A few weeks ago we laid out plans for the future of GCC. One of the big focuses we laid out to work on was evangelism. Many of the articles we post on the website over the next few months are going to focus on missions, evangelism and discipleship.
I recently read this in Michael Horton’s book Christless Christianity. It is thoroughly biblical and I thought especially important for a church such as ours. This section focuses on evangelism and some of the dangers a reformed confessional church may fall into.
“Jesus was not just the Savior once upon a time; he is here and now as he delivers Christ and all of his benefits to us week after week. The mission of the church is to bear those marks.
This orientation challenges not only the tendency of revivalistic movements to zeal without knowledge, but the temptation of confessional churches toward confidence in knowledge without zeal. In his Pentecost sermon, Peter announced, “The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). Neglecting a covenantal ecclesiology, evangelicalism exhibits a zeal for mission unhinged from the marks of the church. After all, if the gospel is about our experience and activity in personal and social transformation rather than how we can be regular recipients of God’s gifts, the means of grace are beside the point. What we really need are means of commitment and action. However, this “missional” activism unhinged from the methods God has prescribed has not only failed to lead to an upswing in professions of faith among “all who are far off,” but has led to burnout, instability, and dropout among believers and their children.
Our temptation as Reformed Christians, however, is to pride ourselves on bearing the marks of a true church regardless of whether people are actually being added to the church. After all, we reason, we have the right confession, we administer the sacraments according to Christ’s institution, and we have a sound church order. But we can easily forget that all of this exists for the purpose of mission, not so we can celebrate our purity. “The promise is for you and your children,” we quite properly emphasize, but what about “all who are far off”? The dichotomy between the marks and mission of the church or teaching the reached and reaching the lost would have been completely foreign to the apostles.
The best way of reintegrating the marks and mission is to start with the gospel itself. I have to say that, at least in my experience, traditionalists and radicals both emphasize our activity over God’s. We come to church primarily to do something. We come to serve rather than to be served. Many traditionalists oppose seeker-driven approaches to mission by insisting that what matters in the service is not what we get out of it but what we put into it. God is the audience (receiving our worship) and we are the actors, according to many advocates of traditional worship. Seeker churches typically view themselves as resources for personal improvement, and the Emergent Church movement considers the church a community of world-transforming disciples. For all of their differences, each of these models practically ignores the central point that God’s mission is to serve us through the marks of preaching and sacrament and that the body will be built up in Christ together and bring its witness and good works to its neighbors in the world.
Even before we come to worship God, we are first of all served by God as he distributes his gifts that provoke our praise and joy. Here Christ wraps the towel around his waist and washes our feet. Like Peter, we may bristle at this strange role reversal, but Jesus said that he “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Of course Christ’s service to us evokes our praise and makes us fruitful in good works, but the means of grace come before the means of service. Officers-pastors, elders, and deacons-serve the rest of the body in Christ’s name. The primary theater for the service of the people is the world rather than service ministries in the church.
Luther nicely captures the point I’m making here by saying, “God does not need your good works; your neighbor does.” God serves us through his means of grace, creating faith and repentance that yield the fruit of the Spirit so that God can then serve our neighbors through our various callings in the world. By contrast, “the righteousness that is by works” (Rom. 10:5 NIV) strives to ascend to God, offering our works of service to him so that we will be blessed. As the Reformers pointed out, this does not really help anybody since God is not impressed, we are not saved, and our neighbor is not served.
Gifts do not go up to God but come down from the God who does not need anything and cannot be given anything that would obligate a return (Acts 17:24-25; Rom. 11:35-36). God gives us salvation through the gospel and provides temporal goods to our neighbors through our callings even as he makes us witnesses to Christ in our ordinary relationships-which we can have now, since we are not spending all of our time in church-related activities! Everyone has what is needed: God is served by Christ’s perfect satisfaction, we are served by his gospel, and our neighbor is served by our witness, love, and diligence in our vocations.”[/sws_author_bio_ui]
Michael Horton. Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church (p. 196-197). Kindle Edition.