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God glorifies his name and advances his kingdom in the world today primarily through his church. The Apostle Paul saw the churches he planted throughout the world as Kingdom Outposts through which King Jesus, by his Spirit, continues to make God’s invisible kingdom visible in human hearts and all of life.
I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:18
In this new course and chapter, you’ll learn how God has chosen to advance his kingdom in the world today primarily through his Church.
Vision for the Church of God
by Steve Childers
In our last two sessions, on a vision for the Glory of God and a vision for the Kingdom of God, we learned from Scripture that God’s purpose for the world is to glorify his name through the coming of his kingdom in such a way that causes His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
In this session our focus is on answering the question, “how has God chosen to advance His kingdom in the world today?”
From the time of creation, God has been carrying out His purposes in the world in some very unique ways.
In the beginning, God carried out His purposes for the world primarily through individuals like Adam, Enoch and Noah who were commanded to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…”(Gen 1:28) thereby glorifying God’s name and making His invisible Kingdom visible over all the earth.
Then, in Genesis 12, we learn that God began working primarily through one family, the family of Abraham, and through him one nation—the nation of Israel.
But we learn from the New Testament that today God has chosen the Church to be His primary instrument for advancing His kingdom purposes in the world.
Jesus said to His disciples “…I will build My Church; and the gates of Hell shall not overpower it” (Matthew 16:18b).
In Ephesians 3:10 Paul writes, “God’s intent is that now, through the Church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm.”
In the Book of Acts we’re meant to see not only the Acts of the Apostles but the Acts of Jesus as He continues His ministry on earth from His ascended throne in Heaven by His Holy Spirit and through His Apostles.
So what was the ascended Jesus doing on earth through His Apostles by His Holy Spirit–to cause His and our Father’s name to be honored and His Kingdom to come and will to be done on earth as it was in heaven?
He was fulfilling His promise to build His Church—breaking down the gates of hell. This is why the book of Acts is largely devoted to the advancement of God’s Kingdom through the planting of Churches throughout the Mediterranean world.
And this is why the Apostle Paul’s ministry was not merely to proclaim the Gospel to as many people as possible but to plant Churches in every nation—especially those nations where Christ has yet to be named (for him that was Spain).
In Acts 14 (21-23) we see that Paul’s pattern in ministry was not only to “preach the gospel in cities and win many disciples… but also to appoint elders…in every Church..”
Paul saw the Churches he planted throughout the world as Kingdom outposts through which King Jesus, as the Head of the Church, mysteriously continued His ministry through His visible body spreading the flame of the gospel, in both word and deed, making God’s invisible Kingdom visible over both human hearts and all spheres of life.
This is why the Church is the hope of the world. The Church is the only institution in the world both designed and equipped by God for the spiritual, cultural and social renewal of all nations.
God has ordained that His Kingdom come with transformational power into every sphere of life primarily through the Church. This why global Church planting is so important.
We’re facing a very serious problem throughout the world today. Never has there been a time in history when there have been more Churches and more professing Christians than today.
And yet despite the remarkable spread of Christianity, spiritual darkness, cultural, and societal decay are reaching unprecedented levels.
Even where the Church is growing most rapidly the results are often forms of Christianity with little or no true, lasting transformation of individuals, families and cultures.
Author James Engel writes: “There is widespread agreement that the western-driven agenda of the last 50 years of missions to ‘finish the task’ of world evangelization has tragically missed the mark in its narrow focus only on conversion. The Great Commission has become a ‘great commotion’ of proclamation in virtual disregard of making disciples and effecting social transformation.”
The roots of this problem can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece. Much of today’s form of Christianity has been unduly influenced by Greek Philosophy (Platonic Dualism)—which emphasizes a great division between things like:
1) the soul and the body or
2) the spirit and matter or
3) the spiritual and the social.
This is one of the reasons most of evangelical Christianity in our day has lost sight of its historic roots by proclaiming a very pragmatic, privatized, prosperity Gospel that rarely results in:
1) authentic Christian conversions,
2) holistic discipleship, and
3) societal transformation.
As a result, the evangelical Church is slowly losing its transforming influence on the world at large.
In light of these realities, there is a desperate need in our day for recapturing a vision for the church of God to be the primary means through which the invisible kingdom of God becomes more visible causing God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven to the ultimate end of seeing the glory of God fill the earth as the waters do the sea.
And I have Good News: Our Redeemer King Jesus is fulfilling His promise to build His Church and the gates of hell are not prevailing against it.
But exactly how is He doing this today through His Church?
Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck helps us understand the answer when he describes our need to see a biblical view of the Church as being both an institution and an organism.
To see the Church as institution means to see the Church as gathered together for the central purpose of making disciples through the means of grace. This includes the proper preaching and teaching of God’s Word, the proper administration of the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, a devotion to prayer, and to fellowship under the oversight of ordained Church elders.
These are the primary marks of what Bavinck calls the institutional church.
But we must also learn to see the Church as organism.
That 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.
These kinds of Churches are not fortresses but their Kingdom outposts in the domain of darkness bringing light to the nations.
When they gather on the Lord’s Day as the institutional Church for worship, the preaching of the Word, the sacraments, prayer, and fellowship, they are experiencing a foretaste of what will one day be their home territory.
There they are renewed and refreshed as they learn how to live out the principles of the Kingdom in the world.
But when the Church as institution, 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.
Where they serve the poor, the oppressed, the sick, and the uneducated. Where they stand against all forms of injustice and fight for righteousness. They make art and music that bears witness to the beauty and glory of their future eternal home in the new heavens and earth.
Because of their unique union now with Jesus, He mysteriously works through them as Prophet, Priest, and King.
Church historian Richard Lovelace writes: “In their Prophetic Role they proclaim and uphold God’s truth in a world filled with lies. In their Priestly Role they pray and intercede for others to experience God’s mercy and blessing. And in their Kingly Role they use all their resources to help make God’s invisible kingdom more visible, not only in human hearts, but in every sphere of their lives until it reflects the order of heaven.”
This is how spiritual, social, and cultural renewal takes place in towns, in cities, and nations. This is how Great Awakenings and Gospel renewal movements are born.
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