In Ephesians, words like “wisdom” and “mystery” describe the social creation of a new people-body in which Jews and Gentiles are reconciled to God and each other.* The apostle Paul describes this body, the church, as the vehicle through whom God is now revealing his reconciliation work in Christ (cf. 3:10-11). This is missional language clarifying the church’s roll-call as participants in God’s mission.
Contemporary churches understand this role in sending missionaries, the training of evangelists, and so forth. While missionaries and evangelists are certainly important, the church’s participation in God’s mission is more. The church’s participation in the mission of God involves the entire church, every local church and every Christian within the local church. This is why the church is called to live out of the new self it is created to be.
After spending three chapters doing theology by indicating what it means to be in Christ, Paul begins applying this to some very practical issues facing the church. In chapter four he begins with an admonition of living a life worthy of this calling the church has received in Christ. Then later in the same chapter, Paul writes in Eph 4:22-24:
You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
So here the whole church learns of its participation in the mission of God by letting go of the “old self” and living into the “new self”
Behind this line of thought stands Judeo-Christian eschatology. The word eschatology comes from the Greek word eschatos which has to do with the last things or end of times. Thus, in classically speaking, the doctrine of eschatology has been the study of the last or end times. However, Judeo-Christian eschatology is a little more nuanced. While it is still focused on the end or goal of life that God is bringing history towards, it also understand that the end goal is breaking into the present through the rule or kingdom of God. For Christians, eschatology means that the future which history is moving towards is breaking forth into the present in Jesus Christ, who rules as God’s king.
This of course bears upon the church’s call to put away it’s old way of life and live into the new self it has been created to be. The old self belongs to the life that is dying and stands under God’s judgment, whereas the new life is that end goal that God has redemptively established in Christ. The new life belongs to the future, the goal of history, but is breaking into the present through the witness of the church. All of this means that the church, embracing this new way of life, bears witness in the present to the future of God’s redemptive work.
So it seems that the following can be said of the church’s purpose: The church is a future community existing in the present as the representation of God’s work of redemption in Christ. The question which the church must always then ask as it participates in the mission of God is whether or not she is living as a representative of God’ redemptive work in Christ. Besides the sending of missionaries and the calling of evangelists and so forth, the church’s missional calling is to demonstrate what it looks like when God’s redemption is at hand in the way it lives life as one people reconciled to God and each other.
- How should this purpose be reflected in the way we interact with our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and in the social-media world (Facebook, Twitter, etc…)?
- Assuming that this purpose is reflected in our interactions with our families, friends, co-workers, neighbors and in the social-media world, how can we build on this purpose for the sake of missional living by means of evangelism and ministry?
* This post was originally published as “The Purpose of Being the Church” in Connecting, 27 (September 9, 2012), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ. I have added the questions for the sake of creating some possible discussion points in the comment section.