You see kids, Ed Stetzer (the head of Lifeway Research, author, blogger, and popular speaker on the missional church) has been facilitating a conversation on his blog about what it means to be “missional.” On Monday’s he poses a question and then several other bloggers answer it.
I was not personally invited to participate in this conversation.
Now, while it is true that the other bloggers have much higher readership than Wendy and I do, have been more successful in church work, have been blogging much longer, are national leaders in missional thinking, probably know Ed personally (I saw him speak one time…there were like 2000 people there) and (although this hurts to admit) are much smarter and better looking than I am; I still believe I should have been personally invited to participate.
It is alright.
I’m not tooooo offended.
Maybe the invitation just got lost in my spam box.
I like that. I shall make believe that is true because it makes me feel good.
Personal invitation, shirmishinal invitation! I have decided to join the conversation anyway. And join it with style and panache I shall!
Now that the air is clear…let’s dive in. On Monday Stetzer posted a fantastic theological history which described the formation of a statement that I (and other missional thinkers) often use:
“God is working outside the church and we should join Him here.”
Stezer then challenged us to define it by explaining:
How is God at work outside the church? Is God working savingly or salvifically outside the church? In other words, are believers (or “the church”) the only instrument for proclaiming the Gospel and bringing individuals, through the finished work of Jesus on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit, into the Kingdom of God or are there other means? Or perhaps more broadly, how, then, is God at work outside the church?
First we need to talk about what God is doing. When we look at the Garden before we messed it all up with sin we see three relationships: God and humanity in an inmate loving relationship, people dependent on loving community with one another (it is not good for us to be alone), and people caring for the earth. In chapter 3 we reject God and all three relationships break down. The story of the Bible is a story of God seeking to restore the relationships we were created to have. God is on a mission of restoration – seeking to restore us to right relationship with Him (righteousness) and right relationship with one another (justice).
So in this scenario what is “salvation?”
Although we are separate from God (as one of my favorite theologians Jurgen Moltmann said – God first had to create space for us to exist apart from Him because He is and has always been omnipresent) we are dependent upon Him as He is the giver of life. When we divorced ourselves from Him, death and destruction entered the world.
As a good Southern Baptist kid, I grew up using the word “punishment” to describe death. I have grown to understand death not as something that God handed to us because we were bad; but rather as the cost or consequence of the separation from Him we choose. God does not want us to die. He takes no pleasure in judgement. Sin and death were never His intention. He longs for us to be reconnected with Him and be restored to the eternal relational life we were intended to have. (For those out there cringing at that last paragraph…yes, I understand the implications of my statements so don’t go throwing Romans 9 at me. That is another conversation for another time.)
Salvation then comes through the restoration of our relationship with God, made possible by His death and resurrection.
Is restoring relationship with one another (justice) salvific? No because we have no power to give life to one another. Although, it is through our loving relationships with one another that we find God.
So we have this God who is on a mission. He longs to see the world restored to Him, to the intimate relationship with Him we were created to have. In Genesis 12 this mission driven God does something crazy wild. He invites a family to join Him.
Did you catch that?
He was already on mission and invited Abram to join Him.
Are we (people) necessary for the Holy Spirit to work and move in the hearts of others? Is God limited by our involvement in His mission? Could god not have blessed the world and called us back to Himself without Abram? He didn’t seem to need anyone to get Abram’s attention. As Christ said, if we refuse the rocks will cry out. God doesn’t need us. The Holy Spirit is not limited by our participation in His mission. It is our privilege to join Him. And personally, I think He is a little nuts to let us come along. If I were picking teammates, I wouldn’t choose us.
So I see the Holy Spirit working all the time. I see Him working in the minds and hearts of my friends that don’t know Him, calling them to relationship with Him in ways they don’t fully grasp.
I see Him working to restore the relationship we were supposed to have with no another. Inspiring us to combat injustice. Calling us to fight oppression and inequality. Fulling us as we serve and love one another. Putting within us a deep longing for peace (or wholeness). That is how we were created to live.
The Spirit works through the wall calling creation to restore the justice and righteousness we were intended to live in.
Let’s wrap all this in a big red bow by tackling Stetzer’s question head on.
“Are believers (or “the church”) the only instrument for proclaiming the Gospel and bringing individuals, through the finished work of Jesus on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit, into the Kingdom of God or are there other means?”
No. God’s mission is not dependent on believers participation. If it was it would have ended long ago. God will do what God wants to do. Illogically He has asked us to join Him on the journey.
And for this I am thankful.
Now I’m pumped! Bring on the next question Stetzer! Let’s do this!