Who Defines the Ministry?
As noted in the last issue (March), when the church became predominantly Gentile, it sought to disengage itself from the Jewish hope of a Messianic kingdom whose seat of power was Jerusalem. In its place was the hope of Christianizing the existing kingdom whose seat of power was Rome.
Constantine, the first Christian emperor who in the Edict of Milan made Christianity legitimate, moved his seat of government from Rome to Constantinople on the Bosphorus. The barbarian tribes of the north had been threatening Rome forcing the change, and with the moving of the seat of government, there was a political vacuum in the western part of the Empire. Christianity under the leadership of the Bishop of Rome sought to fill that void, and the “Roman Catholic” church was born. The name is all-important, as it perceived itself as being both the political and spiritual leader of-an-empire regenerated by Christianity.
Augustine (350—430) sought to give theological justification to this mind—set in his treatise, The City of God. It was a reinterpretation of eschatology, arguing that the millennium promised in Revelation 20 and perceived as the time when the Jewish kingdom promised in the Old Testament would be established, was in fact the period of time in which they were currently living. The millennium belonged to the church, not to a future Jewish kingdom, and the Old Testament promises to the nation of Israel were in fact meant for the church. The mission of the church was to establish “The City of God” on earth through a revitalized Roman empire in much the same way that Israel established a theocratic kingdom in the Old Testament.
With this marriage of church and state political and ecclesiastical goals overlapped. Increasingly the goals of the church were perceived as temporal. Christ was Lord of the institutions on earth, and it was the duty of both church and state to insure that His rule was unquestioned. No longer were Christians encouraged to view themselves as aliens and foreigners in a hostile environment but rather as reformers, claiming the various institutions of society for Christ. The Great Commission was perceived corporately with its goal the changing of society.
Even after the Reformation this “Augustinian” concept of the church was maintained, so that in those countries of Europe in which the Reformation replaced Roman Catholicism the church and state remained married. Thus the reformers did not stress world evangelism as a central task of the church: Paul Avis in his The Church and the Theology of the Reformers states:
It is however, justified to speak in general terms of the strange silence of the reformers on missions. When both Luther and Calvin comment on the Great Commission (Matthew 28), they remain bafflingly silent on the duty of the present day Christians to carry on the work of the apostles in bringing the gospel to “every creature.” (Page 168)
Mission was conceived as corporate with its goal the Christianization of society rather than the personal salvation of individuals. The agency for accomplishing this task was the church institutionally conceived. Both the corporate concept of mission and the institutional concept of the church are borrowed from Augustine’s and Calvin’s stress on the continuity of the covenants, particularly the continuity between the Sinaitic and the New Covenant. Emil Krailing in his The Old Testament since the Reformation writes:
A Christian state run according to Christian principles was to (Calvin and the reformers) an objective worth striving for. The New Testament did not provide a sufficient background for their ecclesiastical and political practice, for the early Christians had been a minority group in a hostile world. One has to go back to the Old Testament to find a community run on such a basis as they envisioned, and hence reform leaders had to pay particular interest in stressing the authority of the older portion of the canon. (Page 21)
In other words, Calvin and the reformers modeled mission along Old Testament lines. Since the focus of mission was institutional rather than individual, the Great Commission was perceived as finding its fulfillment through the changing of society according to Biblical expectations and then maintaining control so as to insure continued compliance. It was temporal in focus and dealt with the outward conditions of society rather than the inner condition of the heart.
History tends to confirm the notion that cultures by and large are stable and unchanging. Periodically, however, a culture will go through a radical change where in a relatively short period of time a dominant force replaces the old. The Renaissance and the Reformation are examples of such change in Western civilization. Many believe that a similar change is taking place in Western Europe today, as culture moves rapidly from Christian to post—Christian, producing a secular mind—set.
In many respects the secular mind is more difficult to reach than the pagan mind. By way of contrast, when looking at the work of Christ in the Orient, one senses a spirit of optimism, especially in countries like Korea, the Philippines, Hong Kong, Singapore and even China.
Christianity is claiming numerous converts. In Western Europe Christian leaders are pessimistic and intimidated. Secular man is jaded, cynical, and even hostile to the claims of Christ. He doesn’t even want to enter into dialogue, much less entertain the claims of Christ.
The church has defined ministry in terms of changing and controlling society with goals not all that different from the state. Granted, there are promises of personal salvation and the hope of eternity, but they are by and large vague, of secondary importance, and relegated to the “pie in the sky” future. Thus, secular man looks at the church, sees it as a duplication of what the state is seeking to achieve, and considers it irrelevant.
It is precisely for this reason that Christian leaders feel intimidated. In the Orient the Gospel message is fresh and radically different than what the pagan gods have to offer.
In“post-Christian” Europe the church has used the language of the Gospel but has poured into it temporal goals and objectives in accordance with the Augustinian model, producing a message similar to that of the state.
In the United States, to the degree that we define ministry in terms of temporal goals, we will find ourselves facing the same problem. The claiming of institutions for Christ is not a New Testament concept, and when the church makes this its goal, it gives mission a temporal rather than an eternal focus. This in turn leads to the perception that the goals of the church and state are in essence the same, which in turn contributes to the secularization of man.
When Christians are robbed of Biblical language due to prior misuse, their task in evangelism becomes especially difficult. No longer can the Gospel be publicly proclaimed with any hope of the kind of response seen in other parts of the world. Fresh thinking has to be given to the question of how to reach this secularized man.
The unregenerate man and the state have in common a temporal focus. Man may chafe under the authority of the state, but instinctively he understands the important role that it plays in his life. He also learns that temporal goals cannot satisfy. Their pursuit ultimately leads to despair. When the church embraces temporal goals, it is perceived by the unregenerated man as being not all that different than the state. Thus, when he moves into disillusionment because these temporal goals are unattainable, or do not satisfy when they are attained, he responds to the church with cynical indifference.
The church was never called into existence for the purpose of accomplishing temporal goals.
“My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
Rejoicing in His grace,