I suppose many people would give many answers to the question what is the church. I was impressed by an answer I heard recently in a sermon by Tullian Tchividjian which expresses the answer to this question in dynamic terms. He said that ‘we are not a self-preserving tribe we are a self-sacrificing mission.’ It is a powerful statement about the nature of the church, that we exist not for our own sake but to demonstrate the reality of the gospel to a watching world. It is a definition that strikes at the root of the consumerist view that is a blight upon the church at this time. In the day in which we live we need a much more missional view of church which moves us away from the idea of church as something that is there for our own convenience to a view that sees it as a community that displays the glory of God in salvation.
Archive for the ‘Mission’ Category
I read an interesting piece in the Washington Post today about how the World Council of Churches is moving towards a code of practice on religious conversion. The movement towards this statement involves the the WCC and the Vatican. It seems particularly concerned with the issue of conversion in South American. It is of course well known that the Catholic church is concerned about the haemorraging of its numbers in South America.
It is interesting to note that amongst the participants in this process are not only the WCC and Vatican but also Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Jews. Can you imagine Paul sitting down in such company to draw up a code on conversion? Also the boast is that there is also participation by evangelicals. What kind of evangelical worth his salt is going to draw up a code on conversion?
A report makes a recommendation that ‘all should heal themselves from the obsession of converting others.’ Its some way short of Paul saying ‘Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel’ or ‘I have become all things to all men that I might win some.’ Or even Henry Martyn saying, ‘Give me India or I die.’
The whole exercise smacks of the religious imperialism that it is allegedly seeking to avoid. For it takes religious expression and conviction out of the hands of individuals and puts it in the hands of those religious establishments who want to protect their own turf.
Its all a far cry from Jesus own explanation of conversion not as a human endeavour but as a sovereign action of the Spirit of God, ‘The wind blows where it wishes and you hear its sound but you do not know where it comes or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’
I came across this account of the growth of the church in Ethiopia recently and think it really deserves to be more widely known. Sudan Interior Mission (now known as SIM) began its work in Ethiopia in 1919. By 1938 the last SIM missionaries left Ethiopia due to the Italian invasion. When they left there were less than 150 believers. During the following war years SIM had no contact with the Ethiopian believers. When they returned to the country in 1941 after the Allies had pushed out the invading Italian army they found a church of 10,000 members! By 1943 there were over 40,000 believers in almost 300 churches. By 1950 there were over 350 churches. Today despite a history of persecution, famine, poverty and political unrest in Ethiopia there are over 5,000 churches.
It is yet another wonderful story of the many that could be told of how Jesus is fulfilling His promise that He will build His church and not even the gates of Hades will overcome it.
The Washington Post carries an article today on what it terms ‘reverse mission’ considering the phenomenon of Christian missionaries coming from the traditional mission fields of the Two Third’s World to evangelise the traditional sending countries in Europe. It is a great story. It is great to see how these churches are establishing parity with the western church and establishing a voice in their own right. It is good news also about the evangelism of Europe. It is also good news that as churches in these countries take on the great commission have been able to go into countries which are largely closed to western missionaries.
One concern however is about the gospel that is on occasion being preached. It is sometimes a version of the prosperity gospel that has been exported into the Two Third’s World and is now being re-imported to the west. Where that is the case it is rather alarming. I don’t know much for example about the International Christian Community mentioned in the Post’s article so I looked up their website. There was a rather alarming lack of reference in their material about either sin or atonement which lie at the heart of the true gospel. It would be a tragedy if Europe is now being evangelised with a gospel that is no gospel at all but is simply seeking to meet the felt needs in the empty lives of secularists.
The whole episode is also a rather sad comment on the state of European churches, especially the established churches, which across Europe are at the heart of the decline in Christianity as they have embraced liberalism. This whole situation should awaken western Christians to the needs of the west.