I was asked a question last night that began a domino of thoughts. I was in the car with some relatives of mine. They were asking me about the church plant I am involved in. After my description of the church they said, “so you have a discipleship church not an evangelism church?” They were able to make that assumption because to them evangelism was tied to ‘light-cameras-action,’ and anything outside of the ‘impressive’ must be discipleship. I didn’t respond, I sat in silence, pondering to myself, “Did there have to be a difference?” “Does a church have to be one or the other?” “Didn’t Jesus tell his disciples to go into the cities without hardly anything?” Didn’t Jesus know it took big shows to ‘evangelize?’ Maybe that’s why he only ended up with 120 waiting in the upper room, Jesus just didn’t get it? But the scriptures tell us God’s power for salvation is the gospel. It doesn’t say if we make it unrecognizable and trick people that it can change people, it says, that the gospel is! Maybe this is why churches have really been on a decline. In Luke when the seed of the gospel is planted, when it is received in the right soil, it grows, and bears fruit. So if the gospel is the power salvation, rather than lights-camera-action, and it is the gospel that produces fruit in a life (discipleship), is it really possible that the two can be separated?
Above we talked about evangelism vs. discipleship (which just sounds absurd), below let’s go ahead and kick-open another door – denominations, doctrine, and networks, which let me preface – I AGREE with them (for the most part)! We have those who think the Reformation was just as divine as the inspired writing of the Holy Scriptures, and think Luther and/or Calvin should be next in-line for a trinity position. We have those who or so committed to re-starting the already attempted social gospel that flopped like a fish out of water. My question is, “does history ever prove that one extreme works?” Are we simply singing the same old song with a new tune? As the voice of denominations screaming at each other seem to be dying out, are their step-children, the networks, following their father’s foot steps? Does it have to be either-or, or can it be both-and? Can we be committed to doctrine, community, fighting injustice, and service, or do we have to pick a team?
I had a conversation with a devout doctrine-man that tried to convince me that a certain denomination was the right way to go, because they were – GROWING by sticking to strict orthodox doctrine (which, by the way, I agree is necessary), only to find out that “growing” meant, not shrinking as fast as everyone else. Seriously! Are we so committed to being right that we would rather die slower than every one else, instead of admit that both sides have been part of the problem
If I am being both simplistic or idealistic, then hopefully this new series of blogs will reveal the truth to me—in light of that I am going to start a new series of blogs. Three of my favorite and more recent ‘church’ books are The Tangible Kingdom, Forgotten Ways, and Total Church. Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, authors of Total Church, confess that church must be juxtaposed of two elements: gospel and community. They never say anything about there being a church for discipleship and a church for evangelism. They never say anything needs to be tied to the Hollywood feel. In fact none of these seem to be factors in any of these books. To them, the church must be a blanket weaved together with both the gospel and community.
When they say ‘Gospel centered’ they mean, “That to be gospel centered we must have two dimensions. First, it means being word-centered because the gospel is a word…good news. It is a message…it is also a message that fills the entire Bible. It is the story of salvation from creation to new creation. It is a word that has become incarnate in Jesus Christ. It is this word, that brings new life to people and shapes the life of the church. ‘It’ means being mission-centered, for the gospel is a missionary word. The gospel is good news. It is a word to be proclaimed.” In speaking about the church as a community John Stott is quoted as saying, “The church lies at the very center of the eternal purpose of God. It is not a divine afterthought. It is not an accident of history. On the contrary, the church is God’s new community. For his purpose, conceived in a past eternity, being worked out in history, and to be perfected in a future eternity, is not to save isolated individuals and so perpetuate our loneliness, but rather to call out of the world a people for his own glory.”
Is it possible to live out the real gospel, in a manner that the ‘gospel’ we hold so fast to could actually change lives instead of just minds? Is it possible that the ‘gospel’ we claim to practice, could create worshipers of Jesus Christ, and fill us with fear and awe, instead of ONLY driving us to only do more works that make us feel all warm and fuzzy?
It’s clear that there is a fresh wave of church planting going on through out the world. It doesn’t matter what side you fall on. C.H. Lawrence gives 8 constant factors that seem to ALWAYS be in place (historically) every time there has been a sociological, cultural, epistemological and religious shift resulting in a revolution in and from the church:
1) A Sustained rise in population that accelerated urbanization, pushing growth past city walls into “suburbs”
2) An accelerated growth of international trade, tying world economies into some unhealthy dependency relationships.
3) A tendency for cities to dominate the political scene, and new urban values to overshadow traditional rural ones.
4) A breakdown of traditional community ties, promoting feelings of isolation and spiritual drift…
5) Inability of the traditional church, rooted in rural strategies, to respond to urban needs, and the rise of cults and heresies to fill the void.
6) The widening of the gap between rich and poor.
7) The rise of an urban middle and upper-middle class who were increasingly literate and increasingly dissatisfied with the church’s monopoly on learning.
8) A rise in literacy, the rediscovery of the classics, the founding of secular universities, a movement bringing the world into an “age of information,” and the concept of knowledge, not only resources or inherited title, as a source of power.
This describes our world. The question is, what does it mean to be a church who is both disciple-makers, and energized by evangelism. It means we must be gospel centered, because the Gospel is the power of salvation. It means we must be community because this is where life is formed, produced, and furthered. It means we must be committed to a holistic gospel that is preached and lived – a life so changed by the gospel that we are committed to loving our neighbor and serving our city. So maybe we need to figure out what it means to be gospel centered and oriented around community. I welcome your input, on helping me form the answers to the following questions: What is the effect of the gospel on us personally and communally?