Friday, January 3, 2014

The Whole Story

There are many who complain about the local church.  There are blogs, books, and speakers galore to fill anyone's appetite for the many things wrong with local churches and the Church.  Many of the observations are merited and I agree with man of them.  The topic that most often strike a chord with me are those who title their books, blogs, and speaking engagements with some version of "Why I am leaving the local church."  These have been common in the last year, I am not going to link to them, just google it if you want to read for a few days.  They have their reasons, from personal pains to theology, equality issues to injustices, and worship styles to just simple bad experiences.

I however have chosen to again share why I am staying with the local church. I recently re-read Dr.Scot McKnight's book  "A Community Called Atonement" and was reminded of the importance of a complete atonement.  I came to faith in a conservative baptist tradition that really emphasized salvation through forgiveness of sin because of the cross.  I still agree with this, however, like McKnight (see also King Jesus Gospel) and many others these days, I find this to be incomplete.  It is only a very small portion of the story.  It is no wonder people are not coming into the church they have not heard the whole gospel!  They have only heard the small middle part with no context and no explanation of real future, or what NT Wright calls, "life after life after death" (Surprised by Hope).  The whole gospel story (in a sentence) begins with a good creation, a God who is in the process of redeeming a fallen world, a Christ who fulfilled all OT promises and "atoned" for all sin, was resurrected, sent the Holy Spirit, established the church, and will some day create a new Heaven and new Earth where all will be as God intends.  While it remains true that atonement is only something God can do it is also something we do with God for others (McKnight 117) in being part of this larger story.

This is exactly why I am staying with the church.   The community we call church is how atonement is put into practice.  McKnight tracks it like this: Father-->Son-->Spirit-->Church-->Scripture.  He does this to emphasize the correct order in which we understand the atonement. It is started by the Father, through the Son, empowered by the Spirit, worked out in the Church, and the story is told in Scripture.

Alan Hirsch in "The Shaping of Things to Come" emphasizes getting the order of church correct by placing our understanding of Christology and Missiology ahead of Ecclesiology.  I would humbly suggest that Hirsches order is good but is actually less linear and more cyclical because we learn Christology in our churches and practices that Christology in our churches as they engage their local communities.  This is another reason I am sticking with the local church, we need the community of faith to have people help us along the the way as we seek to engage our communities with Christ.

The point of all this is that the Church is the very place where the complete story of God's saving work is worked out, exercised, and put into practice.  The church is not a gathering place, it is not my goal to get people into a church.  It is my goal to get the church to be the sending agent God designed it to be.  To be the place where things like fellowship, justice, mission, the reading of scripture, baptism, communion, prayer, questions, and love are practiced.  To be sure how we practice church today has its faults, no doubt, but I still stand by my belief that it is better to reform from within, rather than to cast stones from afar.  It is my goal to share this more whole gospel with the churches I have been blessed to work with. To motivate them and encourage them to embrace the larger gospel narrative.

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