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Union with Christ 3

July 13th, 2016
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What does it mean to be a church? What do churches do?

This can lead to debates about the social gospel versus the Great Commission to spread the good news – an evangelistic model.

Some in the church see the great social needs of our society and world, especially apparent and magnified by natural disasters and wars. The issue of global justice has grabbed the attention of many in the church who are upset over terrorism, war, human trafficking, starvation and the devastating AIDS epidemic especially witnessed in Africa.

There is an acute awareness that the Christian Church ought to be more involved in bearing faithful witness to the justice and compassion of God in these situations.

The leader of World Vision recently wrote a book entitled The Hole in Our Gospel in which he shares his own journey as a charity and mission supporting well heeled CEO of a luxury goods company, who was a respectable Christian in a large prosperous American church, to being rudely called and made aware of the realities of most Christians around this world. It took over a year of resisting to find himself where he is now.

Some see Christian witness more by deeds than by words, more by community than individuals. So the church forms activities as a group in the wider community. Others place the emphasis on the individuals responding to the opportunities their own spheres of influence offer.

Other voices are calling for the establishment of a missional church. Such a church would be captivated by a vision that saw its very reason for being the engagement of the world through service, evangelism, and outreach. Sometimes these take the form of para church movements like Voice of the Martyrs, WYAM. The Salvation Army has always defined itself as a missional church. The emphasis would be that the church gathered serves the church in the wider community.

Our own congregations respond in different ways depending on their circumstances, opportunities and gifts.

A little while back Gary Deddo wrote:

I want to raise a question about the foundations on which these various approaches to the Christian life are built—about the theological foundations that undergird them. Further, I would like to offer a theological foundation for any or every one of these movements.

First, so that they might remain faithful to the gospel and its Lord, Jesus Christ. Second, so they do not lead to burnout and disillusionment in the Christian life and ministry.

The latter statement is too often the case. We get too absorbed in to what we are doing and lose sight of what really matters. There are lot of formerly idealistic people who gave their time, skills, energy, money and sacrificed relationships for service to a church or some Christian mission who are now withdrawn from Christian involvement in their hurt and disappointment.

I remember as a 9 year old we had scripture classes with a quirky, sincere person who really could communicate the Christian story to us. And we were a noisy group of boys –probably close to 50 present. He felt he had the calling to go to be a missionary in India. He came back a broken man – shattered by the attitudes of fellow Christian workers who didn’t take him seriously.

So how do we address this potential problem which does occur a lot more than we like to admit?

It turns out that theology, when grasped at its centre, is the most practical aspect of the Christian life. It must undergird and direct all other Christian practice: whether prayer or the practice of spiritual disciplines, social justice, racial reconciliation, worship, evangelism, compassion for the poor, church renewal, or God’s mission.

As we said last week the life of the church has but one foundation. There is only one thing that makes the Church Christian. That foundation is Jesus Christ.

It is not first the faithfulness of Christians or the richness of their experience or the dedication of their service or even the wisdom of their theological pronouncements.

Theological reflection that honours this foundation takes as its sole starting point the question: Who is Jesus Christ?

We have been endeavouring to answer this question in our previous messages.

After addressing that inquiry, and only after, can we take up the secondary theological question: Who are we in relationship to Jesus Christ?

Different replies:

“Yes, I made a decision for Christ.” “I follow the teachings of Jesus.” “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” “I attend church regularly.” “I was baptized .” “I’m committed to Jesus Christ.” “I am born again.”

There’s nothing wrong with these answers in themselves. They contain part of the truth.

Notice, however, that they all refer to something we do or have done. The emphasis is on our response and action. But does this get to the root of who we really are as Christians?

What is the problem?

We are focussing on ourselves. It like the work Christ has done is regarded as already in the past and in many ways something external to us that we believe in. We are required to make a suitable response to what he has done for us.

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