Keith Green’s (1953-1982) worship songs and piano accompaniment always inspired me. I recall one of his best-known songs, ‘O Lord, You’re Beautiful’ – the melody and words still haunt me:
‘I want to take your Word
And shine it all around
But first help me just to live it Lord
And when I’m doing well
Help me to never seek a crown
For my reward is giving glory to You!’
Yes, we’re talking about living the Life, that Life that is Jesus himself. Theologically speaking, I’m once more pleading for an ‘incarnational ecclesiology.’
Bishop Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), influential British missiologist and veteran missionary with the Church of South India, reiterated that what Christ left behind was a fellowship to which he entrusted the task of being his plenipotentiaries and representatives in the world. In answer to the question ‘How is Jesus present to us today?’ the answer must always be (frighteningly): ‘He is present in his people, his apostolic fellowship.’ If God’s purpose had been to provide all succeeding generations of mankind with a revelation of himself which could be embodied in a series of verbal statements of absolute inerrancy, he could have left us a written deposit such as the Koran. Instead, God in Christ called twelve men that they might be ‘with his Son’ who would send them into the world. Our Lord gave his followers not so much a formal course of instruction in divine truth as an introduction into the intimacy of his Spirit.
Australia has in recent years produced two wonderfully innovative theologian-practitioners, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch (the latter South African born!). They have written incisively on the value of Christ’s incarnation to the Church’s salvation and mission. They summons the contemporary Church to exchange her ‘invitational mode’ (i.e. ‘come to us’) for Christ’s ‘incarnational mode’ (i.e. ’embody Me in the world’). Churches are caught up with ‘in-drag’ (our church is so much better than the one down the road!) instead of ‘out-reach.’ Frost and Hirsch cite the use of ‘home’ and ‘pub’ in Hobart, Tasmania: believers rented homes within walking distance of pubs, which became their platform for meeting with and engaging the community. If needs were expressed, interested folk were invited home to continue the conversation.
If we see the church incarnationally, we begin to recognise that we are the message (a la Martin Buber & Soren Kierkegaard). Does this mean that there is no place for propositional truth and the great Church Creeds? Of course not! It’s a matter of getting the balance right. You remember how we were taught to evangelise, ‘Believe in Jesus, believe that he died for you on the Cross’ etc, and, hey presto, ‘You’re a child of God!’ One could profess all that without ever truly encountering the life-changing Christ!
Two articles that came across my desk recently illustrate the urgent need for an incarnational Church:
- In a 2012 survey of about 400 South African Christians in ‘secular work,’ only 18% said they were living out their calling in the workplace. Most said that although their churches taught them to apply biblical principles in the workplace, it was difficult to live out their calling amidst the diverse cultures and viewpoints encountered in the workplace. The survey concluded that the biggest stumbling block was in fact ‘a misunderstanding of their calling.’Unfortunately the survey didn’t elaborate. Could it be that we have bought into the Greek dualism of ‘secular’ and ‘spiritual’? Could it be that believers are just not ‘being Jesus’ in a natural and spontaneous way in the workplace? As mentioned before, my wife is one of the best marketplace disciplers I know, influencing all kinds of people nearer Christ – she simply prays each morning, ‘Lord, help me to be Jesus to someone today.’
- A recent missionary report from Algeria reveals that hundreds of Muslims are turning to Christ. How come? The Field Manager writes that, for one thing, there are no denominations in this move of God. The new believers serve Christ in a unity which is attractive to others (cf Acts 2:41-47). A recent convert claimed, ‘As a Muslim I always felt God is so far, but in Jesus Christ God is so near.’
So why don’t we ‘get it’?? After 2,000 years! I taught the above truths in a very simple way to 20 school kid trainee- leaders on Saturday at a lovely beach-front venue. I saw the ‘lights go on.’ If they could ‘get it,’ why can’t we??