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- A biblical understanding of the relationship of the church to the kingdom and culture
- The dangers of focusing too much on the “already” or “not yet” aspects of God’s kingdom
- What it means to see the the church as both a “gathered institution” and a “scattered organism”
Earlier we learned that a biblical vision for renewal includes a vision for the renewal of individuals, churches, and communities through the power of the gospel. Now we’re taking a deeper look at what the Bible teaches about community renewal.
Just like personal and church renewal, the primary source of power for community renewal is found in God’s Spirit at work in the local church through the gospel – the person and work of the ascended and ruling King Jesus.
The good news is that God graciously gives all who repent and believe in Christ, not only a new status, a new heart, a new Spirit, and a new community (the church), but also the promise of a coming new world when Jesus returns to establish his kingdom on earth forever.
The Scriptures teach that there are two ways to understand the kingdom of God on the earth. One way refers to how God’s kingdom will come on the earth in all its fullness when Jesus returns. This is the “not yet” aspect of God’s kingdom. The other way refers to how God’s kingdom already has come to earth in a partial way through Jesus at his first coming. This is the already aspect of God’s kingdom.
A common problem throughout the history of the church is neglecting to emphasize a biblical balance between the not yet and the already aspects of God’s kingdom on the earth.
For example, some overemphasize the future coming of God’s kingdom to earth (not yet) to the neglect of a biblical emphasis on how God’s kingdom has, and is, already coming on the earth (already). The result is a failure to embrace the biblical role of the church in community and societal renewal.
Likewise, others overemphasize the present coming of God’s kingdom on earth (already) to the neglect of a biblical emphasis on how God’s kingdom will come to earth in the future (not yet). The result is an unbiblical overemphasis on the role of the church in community and societal renewal.
Lesslie Newbigin gives us helpful insights into a biblical understanding of the relationship of the church to the kingdom and culture by using three nouns:
“The church is a sign, an instrument, and a foretaste of God’s Kingdom.”
As a sign
As a sign, the local church is meant to embody the gospel of the kingdom in word and deed for all to see. The church is to be a kingdom outpost in Satan’s domain of darkness, pointing to the light that will one day, at Jesus’ return, dispel all the darkness in the world.
As an instrument
As an instrument, the local church is meant to intentionally, courageously, and optimistically use all the means of grace through which God normally works to see God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as in heaven (the already) today.
As a foretaste
As a foretaste of God’s kingdom, the church is meant to be like an appetizer, through which people actually see and taste what is to come in the new heavens and new earth when Jesus returns to make all things new (not yet).
We need to keep a balance between seeing the church as both an “already instrument” of God’s kingdom in society today and a “not yet sign and foretaste” of God’s kingdom to come in its fullness when Jesus returns.
The church as gathered institution and scattered organism
Abraham Kuyper gives us a helpful way to maintain this biblical balance by understanding the church as both a gathered institution and a scattered organism.
To see the church as a gathered institution means to see it as periodically gathering together for the central purpose of making disciples through the means of grace. This includes the preaching and teaching of the Bible, the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, prayer, and fellowship under the oversight of ordained church elders. These are the primary marks of the institutional church.
But we must also learn to see the church as a scattered organism. This is when the church regularly scatters all those individual church members throughout all their diverse spheres and disciplines of life with the central purpose of making God’s invisible kingdom visible over all their areas of life – to be salt and light to a culture in decay and darkness.
Churches that embrace their God-given purposes as both a gathered institution and a scattered organism become kingdom outposts in the domain of darkness bringing light to their communities and to the nations.
When they gather on the Lord’s Day as the institutional church for worship, the preaching, sacraments, prayer, and fellowship, they are experiencing a foretaste of what will one day be their home territory. When they gather, they’re renewed and equipped as they learn how to live out the principles of the kingdom in the world.
And when they leave, they become the church as organism scattered as individuals like salt and light into all their spheres of public life where they put those kingdom principles into practice.
As the church scattered they integrate their faith into all aspects of their work and they serve the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the uneducated. They stand against all forms of injustice and fight for righteousness. And they make art and music that bears witness to the beauty and glory of their future eternal home in the new heavens and earth.
In this time filled with spiritual darkness, cultural, and societal decay, God means for his church corporately, and followers of Christ individually, to be compelling signs and foretastes of his kingdom that will come as well as effective instruments through which his kingdom is coming today.
A vision for gospel renewal is not only for the renewal of individuals and churches, but also for the renewal of whole communities. History has proven that the health of a community is often linked to the health of the churches that promote not only evangelism and the discipleship of individuals, but also the common good of the community.
This is why our vision for individual renewal must include and lead to church renewal. And our vision for church renewal must include and lead to the renewal of communities through gospel renewal movements.
This is how spiritual, social, and cultural renewal takes place. And this is how great awakenings are born, because this is how the gospel renews individuals, churches, and communities.
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