Christ and Scripture
Jesus Christ is our one foundation as a church (1 Cor.3:11). The Bible is foundational only as it points us to Christ and as we interpret it through a Christ-centered lens. Jesus Christ must be kept at the centre of our understanding and application of the Bible all the time. We must take seriously the warning of Jesus that it is possible to be very diligent in studying Scripture and yet still miss Christ, who Scripture is all about (John 5:19). Equally, we cannot just reinvent Jesus Christ from our imagination. It is the Christ revealed throughout Scripture – to heads and to hearts – who we are founded on (Luke 24:25-27). As we engage with Scripture to connect with Christ, we experience its power to transform us as it is not just dead letter but living word (2 Cor.3:6).
We, therefore, don’t use the Bible as a rule book, or book of answers, or as a basis for trying to justify our already determined beliefs. Rather, we recognise Scripture for what it is – the Story of God, his people and his mission, told through multiple and diverse stories. Jesus is the centre and the hero of this Story and his death and resurrection are the turning point of its plot. At the heart of this Story is the gospel. We choose to place our lives – individually and corporately – under the authority of the Author of this Story, the Holy Spirit, and so let him use Scripture to shape and form us as a church community, and guide us on our journey. Jesus is our foundation as the hero of the Story (Luke 24:27), the centre of the community (1 John 1:3) and the ultimate end of our journey (Heb.12:2).
Church and Mission
Mission is not just a task given to the church to keep us busy. Mission begins in God. Mission has to do with being sent. Jesus was sent by the Father (John 5:23) and later the Father and the Son send the Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26). God is by nature a God who sends. He is the God who sends himself into the world because he wants to be known by the world (John 3:16-17). He is the God of love who wants intimate connection with us, and so he is a God of mission. That mission involves revealing himself but also showing us the kind of world we can live in when we live in relationship with him and under his rule – the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1).
The word church originally comes from a word which means an assembly of people who have been called out for a special purpose. The church is called first of all into an intimate relationship with God. But relationship and purpose are inseparable in God. To relate to God means to get caught up with his great purpose, with his mission. This is why it is God the Son, in intimate relationship with the Father, who is sent into the world. But Jesus then goes on to say the vitally important words for understanding church and mission – ‘as the Father has sent me so I am sending you’ (John 20:21). We are sons who are sent. And just as Jesus was sent, we are sent with the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit (John 4:14-21; Acts 1:8). For the church to be engaged in this mission or purpose of God will involve us in demonstrating God’s good rule, his kingdom. As God’s missional people, we embody the kingdom, enact the kingdom and explain the kingdom.
God and Us
Our understanding of what God is like is the foundation of our whole lives. If we think that God is always angry with us, for example, that will affect how we live and the kind of people we become. How do we know what God is like? We start with Jesus. It is Jesus who shows us what God is like (Heb.1:1-2; John 1:18). His primary purpose was to reveal God as the most perfect, loving Father (John 14:23). He reveals that God is love (1 John 4:8). He reveals the Father and then reconciles us to the Father – he shows us the way into enjoying the same kind of intimate relationship that he had with the Father (John 14:6, 17:20-21).
Life is now about learning to live in this amazing, unconditional, unending love of the Father. It is about learning to live no longer as orphans (John 14:18) but as sons of God. Once we are established in our identity as loved sons and enjoy intimacy with the Father, we then have the authority to fulfil our mission and to grow to maturity. This starts with allowing the Father’s unconditional love to heal our hearts and restore our souls (Psalm 23:2). And because this is not just about God and me, but God and us, the primary way in which this transformation is expressed is in our love for one another (John 13:34-35). We learn to allow God’s perfect love to cast out fear (1 John 4:18), the fear that has been based on the lies we have believed, and that has damaged our relationships. Instead of reacting to people out of fear, we become able to respond in love. And when we love one another like this, people see Jesus in us (John 17:22-23).
Community and Leadership
God is a community of three persons. When God created humanity, it was community creating community (Gen.1:26). We are made to live in relationship. The church is a community that is meant to extend and reflect that divine community into our world. We are to enjoy and express the kind of intimacy and unity that the Godhead experiences, and show it to the world. An old but biblical word that describes this church community is ‘fellowship’ (1 John 1:3,6-7) and the New Testament is full of beautiful descriptions of this fellowship in which we love one another, serve one another, prefer one another, encourage one another etc.
For community to work well, there has also to be ‘leadership’ (Acts 20:28; Heb.13:17). The Bible is not prescriptive or dogmatic about specific leadership structures for the church community, but there are guiding principles. Notably, the way leadership works in God’s kingdom will be distinct because it is a different kingdom, where leadership, power and authority are redefined and reimagined (Matt.20:25-28). For leadership to work well, all of us have to be willing to learn what we might call ‘followship.’ Before we can learn to lead, we must learn to follow. Jesus followed (John 5:19), and every leader in God’s kingdom is a follower (1 Cor.11:1). This does not mean blind, uncritical obedience but rather allowing ourselves to be influenced and led, surrendering our independent spirit. It is about being participators, not spectators; being contributors, not just critics. Because true followship must be chosen and not coerced, it requires us to make a powerful choice, a quality decision of the heart.
God’s Different Kingdom
Christ is the king of a kingdom and this kingdom is one of the main themes of Scripture. It is a government of love and to love the Father includes seeking his kingdom (Matt.6:33) and praying that his kingdom comes into our world (Matt.6:9-10). A major part of his mission, as we have seen, is to demonstrate this kingdom (Luke 11:20). The community of the church is a kingdom community, those living under the good rule of Jesus; and the kingdom shapes our whole understanding of leadership and followship. It is vital we understand the nature of this kingdom, therefore, and it helps if we keep the cross of Christ at its centre; our king came not to be served but to serve and to lay down his life (Mark 10:45). The one on the throne of this kingdom is a lamb that has been slain (Rev.5:6). God’s kingdom is not of this world which forces its way through fighting (John 18:36). It advances through other-centred, self-emptying, servant-like and sacrificial love (Phil.2:5-11).
When we have this understanding of a cross-centred kingdom, we can see our world transformed not by some religious power grab, but through continually sowing seeds of this kingdom life and love into our world. This means learning to live like the king of the kingdom, like Jesus. We do not see him trying to forcefully take the reins of power. Rather we see him in daily life among all kinds of people sowing seeds of relationship, of unconditional and indiscriminate love, including the excluded, setting the lonely in families, simply overflowing in love and making it real in practical ways. It might not seem like much at times in the eyes of the world, but this is the way God’s different kingdom advances and transforms our world (Matt.13:31-32).