If you have not had a chance yet, let me suggest picking up a copy of Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church by N.T. Wright. The book deals with the subject of Christian hope, heaven, and how this subject should shape the way Christians live in the present. N.T. Wright is a formidable theologian and biblical scholar who writes this book based on thoughtful theological reflection, yet the reader will not need a seminary degree to follow Wright’s discussion. With this post, I do not want to offer a review of Wright’s book; I simply mention it as a valuable resource to get Christians to begin thinking again about the nature of our faith, the goal of our faith, and the way our faith ought to shape our living. Instead, with this post I want to briefly and broadly state my own view of Christian hope (eschatology) as it relates to church (ecclesiology) and mention three ways this impacts Christianity as it seeks to live out the mission of God.
I believe a proper view of eschatology will shape our ecclesiology. First, and contrary to those who espouse a premillenial view of eschatology, Jesus did not fail to establish God’s kingdom but instead this kingdom is an eshcatological kingdom which Jesus has ‘already’ established but which is ‘not yet’ fully experienced. Second, that the church is the community of people who live under God’s kingdom rule and thereby live out and proclaim this kingdom (the gospel) before and to the world so that its borders continue to advance. This view of eschatology gives shape to the nature and purpose of the church. Thus, The church is a future community who exists in the present as the representation of God’s finished work of redemption. We do this by proclaiming the gospel and living the gospel reality out in our life.
If I am correct, this should change a lot about our mission. I will mention only three of relevant changes that I see as imperative, which is not intended to be exhaustive. First, the old question of evangelism vs. social justice is the wrong question to ask. Our task is to help those living under the slavery of this old world to experience the grace of the new world (God’s kingdom rule). This was the ministerial work of Jesus during his life on earth. All people are sinners and need to experience the redemption from sin that exist in the new world. But if they find such redemption but our still enslaved to an addiction or still our being drowned in a sea of poverty, they have not totally experienced the new world in fullness. Likewise, a person feed from an addiction but still living in slavery to sin has yet to experience the new world in its fullness. And though in one sense, no one will experience the new world in fullness until the second coming of Jesus, this does not excuse the church its duty as though we can apathetically say God will take care of it all in the end.
Second, if we are living as a future community under the reign of the Lord, we must question much of contemporary Christianity’s (especially in the Evangelicalism) wholesale endorsement of state sanctioned war and support for the state. The state is a fallen power that belongs to this old world. Why would we want to defend and support something that, eschatologically speaking, is already dead? Though I am personally unconvinced of the legitamacy of the “just war theory,” such a conclusion does leave open the possibility that there is such a thing as “just war. As the church, living under the reign of the resurrected and soverien Lord (who has already given us life and the power to overcome), supporting and participating in violence in order to maintain the fallen powers of this old fallen world have no place. Nor is there any place for violence and aggression being used as a means to overcome the fear of being persecuted. Can anyone imagine a New Testament writer telling the church to organize a militia because the Roman Government is going to oppress them.
The last change has to do with the Churches of Christ specifically. If the nature and purpose of the church is as I have suggested above, then the purpose of reproducing the pattern of the first century church is way off base. We neither live in their culture nor live under the same circumstances as they do. What is necessary is not treating the New Testament as a constitutional manual (law) for everything we can and cannot do. Rather, as a community of faith called to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ, the full expression of God’s kingdom reign, scripture (both Old and New Testament) is an epistemic resource from God given to us for the purpose of learning how to live out the gospel (particpate in the gospel) in our own circumstances and in our own forms. This is not reproducing a particular historical period of the church but is instead reproducing the gospel in our lives and thus being the church in the twnety-first century (not the first century church in the twenty-first century) . This will look different from the first centurty, apostolic church just as it will look different for a church in North American versus a church in Asia or Africa. So much more needs to be said on this last point but my friend and former professor John Mark Hicks has been discussing this hermeneutical question on his own blog (http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/).
What are some of your thoughts?