A few weeks ago, I quoted Lesslie Newbigin from his book The Household of God (Friendship Press, 1954) in a post called “More ready to submit than to impose“. As I said in that post, I thought Newbigin description of the work of the Spirit in the meeting of the church is one of the best that I’ve read.
However, Newbigin’s book does not focus on the community aspect of the church alone. In fact, his ecclesiology is often called a “Missionary Ecclesiology”. Newbigin does not believe that the community aspect of the church can be separated from the missional aspect of the church. He says, however, that the church often treats this as dichotomies:
The most obvious evidence is the fact that, in the thinking of the vast majority of Christians, the words “Church” and “Mission” connote two different kinds of society. The one is conceived to be a society devoted to worship, and the spiritual care and nurture of its members. It is typically represented by a large and ancient building. The other is conceived to be a society devoted to the propagation of the Gospel, passing on its converts to the safe keeping of “the Church”… The two cannot become one until a very deep and widespread change has taken place in the thinking of the Churches about their own nature, until they have come to see, and to express in the ordinary life of the Church, the truth that the Church has all its treasure entrusted to it for the sake of the world, and that therefore mission belongs to the very substance of the Church’s life.
Although Newbigin wrote this over fifty years ago, I think it still describes the predominant thought among Christians: church and mission are separate. However, as Newbigin explains, this false dichotomy demonstrate that most Christians do not understand the nature or purpose of the church.
I’ve written about this before is a post called “The Gathered and the Sent“. We must recognize that we are gathered by God out of the world. This “gathering together” must include more than meeting for the sake of meeting. Instead, as the gathered people of God, we must seek unity and community and fellowship that is deep and life-altering because it is created and nurtured by the Spirit of God.
However, our community life has a purpose – to express the Gospel, the love, the mercy, and hope of Jesus Christ to the world. The community cannot exist for its own benefit alone. Instead, the community (the church) exists to demonstrate God (to exegete Him, if you will) to the world that is not part of the community.
Thus, community and mission go hand-in-hand. If we attempt to separate them, then we will not have community or mission, regardless of what we call them. We must recognized that we (all of us!) are both a gathered people and a sent people.