospel accounts in their entirety!!

    On a separate point, I’m not sure how we look at Mission from a Protestant perspective. The Church is so fragmented. And if denominations don’t matter for the big picture, then why aren’t all Protestants engaged in ecumenical relations with each other aimed at uniting a single Protestant Church – one that can present a united mission to the world? I don’t think it makes sense to “church plant” independent congregations, that aren’t necessarily united in doctrine. Just a cursory reading of the NT puts this notion to bed. Paul’s letters were written to Churches who were in communion with one another. The missionaries like Paul didn’t simply go out “planting” churches independently. The fact that there was a council in Jerusalem recorded in Acts is evidence of this. Unity of faith and Mission go together.

    • TC says:

      Simon, I have a number of questions for you: (1) What do you mean by “unity of doctrine”? (2) Aren’t all confessing believers already united on the basis of the creeds we confess? (3) And what should this “single Protestant Church look like? Who decides?

  2. Simon says:

    TC, Great questions. 1) Unity of doctrine means something like a universal faith. Particularly on matters that traditionally separate denominations – baptism, sacraments etc. 2) In a sense you’re right – the Creeds do unite. However, Protestants reject other ecumenical councils.And there is no real unity. I don’t buy the invisible church argument. It strikes me as a little Gnostic. Physical, visible church is important, despite the failings of human beings. 3) Perhaps there can’t be a “single Protestant Church” precisely because of what you are hinting at here. There is no real Church authority. I’m not sure who would decide this. It probably doesn’t make sense to talk about a single Protestant Church if the basis for authority is sola scriptura. I think the way Protestantism has worked out since the Reformation, and the state of evangelicalism today, any sort of united Church would be impossible. Evangelicals simply don’t like Church structure and heirarchy. It’s in North American DNA. The country was founded, to a large extent, by Puritans fleeing religious persecution, mainly because they wanted to do Church their own way. Then you have the post-Enlightenment secularists like the founding fathers, whose worldview was vehemently individualistic. Freedom means freedom to do whatever you want, without interference from any kind of authority, whether that be state or ecclesiastical. The cult of “me” was reborn in North America after it’s long slumber from the old Gnostic days. (Harold Bloom’s book about American religion picks up so many Gnostic tendencies in American Christianity, as does Philip J Lee’s book “Against the Protestant Gnostics” – this written by a Presbyterian). Religion becomes a private, individual thing. So against this historical backdrop (the Reformation, American evangelicalism, American history) and where evangelicalism is today, I don’t think any sort of united Protestant church is possible. I think that should give Protestants of goodwill pause for thought. Is this really how the faith should be represented? For me personally, I don’t think a divided Church is what the NT intended or even contemplates.

    • TC says:

      Simon, (1) I believe Jesus’ so-called high priestly prayer in John 17 saw this coming. Now it’s time for us to honor it the best human way possible. (2) I don’t see why we need to confess on the creeds here, given the points of conflict. It’s like asking me, a Baptist, to sign-off on every paragraph of the Westminster Confession of Faith. You see where I am going here.

      (3) Yes, I too bemoan our individualistic North America and the way it has shaped the way we do church, sad to say, but it’s the truth, which makes it much harder.

  3. Simon says:

    TC, just a comment on (2). That’s exactly my point. We sign off on the Creeds, all of it, together as a Church. This means we have a common faith, and no individual is free to partially confess. Of course a Baptist doesn’t confess all of the Westminster Confession. But the WC is a denominational confession, not an ecumenical confession. The Creeds that came out of the Ecumenical Councils are the historical and authoritative dogmas of the Church. The Protestant confessions are a result of schism. They have the opposite function of ecumenical confessions. The Ecumenical Creeds sought to articulate what the whole Church believed universally in response to heresy. The Protestant confessions were written to articulate what divides them not only from Roman Catholics, but also from other Protestants. So I see where you are going. But I would want to rise above. There is no historical warrant for Protestant confessionalism. There is a fundamental difference between Protestant confessions and the historical Creeds. Protestant confessions are not meant to be statements of a universal faith. The Creeds were composed to articulate the universal faith as their primary function. They were composed to unite the Church around a common faith. Of course this necessarily excluded the heretics, but there was no notion of denominationalism like there has been since the Reformation. There was the Church, and then there was those outside the Church. You didnt partially confess the Creeds. You confessed all of it and you did so as part of a community of believers. No notion of “well I don’t like this sentence in the Creed, so we’ll start our own denomination excluding this part of the Creed and, btw, we’ll also write our own confession distinguishing us from other believers”.

    • TC says:

      Simon, I do agree with you that Creeds do function different than Confessions. This is a fact, no dispute it.

      But I don’t know if I agree with you that there is no “historical warrant for confessionalism.” Are you saying that the various denominations that have these confessions are not warranted? Help me understand where you’re going here.

  4. Simon says:

    TC, with regards to Protestant confessionalism, I suppose this was a unique thing in the history of the Church. Even with the Great Schism between East and West, we did not see either side formulate their positions in a confession. Both sides held to the 7 Ecumenical Councils before the split. They disagreed on the role of the Bishop of Rome and the filioque. This makes the prospect of reunification far more likely between Catholics and Orthodox because there is a common tradition, a common dogma etc. Protestant confessionalism is problematic because I think it goes way too far, dogmatizing things that ought not to be dogmatized. Protestant dogma over-reaches, massively in my opinion. This is why I say that there is no historical warrant for the kind of confessions we see amongst the Reformed and Lutherans in particular. From the continental Reformed confessions to the Presbyterian confessions, the 39 Articles of the CoE, the London Baptist Confession and the various confessions in the Book of Concord for Lutherans. For Traditional Christians, you have the Creeds. But you also have the Tradition as lived out in the liturgical and prayer life of the Church. You can’t systematize the faith in words like the Protestant confessions try to do. Not even Scripture functions in this way. If you ask an Orthodox, for example, to define his/her faith, they will not give you a tract or confessional statement. They will simply tell you to go to Church and live a Christian life. This includes the dogma spelled out in the Nicene/Apostle’s/Athanasian Creeds. But not limited to that. These dogmatic statements are actually quite limited in scope. Because the Church knew that the faith could not be defined in its entirety. It had to be lived and experienced. This is the key difference between Reformation confessions and the Tradition of the Church.

    • TC says:

      I understand. Yes, the church has always been creedal. While there might be possibilities of a reunification between the East and the West, you’re correct in saying that this is not likely with Protestants.

      With Creeds and Confessions aside, I believe we both can confess to the advancement of the kingdom of God despite the fragmented body of Christ, correct?

      • Simon says:

        Yes you’re correct. And there have been some wonderful stuff coming out of the Protestant world when it comes to Kingdom advancement. I am in awe of groups like the Salvation Army despite their poor doctrinal positions. Wesleyans, likewise, do wonderful things in mission. Where ever people are doing good, all Christians of goodwill must commend these actions. So yes, although the Body is fragmented, Christian mission still goes ahead by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

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