14 April 2008

the living church (3)

John Stott, The Living Church (Downers Grove: IVP, 2007).

Chapter Three: Evangelism
In the third chapter of his book of reflections on the church, John Stott explores the nature of evangelism as an outworking of the body of faith.  He includes both 'mass evangelism' and 'local church evangelism' in his scope (48-49), and rightly asks the question (in my own words): What are we doing?  To answer this, he posits four conditions through which the church must ". . . act out its God-appointed role": the church must understand itself; the church must organize itself; the church must express itself; the church must be itself (50).

The Church Must Understand Itself: Stott begins with the theology of the church, citing as one of his chief reasons, "Many churches are sick because they have a false self-image.  They have grasped neither who they are nor what they are called to be" (50).  Thus, he believes that the church has fallen prey to two basic errors: the religious club or the secular mission. The former is a group of people with a common interest in God but with no real impact for the mission of the kingdom of God.  The latter is so concerned with social change that they have removed the idea of religion from any aspect of their congregations.  In combatting this, Stott suggests understanding a double-identity of the church which summons God's people to be those who have been called out of the world for worship but sent back into the world for service (52).  There are certainly issues to keep in front of us as we seek to do so, but I believe that Stott has the proper perspective on the movement of the Spirit within the body of believers.

The Church Must Organize Itself: The very thought of this line probably sends many people toward the doors (especially if you've been to a church board meeting recently).  But, the idea of structuring the church is vital for its mission and focus - Stott continues to maintain that we cannot simply ignore the existing church for that which is *new*.  Very simply, it is true that unless the church is structured to be intentionally outward-driven then it will not happen.  But what Stott cautions against here is the "overfull program of church-based activities" (56, his list is by no means exaggerated for many).  What happens here is that church members are so engaged with life in and around the church that they've no opportunity to interact with the world; evangelism has been squeezed out by the church!  The solution to the church's organization in this chapter is that the congregation should seek to address the most relevant needs of the particular community in which they are found in order to maximize the work of the church for the kingdom.  It is a sad commentary that many of our churches do not reflect their neighborhood or community at all - they have no connection with the needs of their world.

The Church Must Express Itself: If anyone is going to hear the gospel, the church must be able to articulate it - again, understanding the surrounding community is key.  Here is a telling passage: "There can be no doubt that the essence of the gospel is Jesus Christ himself.  It would be impossible to preach the Christian good news without talking about Jesus" (63).  The fact that Stott would need to say such a thing speaks volumes for the condition of our church (e.g. the secular mission club).  I strongly agree with his overall premise in this section that all of the church's efforts and activities are hallow and useless if we do not share the gospel of Jesus through them.  This doesn't mean we must Bible-thump, but it does require that every thing we do be an accurate and articulate representation of the gospel.

The Church Must Be Itself: "The church is supposed to be God's new society, the living embodiment of the gospel, a sign of the kingdom of God, a demonstration of what human community looks like when it comes under his gracious rule" (66).  Yet, too often we have sacrificed this for the sake of so many other myopic issues.  Stott quotes from John Poulton: "Christians . . . need to look like what they are talking about.  It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas . . . What communicates now is basically personal authenticity" (66).  This is a fundamental return to the world knowing that we are his disciples by our love for one another.

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