Why is the Church so Important?
First, it must be understood that the term “church” is not being used to refer to the building in which followers of Jesus meet for worship; nor are we talking about an “institution” with its traditions, structures, duties and privileges. By “Church” we are talking about groups of people who are committed together in love to God, to one another, and to God’s purpose for them in the world. When we speak of the church here, we are speaking of local communities of disciples of Christ who have joined together to glorify God and fulfil his purposes for calling them into being.
Secondly, we must understand the Gospel. The gospel of the kingdom of God speaks of the restoration, renewal and healing of all that was damaged and deformed by mankind’s fall into sin. For centuries the gospel has been narrowed down to essentially the God-man relationship: marred by guilt and condemnation and healed by justification. But while we can and do celebrate the forgiveness and justification achieved for us by his death and resurrection, we cannot limit Christ’s reconciling work to that of making peace between God and individual sinners alone.
Rather, Jesus’ work as Lord and Saviour is nothing less than his mission of establishing his kingdom “far as the curse is found” – that is, he is not saving souls out of the world, but bringing his saving transforming power to bear on this sin-wrecked creation, restoring it to health and wholeness. In a word, SHALOM.
And the church is central to that purpose. Consider these few quotations about the church:
- “But a salvation whose very essence is that it is corporate and cosmic, the restoration of the broken harmony between all men and between man and God and between man and nature, must be communicated in a different way. It must be communicated in and by the actual development of a community which embodies — if only in foretaste — the restored harmony of which it speaks. A gospel of reconciliation can only be communicated by a reconciled fellowship.” (Leslie Newbigin, The Household of God (reprint Paternoster Press, 1998), p. 190.)
- The church is supposed to be God’s new society, the living embodiment of the gospel, a sign of the kingdom of God, a demonstration of what human community looks like when it comes under his gracious rule. (John Stott, The Contemporary Christian (IVP, 1992), p. 253.)
- The church is the community of reconciliation, the paradigm community of the kingdom of God. The church demonstrates the new humanity in Christ, and provides evidence of his reconciling work … In this community which we call the church, then, the gospel of the kingdom of God is on display. The community becomes a sign of the kingdom of God, or evidence of the kingdom of God. It is a clue to the watching world what the kingdom [NB, the gospel] is all about. (Robert T. Henderson, Beating the Church Going Blahs (IVP, 1986), p. 78.)
The Gospel of the Kingdom informs both our view of the church, and the Christian life as well. It not only provides the necessary basis for understanding the nature, purpose and character of the church, but also roots personal discipleship in the broader purposes of God worked out in and through His church.
Newbigin, quoted above, has also pointed out that the church is “the sign, instrument and foretaste of the gospel of the kingdom of God.” This is not something that occurs for an hour or two on Sunday morning, but it is a whole new way of life – life shared together — characterised by worship, faith, grace, mercy, love, joy, forgiveness, hope, generosity, sacrificial service of those inside and beyond the church, enjoyment of God and one another, and a wide open welcome and acceptance of others.
In his earthly ministry, Jesus embodied these qualities and molded such values into the first community of his followers. Now, empowered and shaped by the life, teaching and Spirit of Christ, the church is called to participate in and embody today his renewing grace. Though far from perfect and in constant need of repentance, the kingdom of God is most fully and clearly expressed in the people He has redeemed, the community of the kingdom, who have been regenerated, forgiven, delivered from the powers of the kingdom of darkness and brought under the liberating and transforming power of Christ. As it orders itself in faith and submission to Christ as Lord and Savior, the church is the primary locus and vehicle of God’s healing purposes.
In her relationship with God (in worship, surrender, faith and obedience), in reconciled relationships of love, forgiveness, grace, and welcome, etc., and as she serves the world in Word and deed, the church is a first fruit of the new age of the kingdom which was inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ, and the means by which God’s mission to restore the world to wholeness is advanced. The good news of the kingdom of God is embodied and on display in and through the church, the community of the king.
Current Church Plant Programs