Thursday, December 14, 2017

Who Is, Or Are, The Church?

October 21, 2010 by  
Filed under Monthly Articles

The other day I suggested that there are only two functions specific to the church: evangelism and worship. I know many people would add a third: discipleship. I consider discipleship to be a part of evangelism, and here is why. When evangelism and discipleship are split off from one another and left to stand alone, a false dichotomy opens between some sort of initial event and the process that is to follow from it. This has implications that go far to explain the sorry state of Christian maturity in our time. But there is another reason I make no hard distinction between the two.

When discipleship is made a discrete function of the church, it can lead to a distortion of the content of that schooling process. This has many implications, and goes far towards explaining some of the heterodoxy and errors that make up so much of contemporary Christian “formation.” Discipleship must be held in close proximity to the very kerygma (proclamation) that calls us from darkness to light, otherwise the temptation is to make Christian formation an expression of the various ideologies of the world.

There is no issue within the Christian world more hotly debated that the question: Who is, or are, the church? Many of us think, of course, that our particular emphasis is the authentic one. Some of us even go so far as to say that there may be several, or many groups, who make up this enigmatic spiritual community. Re…ally progressive Christians might even include some who are not in the Christian camp at all. Each cluster of believers has scriptural warrant for his or her position on this question.

I wonder if we aren’t making all of this too complicated. There are to my mind only two reasons for the church to exist: worship and evangelism. Everything else suggested as the true marks of the church can be covered by other human agency. Much of this covering, incidentally, is done by organizations and persons who have come under the influence of Jesus Christ, so it is not my intent to minimize what is sometimes called the “humanization” that flows in the wake of this primary evangelistic work of the church. All I am saying is that these worthy works are not themselves constitutive of the church.

Worship among evangelicals has been pretty much rediscovered in my lifetime. There is much to say about this, but that is a story for later. It is evangelism that concerns me here.

And here we are on hard times. For if we fail in evangelism, it doesn’t much matter what else we spend our time doing. It is the “one thing needful.” Evangelism is, unfortunately, an embarrassment for multitudes of “evangelicals” these days. That is why it is being eclipsed by so many other pursuits, from soup kitchens to environmentalism to healing ministries to the latest craze, social justice. Not that these can’t be a part of evangelism, but in fact in many cases these and other activities have come to replace evangelism.

Evangelism is, simply put, faithful “witness.” The Greek word “martyria” (witness) and its various cognate forms runs through the New Testament like a leitmotiv. This cluster of words denotes bearing witness to something or someone Who has come to change the world. It involves proclamation of sin, repentance, belief and turning away from this world system. It implies the doctrines of hell, damnation, justification and sanctification. Evangelism may be more than all of these, but if it is less, it is not biblical. We must stop apologizing for this and move evangelism back to the center of our Christian lives.

Jack Niewold is a writer living in central Oregon with his surgeon wife Marilyn. He has a doctorate in theology and wrote his dissertation on the doctrine of the incarnation and its meaning for leadership. His memoir, “Frail Web of Intention,” is about to be published by WinePress. He loves to garden and spinfish.

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Comments

2 Responses to “Who Is, Or Are, The Church?”
  1. trina says:

    I am a PhD student in the Organizational Leadership program at Regent and I just came across your article titled “Beyond Servant Leadership” in the Journal of Biblical Perspectives in Leadership. Keep writing, your work needs to be published. Thank you for using your gift for the body of Christ.

    Be Blessed!

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