I was fortunate enough to be in Chicago at the same time as a meeting of the Acton Institute and so despite the super cold weather, I went over to check it out. It was a great meeting because it really stimulated my thinking at a different level than I normally get and it actually confirmed a number of things we’ve been thinking about but from a different angle. What is the mission of the church?
In the last post, I started to deal with the “Kingdoms of this World” and what we have to do with them. This led to the realization that the church has a two fold mission: salt and light. Of course there is nothing new in that observation, but the nuance of that meaning was becoming more clear to me. Light is our proclamation of the Gospel, the expansion of the Kingdom of Heaven and everything it entails. Salt means that we do and believe things which impact the culture around us. If we do not, then guess what — we get “thrown out and trampled by men”. In other words, when the church does not fulfill its mission to preserve what is good in a culture, the Kingdom of this world will come and trample us. People wishing for the church to enter into a state of martyrdom are simply wishing for the church to fail.When you realize that the future proclamation of the gospel hinges on your current preservation of the culture – that the souls of the future hinge on what you do in the culture, then you realize they are both vital ministries. In a sense, salt is a ministry to the souls of the future, light is a ministry to souls of now.
Look at the passage more closely where Jesus talks about salt losing its saltiness – we have typically translated saltiness to mean that when we are no longer holy, judgment will come. I think that’s a valid aspect, but thing about the salt – the salting is the preservation of culture. Therefore the “saltiness” are the beliefs and activities which preserve the culture. In other words, we could be “holy” and still get thrown out and trampled by men because we do not hold beliefs that will preserve the culture, or take actions that will preserve it. We become so like the culture, not just in our rate of divorce or something like that, but in our beliefs about what is good and bad, that we no longer preserve it.
Essentially that is what happened during the Fundamentalist/Dispensationalist moment in American History which lasted from about 1932 to about 1980. Culture entered a free fall because the church pulled out and became irrelevant. With the rise of Evangelicalism and the vision of Ockenga, we got back in the game, and now evangelicals are back in the important positions in culture – even though many are closeted.
What does the Acton Institute have to do with this? A former Marxist turned Catholic priest started an organization designed to impact clergy with the beliefs that will lead the culture to freedom rather than slavery because all too often the clergy unwittingly are giving the appearance of divine blessing on ideas and policies which will have us all “trampled by men.” It’s about making the church salty again.
At the meeting, though, the light bulbs were going off for me about the different dimensions of what we are supposed to be doing. Ironically, these were the kinds of things I was taught in the postmillennial church I went to, but could never really swallow or fully embrace because the rationale was faulty. Now, with the present millennial grounding, and the idea of “salt and light,” I am seeing the picture more clearly. Moreover, having worked in a real “hands on” way with those in recovery, I am seeing the human person at a different level of detail than ever before. As a church based on the concept of “Freedom” we want to bring freedom to all areas of the world– the liberating power of the Kingdom of God operating in the world. What are these distinct areas where freedom is needed, however? I have listed the ministries that I believe that a fully mature church must become competent in along with categorizing them by Salt vs. Light.
Psychological/Personal (Light) – We started out seeing this through the lens of demonic deliverance. We would come and cast the demons out of you so you could walk in the way you were designed. Having seen a lot of rough cases now, we have shifted our emphasis to repentance. When you empower someone to walk out of sin, you empower them to really be free. It’s not about removing another entity as much as it is removing your own desires. All freedom begins inwardly. This has been the pursuit of our church this year, and we’ll be coming out with our book on the topic of how to be inwardly free.
Family (Both) – On top of personal freedom we build family freedom. A single person being free enough to govern themselves is good, but when a man and a woman are able to relate in a lifelong covenant of health, they produce healthy offspring. They produce the future. When the family fails to produce healthy offspring, the future is cursed, and the children themselves are not only cursed, they become a curse to others. Because the future is passed on through the family, the health of the family is the basis of all culture. When the family fails, the culture fails.
Going to Acton, among Catholics, who really know the power of family, combined with the individual work we’ve done with people who are so broken really drove this home for me in a fresh way. We’ve lost if we have lost the family but won everything else. This does not mean that I think a person’s only ministry can be to the home. Some conservative groups are telling our women that raising children is the meaning of life, but that’s an Old Covenant mindset. Our families must become a ministry to the world, and we must also minister outwardly to the present, not just to the future through the family. Jaime stays at home and I strongly support it, but our mission is not just to raise good kids, it’s to touch the world – the kids are just part of it.
