I enjoyed a great conversation last night after class about extremes in the life of the church. God has come in triumph and Scripture expresses this reality with the rhetoric of victory. But there’s something wrong about triumphalism.
On the other hand, we are saved by the cross of Christ and our existence as Christian people is cruciform. Our lives are patterned after the cross-shaped life of Jesus. But there’s something wrong about extreme asceticism and self-loathing.
So, which is it? What mode of life should the church adopt? Is it okay to celebrate creation and enjoy life without feeling guilty? Alternatively, should we really seek out suffering and be purposeful about lament in light of God’s deliverance in Christ?
It seems to me that the church’s task is manifold because of the complex character of creation and especially its current condition of brokenness. It’s the global church’s task to understand, live into, and speak truthfully about the character of the world in all its facets.
We are God’s people who inhabit God’s good world, so it’s our responsibility to enjoy creation to the glory of God. We must celebrate the pleasures of God’s world in all its variety–good food, games, rich friendships, leisure, rest, joy in our work, delight in our families.
When we gather as church, we must name our blessings as God’s good gifts and give him thanks and praise.
At the same time, God’s beautiful world is broken and isn’t flourishing like it’s supposed to. We are called to look after the poor and needy. We must have solidarity with the suffering and seek their relief. We put our creativity to work to find ways of doing good and bringing small measures of redemption where God’s world is in pain.
When we gather as church, we must name the corruptions and perversions of creation and call for God to come and save. We lament the brokenness of God’s good world and our ultimate inability to set it right.
It seems to me that Christian families, churches, and the global church need to think through how they might find ways of naming, talking about, and living into the fullness and variety of creation’s current condition.
One great way of going about this is provided for us in the Christian calendar. The expectation of Advent leads to celebration at Christmas. The Lenten season is one of confession and repentance, mourning over our brokenness and the broken state of creation. This creates a longing again to celebrate God’s victory over death at Easter.
Another pathway into thinking about and living into the variegated character of creation is gaining familiarity with and praying the Psalms. There are psalms of celebration for God’s victories. There are severe laments because of the keen sense of God’s absence and experiences of injustice. And there are psalms of hope in God’s faithfulness and saving righteousness.
From the beginning, God’s creation had rhythms to be followed in order to truly enjoy God’s good world. A varied human experience, then, is part of God’s original design.
Beyond this, however, given the “already” but “not yet” character of salvation, the church would do well to consider how it might name truthfully and live into the manifold character of creation in its current condition.
2 thoughts on “The Manifold Mission of the Church”
It is the nature of both the church and creation to be manifold because God’s grace is manifold (various, multifaceted, multicolored). All of this is a reflection of the very nature of God. (I Peter 4:7-11)
Tim, you’ve put it so well. I find that Christians tend to think that it is one or the other. That is, either that the Christian life is about the so-called “living in victory”, or that it is about living in poverty and embracing suffering. One can indeed created sophisticated theologies for both. But the Scripture describes a Christian life – individual and communal – that embraces both. It is in our weakness that we find God’s power manifest in our midst. A cross-shaped life is the truly Jesus-shaped life. But at the other side of suffering and death there is the life of resurrection. We are called to suffer with Christ as well as to be glorified with him.