Monday, July 31, 2006

Luke on My Mind #2

I have been teaching for several years—and it is illustrated in my book Come to the Table—that the ministry of Jesus is the model for practicing the kingdom of God in the context of the church. The ministry of Jesus is the ministry of the church.

Historically that has been questioned in the Stone-Campbell Movement. Our dispensational hermeneutic drew a sharp line that created an insuperable gulf that no one can cross between Acts 1 and Acts 2. Our ecclesiology was severed from the ministry of Jesus. The “patterns” of the church are regulated by Acts and the Epistles. And this had the tendency to reduce ecclesiology to discussions of forms and a constriction of purposes to “spiritual” values rather than to social, economic and other values.

But there is something quite odd about saying that the ministry of Jesus cannot be the pattern or model for the ministry of the church. This disconnect between Jesus and the church is the very thing to which many would object. After all we don’t want a disjunction between Jesus and the church. Indeed, Jesus and the church have a shared identity; the church derives it’s identity from Jesus himself. We are the body of Christ.

But if we take seriously this connection between the ministry of Jesus and the ministry of the church – between the mission of Jesus and the mission of the church—then we will have to expand our traditional understanding of the ministry of the church. It will have to include economic, social, peace and justice issues. We can no longer hide the church in the bastion of “salvation” (that is, the forgiveness of sins and our escape from hell to heaven), but rather must understand salvation as the reversal of the curse, the renewal of heaven and hearth in terms of cosmic and social liberation.

The ministry of Jesus was not only a word about forgiveness, but also the deeds and acts of social and cosmic redemption. The ministry of the church must model the “good news and good works” (to use Ron Sider’s title for his book on the “whole gospel”) trajectory of Jesus’ own ministry.

Hermeneutically, then, we need to recover how the Gospels shape the ministry and mission of the church so that we embody Jesus in our world today. Acts and the Epistles are examples and guides for the implementation of the Gospels through the life of the church. We need both and both should guide us.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Gospel of Luke is Stuck in My Head #1

I can’t seem to get it out of my mind, and I’ve tried. After working through Luke as preacher, Bible class teacher and small group leader for eleven months, I have found myself profoundly convicted. Over the next few posts (however long that takes me, and my track record on posting is not laudatory), I will reflect on some of these convictions that have disturbed me and my relationship to “church”.

Students of Luke recognize how programmatic Luke 4:18-19 is for his gospel. The announcement of Jubilee—the in-breaking kingdom reversing the curse of fallenness, healing the brokenness—colors almost every word in Luke. It is the broad context of the story of Jesus. Indeed, it is his mission.

The mission is quickly embodied in the story. Luke’s summary in Luke 4:40-44 is particularly helpful. Jesus heals varies diseases and casts our demons. As he begins to move on to new villages, the people seek to dissuade him. But Jesus announces his mission—the reason he was sent. “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.”

What is the “good news of the kingdom”? What was the content of Jesus’ preaching at this early stage? It was not his death and resurrection since he will not begin to speak of that until chapter 9. What is the good news?

The good news is concrete, and it is for the poor (economic, social, relational—the poor in the widest possible sense of people oppressed by the powers). The good news is that the “kingdom is near” and this is good news because it means God is at work to heal the brokenness in the world. He heals the sick, raises the dead, cast out demons, includes the outsiders, breaks down the walls, releases the oppressed, frees the captive, and reintroduces shalom into God’s creation.

The church has too often focused its message on the soteriological implications of the death and resurrection of Jesus and has not proclaimed the “good news of the kingdom”. This has turned the gospel into an individual application of the atonement of Christ rather than the social and corporate introduction of the kingdom that transforms the world. It ignores the “good news” of the gospel in the Gospels for the individualist, perhaps even modernistic, (mis)interpretation of Paul’s gospel. It exalts the individual over the social, the spiritual (defined in some quasi-Platonic way) over the material and evangelism (defined in the narrow sense of “soul-saving”) over good works.

The good news of the kingdom is that the people of God, as the body of Christ, go about “doing good” as Jesus did. They are a people dedicated to good works. But the church tends to think that good works only serve the end of evangelism (narrowly conceived), but actually good works serve the kingdom of God. They are moments of redemptive in-breaking that bear witness to the kingdom. Good works are an end in themselves and not simply the means of evangelism.

Good works can stand on their own and the church should not delimit them because they cannot explicitly produce “baptisms” or assured evangelistic results. Jesus went about “doing good” but ended up with only a few disciples. Doing good is a kingdom end in itself because it glorifies the God who seeks to heal the brokenness in the world. It bears witness to God’s love and compassion. God heals brokenness toward the end of reconciliation such that “doing good” is a reconciling act in the world. “Do-gooders” are ministers of reconciliation.