For all these reasons, I believe family ministry, not just marriage ministry, is an essential part of the work of the church, and one that we will be focusing on more this coming year. We need to teach people to have healthy relationships first with friends, then with spouses, and then parents of the future.
Culture (Salt) – Culture is the realm of belief which exists outside the Church/Kingdom. On top of the person and the family rests the culture. We affect this partly by raising the future, but partly also through other activities such as protest and media whereby we raise the consciousness of the truth about an issue so that society will shift. As culture shifts, so does the future basis of the Kingdom. Wilberforce, MLK, and modern anti-abortion crusaders are all examples of those who salt the culture. So are Christian influenced sources of information such as news, publishing, and media. Culture has to do with the ministry of information. We need to do things which will move the culture toward God and righteousness. The ministry to culture is not just outward however, it is also inward. We must teach our own people, children, church the values and ideas that civil culture requires, otherwise we will become our own slave masters!
Politics (Salt) – Politics are built on culture. Politics can definitely affect culture, but culture ultimately has primacy. Politicians act within the cultural context of their time. Political life is an important sphere of Christian activity as well which we cannot ignore, but not as important as the first three. We need to be a part of positive things happening in the civil sphere not just ignore them and pray for rain.
Vocational (Both?) – One of the inhibitors to freedom is that the church has almost always been dominated by a few personalities who make a living off of the others. At FCF we have made the emphasis on each person doing the gospel as well as providing his own bread. This means that we’re all truly equal partners. Moreover, we’ve made ourselves about empowering regular people to come up in every part of their lives. We literally exist to help people grow into who God has called them to be.
It’s not just what the church does, however. It’s what we do in the business sphere to empower people. Corporate life feels unfulfilling ultimately because it is. However, when we create enterprises that help people grow and fulfill their callings, we are creating engines of liberation. We’re not just making money for the Kingdom, we’re developing the Kingdom itself through the people we restore, develop and touch in our business enterprises.
We must help people find their places along the wall in each other walk of life. Too often, this has been translated to mean that we encourage people to become CEO’s or run in the Olympics for Jesus. That’s the world’s idea of significance. What we mean is that in some area each person knows that they are making a real difference according to their ability and experience. Moreover, they know they are a part of a team where every single person is making that kind of difference. All together it adds up to powerful ministry.
I believe these “vocational” ministries are the answer to the problem of Protestant ultra-individualism. In a system where everyone is developed and learns to celebrate their small piece, all are both unique and free, but also interdependent. In other words, we don’t need rock stars any more. It’s not about one amazing man who became the pastor of a mega church or wrote a zillion books. It’s about all of the people who made the megachurch and stack of books possible. Not just because they got a nod in the Acknowledgements page, but because their ministry is thought of as equally valuable.
God (Light) – Ultimately the Kingdom of God is a one way train to the presence and glory of God. Our ministry of encounter with God is a very important part of what we must do as human beings. We can minister to culture, but what do we have to minister if we do not have God? We must walk into a living and deep relationship with God and bring that outward to others. Therefore we must pursue healing, prophecy and every kind of deep thing in God.
Evangelism (Light) – Actually reaching out into the Kingdom of Darkness from this glorious Kingdom of Light is the main event. Otherwise, we are building everything for naught. Family only is the Old Covenant. Culture only is social gospel. Personal only is self-help… But when we bring others into it, we are fulfilling the dreams of God. He wants us to get free, but he wants us to bring freedom to the real “lost tribes” – every person who has not found Him. This means going to the ends of the Earth through world mission, to the street corner through outreach, and to the neighbor for dinner. Everything we do, we must go out.
Church (Light) – The Church itself is the vehicle of freedom to all other areas. The church must be producing free people, training families to propagate freedom, inspiring and equipping people to impact culture and political spheres. This means having not only a polity which promotes freedom, but a theology which promotes freedom. The way we understand God and others leads to freedom, the way we do church leads to freedom. We must impact the church at large to share and propagate freedom to others. This means spreading the Good News to those who are supposed to have it already through literature, conferences, and ministry activities.
Each of these is a distinct area of ministry activity. As a corporate body we must become competent in each of these areas, and we must help people make a difference in each of these areas. Every single person gets to be an agent of change. That’s the real “destiny” message. It’s not something out of reach way out there, it’s right within your grasp.