Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Embracing the Covenant Call of God

As I departed from the airport after placing a young DBU graduate on a plane destined for one of the most difficult countries in the world, I was overwhelmed by a huge sense of responsibility. I have placed literally thousands of volunteers on planes in my 26 years as a minister. But this was different. This student will not be back in two weeks with wonderfully naïve stories of adventure about the people she met and the places she went. No. This one will not be returning in two weeks or two months. She is gone to serve as an extension of my church among a people who don't want her in a land Satan has claimed his own. Her mother's tears were raining on my heart. This send-off was truly an act of faith for my church.

As I drove away, the haunting question I could not avoid was, "What is an act of faith in the American church?" When I pondered that question I felt a huge sense of shame. For in most American churches we equate faith with our willingness to take on the challenge of a bigger bank note. Faith in many churches is often related to the physical expansion of our facilities. Faith for the American minister may refer to our willingness to slightly offend the overly-indulged and complacent in order to move them to a place of minimal sacrifice, realizing the risk of offending some to the point of withholding money or transferring their membership to another local church. How many times have I asked my church to do something that was truly risky? The real answer to that question is, not often enough.

I want my church to be pleasing to God. I want to be a part of a missional body of believers. It is difficult to imagine that any church could be missional without understanding God's heart for the world and the role of God's people in fulfilling His heart's dream. From Genesis to Revelation the Word of God tells the story of a relational God who would go to the most God-like extremes to bring a rebellious mankind back into a loving relationship with Himself. The Old Testament people of God received a commission through their faith-Father, Abraham, to be a people through whom all the peoples on earth will be blessed (Genesis 12:5). The commission of His people was further clarified in God's words to Moses - You will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. The result of the Old Covenant commission is imagined in the writings of the psalmist who commanded the people of God. . .declare His glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord, most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. . .

The Old Covenant was initiated by a Sovereign God with a chosen people whose calling was to reconcile a sinful world. In this reconciliation, God's glory among the nations is the ultimate reality. Anything short of an acknowledgement of his glory is a denial of Truth.

The New Testament describes God's people as ministers of a new covenant. . .of the Spirit. . .that gives life (2 Cor. 3:5). Jesus clearly defines the role of the New Covenant People in relation to the nations:

. . .go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. . .

Churches desiring to become missional must realize the responsibility of the covenant. As Jesus clarified, the covenant has not changed, it has just been fulfilled. The Church's role as New Covenant People is to share the good news of this fulfillment so that God may be glorified. That is why Paul relates to New Covenant believers as ministers of reconciliation - that God is reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Until the Church ceases to see herself as only a recipient of the blessings of the covenant without embracing the responsibilities of the covenant, we are destined to fall short of God's intentions for us as the People of God. Yes, Israel was to receive blessing from God - but not that it might be grasped or held tightly, but that it might flow through her to a world that was lost. In the same way, the Church has been given the empowerment through the Spirit of God to be witnesses, ambassadors and ministers of reconciliation.

What would it mean for your church or mine to embrace the covenant call of God? No one can answer that for you but God Himself. But perhaps it may mean that we give less thought to cost, liability, face and form to focus on discipleship, formation, obedience, sacrifice and suffering. Now that's not popular American theology. We might even be forced to burn some chaff. So if we are measuring our success by budgets and numbers, we may be in for some serious re-shaping of our image. But in the end we will each answer the question, "What did you do with what I gave you?" I have a strong sense that the correct answer to that question will not be found in monuments and meetings. I have a feeling the correct answers to that question will be found in the names of individuals in a multitude with white robes holding palm branches in their hands.

I am praying for you as you seek God's direction for your church.
Cindy Wiles


At 4:07 PM, Blogger David said...

It was a big step...but will be rewarded!


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