What is the Church? – Part 4

There are three moments among Jesus’ final days with His disciples that we would call formative for the Church. Without these, the initial confusion among the disciples as to what to do might have continued to this day, or more likely derailed the mission from the outset and led to horrid failure.

The first, at least in the order we’ll choose, is the Commission. Jesus aimed the destiny of their little band beyond the imagination. “Go into all the world” is a highly unlikely charge among those who’ve lived their lives among the familiar. It’s tempting to project our shrinking world on their moment, even though we know air travel and automatic engines weren’t within their reach. But go meant go, and the task was to do what they had seen Him do–make disciples. Jesus even defined what that meant. He said baptize them and teach them what you’ve been taught. It was the “them” that felt overwhelming in their moment. For us, it’s often the “teach” we struggle to fully engage.

Second among these signature moments comes to us over the span of a few of John’s chapters. The setting is the Passover and the moment explodes with Jesus’ core teaching. Nestled, but hardly hidden, in that night around the table is the priority of love. Jesus elevated love, not just as an ideal, but as the primary method. To that point in human history, ideas of gods had only spread through warfare. Tribes conquered tribes in the name of their gods. Peoples were subjected and their lands confiscated in the names of gods. You might say that the spread of religion was a very unpopular thing.

Not so in this kingdom. Instead, it will be love that marks them. In fact, Jesus said that people would connect the dots between their efforts and Him by the love they saw–a self-sacrificing, put other’s needs first ethic that would draw people toward them and Him. As the Church unfolded in the book of Acts and beyond, this is what you see. John grew into the apostle of love, even Paul shifted gears from being a bit hard to live with to a guy who said that without love he was nothing.

Finally, Acts 1 brings the third of our formative moments. In verse 5, Jesus places a premium on the soon-to-be-given Holy Spirit. He told them to wait–don’t start the mission–until they had been filled with his power. That made sense since we saw Simon Peter’s lack of capacity around a courtyard campfire.

But when He, the Holy Spirit, comes and that power is given, they would be witnesses, and the global focus of their assignment pops to the surface again as they will be propelled to destinations at home and abroad. The power of the Holy Spirit will equip them for a mission so much larger than their imaginations could even whimsically grasp.

So be witnesses–simply telling what you’ve seen and heard–was the assignment. Make disciples–teaching what you’ve been taught–was the primary content. Ends of the earth was the only outer limit. And love, would be their unusual but extraordinary means. This is the Church on missional point, both two millennia ago and today–this is the Church.

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