What's it all for?

Monday, 21 February, 2011

Graham Cray's monthly e-xpressions column.

'Fresh expressions' is a shortened form of 'fresh expressions of church', but why all the fuss about church in the first place, isn't it enough just to trust Jesus as Saviour? Or, on the other hand, isn't all the focus on church a distraction from the real business, the work of God's Kingdom in the world? Doesn't church have too bad a public image, with sexual abuse scandals and all the internal and denominational divisions? The answers to these questions, in order, are 'No', 'No' and 'Yes but'.

No, it isn't enough just to believe in Jesus as Saviour. It is essential for each of us, but it is not enough if we have any interest at all in what we have been saved for. The Church is God's redeemed people, not God's redeemed collection of individuals. Nor is belonging to the Church a matter of individual choice or preference. Because we are Christians we are part of the Church. Church is not something we 'go to' or 'don't go to'. It is what we are part of through baptism and it is about the whole of our lives as God's community. Our belonging is 'for better or worse'. We are interdependent within one another, when we don't participate we rob our fellow Christians and lose out ourselves. The privilege of forgiveness, through Christ's cross, includes the privilege and responsibilities of a new community.

No, the Church is not a distraction from the kingdom of God. In both Old and New Testaments the people of God have a central role in God's action to restore his rebellious and broken creation. We are restored in Christ to our calling as stewards of creation. In the language used in formal theological agreements between some denominations, the church is 'a sign, instrument and foretaste' of God's kingdom. It is a sign – it points beyond itself to God's kingdom (the Church is never just about the Church). It is an instrument or agent of God's kingdom. God works through the Church, and people enter God's kingdom through it. It is to be the community where people see an imperfect taste of that kingdom in advance, both in its life as a Christian community, and in its ministry to the surrounding community.

Yes, some aspects of the history and current life of the Church are a scandal. It has always been so, requiring repentance and change. But God never gives up on his people, because he never gives up on his world, and he has no alternative plan. It began with twelve unpromising people and so it continues. There are scandals of division and disagreement, just as there are scandals of disgraceful behaviour. But there is also the scandal of churches that have lost touch with their communities, and with their missionary calling; churches with amnesia who have forgotten what, and therefore who they are for. To address that scandal we need fresh expressions of church within a mixed economy.



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