Loving the World to Life
The mission of the local church must be shaped by a deep appreciation of the value of this world. When the world is not valued mission is skewed. I recall listening to a man being interviewed at a large Christian men’s convention. The man shared how he struggled to feel purpose and significance in his work (the man was a carpenter). He shared with the audience how he finally found direction and purpose by becoming a bible study leader at his church. Now, in leading bible study groups, he is living faithfully, the man said.
While we certainly affirm the value of leading bible studies, it seems that at the root of this man’s discontent was not wrong activity, but wrong understanding. He (and the conference organisers) had undersold the value of the world. They failed to realise that this man’s primary witness to the world is given as a carpenter. As this man works skilfully with wood, making joints and splitting the pencil line with a saw cut, he calls attention to Christ’s powerful and creative reign. He advertises Christ’s Lordship as he relates to other tradesman in a way that challenges idols of selfishness, sensuality and individualism. And as he works, the words of his mouth and the shape of his life witness to the cross and resurrection.
What he expressed at the conference represents a retreat from the world that ignores biblical teaching on creation. Ultimately such an approach renders the church’s witness irrelevant. It consigns faith to a ‘spiritual’ realm that has little to do with realities of life.
A local congregation that undergirds its mission with a robust theology of creation realises that it is from Monday to Saturday that it displays to the world most fully the gracious Lordship of Christ—as the ‘congregation scattered’. Monday to Friday, in offices, mothers’ groups, cafes, trucks, hospitals and advocacy groups the church bears witness to the restorative reign of Christ, loving what Christ loves and challenging what Christ challenges. Lesslie Newbigin writes, ‘The exercise of [the church’s] priesthood is not within the walls of the Church but in the daily business of the world. It is only in this way that the public life of the world, its accepted habits and assumptions, can be challenged by the gospel and brought under the searching light of the truth as it has been revealed in Jesus.’
How may this kind of mission be embarked upon? This kind of mission has affection for the world as its impulse. Here is a fierce loyalty to what has been made, to the stuff of this world. We are loyal to the world because it has been made with care and delight. And there remains much to love, even in the most fallen of creatures, for as Hopkins wrote, ‘There lives the dearest freshness deep down things’.
Such loyalty to creation reflects the loyalty of Christ. For this world has been created with care and redeemed at a cost! In the death and resurrection of Christ, God has declared His affection and loyalty for the world, securing its future. God’s own mission compels his followers to be immersed in the life of the world, calling attention, through life, word and deed, to his restorative reign.
Thank you for reading. Your comments are valued. I would be grateful if you would ‘share’ this blog. If you would like to receive email notification of new blogs (2 a week), please click ‘follow’ at the bottom (or top) of the screen.