Here’s a perceptive quote from missiologist Lesslie Newbigin: “I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation… Jesus…did not write a book but formed a community.”
Of course, Jesus did inspire the Book of all books, the Bible. We are and forever will be people of the Book. But at the same time it is correct that Jesus himself did not write a book but formed a community, and we should give full weight and priority to the significance of that community, against which not even the gates of hell can prevail (see Matthew 16:18). Jesus bequeathed a community for us. His church. It’s what he left behind for us.
The vision of Jesus was that his ongoing presence on earth, his continued incarnation, would be seen in his church. That means each Christian community should see itself as the presence of Jesus in the world today, a mission outpost to those who do not yet know the Savior. This is what Crosswalk is all about.
We concretely send people out into the world, like we did this last Sunday with our mission team to the Dominican Republic (reminder – please pray for their effectiveness!). But that prompts us to remember that we are all similarly sent into our neighborhoods and schools and places of employment. Each week we are empowered and sent out in the name of Jesus.
James White wrote this about the local church: “You cannot fulfill God’s plan for your life, much less change the world, apart from taking your place in its mission and ministry, community and cause.”
I recently came across an essay written by Dorothy Fortenberry entitled, “Half-Full of Grace.” She is a Hollywood screenwriter currently working on The Handmaid’s Tale. She writes with clarity about her struggling faith and her imperfect church (Roman Catholic, in her case); but also on why she never misses a Sunday. I encourage you to read the article for yourself, but knowing many may not have the time, here are a couple of quotes:
I am not special at church, and this is the point. Because (according to the ridiculous, generous, imperfectly applied rules of my religion) we are all equally beloved children of God. We are all exactly the same amount of special. The things that I feel proud of can’t help me here, and the things that I feel embarrassed by are beside the point. I’m a person but, for 60 minutes, I’m not a personality.
Church is a group of broken individuals united only by our brokenness traveling together to ask to be fixed.
Thanks to church, I have a much stronger sense of the sort of person I would like to be, and I am forced to confront all the ways in which I fail, daily.
My family and I don’t go to church to deny the existence of the darkness. We to go to look so hard at the light that our eyes water.
One of the great scholars of the church, a man named Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus (but known simply as Erasmus), told an imaginative tale about what might have happened when Jesus returned to heaven after His time on earth. Imagine the angels gathered around him, and the Lord speaking of his miracles, his teaching, and then of his death and resurrection.
When He finished, Michael the archangel asked, “But Lord, what happens now?”
Jesus answered, “I have left behind eleven faithful believers who will declare my message and express my love. These faithful men will establish and build my church.”
“But,” responded Michael, “what if these men fail? What then?”
And Jesus answered, “I have no other plan.”
There is no other plan outside the church for God’s redeeming work. The entire enterprise rests in our hands and in our hearts.