Archive for November, 2011

Christmas Incarnation

November 27, 2011

One of the essential tenets of our Reformed Faith is what we call the Incarnation.  The Incarnation is the belief that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity, and that God “became flesh” when Jesus came to earth and was born of the virgin Mary.  The Essential Tenets of our presbytery says that “Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human.  In the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the eternal Son of God entered human history and became a real human being.  He is truly the Word of God (John 1:1-3).  Becoming human, Jesus was “all of God in a human body” (Col 1:19) and “God with us” (Matt 1:23)”.  The Incarnation is a mystery that we do not fully understand.

In the early Christian era, there was considerable disagreement amongst Christians regarding the nature of Christ’s Incarnation. While all Christians believed that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the exact nature of his Sonship was contested, together with the precise relationship of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit referred to in the New Testament. Though Jesus was clearly the Son, what exactly did this mean? Debate on this subject raged most especially during the first four centuries of Christianity, involving Jewish Christians, Gnostics, followers of Arius, and followers of Athanasisus, among others.

Eventually, the Christian Church accepted the teaching of Athanasius and his allies, that Christ was the incarnation of the eternal second person of the Trinity, who was truly God and truly human simultaneously. All divergent beliefs were defined as heresies.  This included Docetism, which said that Jesus was a divine being that took on human appearance but not flesh; Arianism, which held that Christ was a created being; and Nestorianism, which maintained that the Son of God and the man, Jesus, shared the same body but retained two separate natures. 

Our Presbyterian Book of Order, in F-2.03, says that “The confessions express the faith of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church in recognition of canonical Scriptures and the formulation and adoption of the ecumenical creeds, notably the Nicene and the Apostle’s Creeds with their definitions of the mystery of the triune God and of the incarnation of the eternal Word of God in Jesus Christ.” 

In The Message, Eugene Petersen translates John 1:14 as “The Word became flesh and moved into the neighborhood.”  In The Missional Leader, Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk write that “Missional leaders take the Incarnation of Jesus with the utmost seriousness.  More than just a doctrine to be confessed, it is the key to understanding all God’s activities with, through, in, and among us.  It points toward an answer to the question of where God is to be found.  In the Incarnation, we discern that God is always found in what appears to be the most godforsaken of places – the most inauspicious of locations, people, and situations.  God seems to be present where there is little or no expectation.”

“An old man, past hope, keeps the light of the temple in Jerusalem.  His wife is an embarrassment because she is far past the age of childbearing and there is no son.  Yet God comes to these two elderly faithful people, and their world is transformed.  A young girl, just a teenager, in an obscure village, becomes pregnant with the life of God.  Over and over again, God meets God’s people with the bright light of the Kingdom in what appears to be the most hopeless and forsaken places.”

“In these biblical narratives, God is constantly present in places where no one would logically expect God’s future to emerge, and yet it does, over and over.  There is nothing in these stories about getting the wrong people off the bus and getting the right ones on to accomplish great ends and become the best organization in the world.  This God who pursues us is always calling the wrong people onto a bus that isn’t expected to arrive.  The reason for all of this is that God chooses to unfold the future of the kingdom among people and places of this kind.”

“In the Jewish Scriptures, the prophet Ezekiel asks, ‘Can these bones live?’  In reality the question isn’t answered until Jesus appears as the one who is God’s enfleshed presence among people.  God’s answer to the question is God himself:  Jesus the Incarnate Lord, who comes among us in the most unexpected and inauspicious times and places.  The Biblical stories that lead to the Incarnation keep telling us these are the very places where God’s future emerges.  This is what God does and how God acts, most clearly in Jesus.”

Throughout our Christian history, the Incarnation has been, and continues to be, central to our celebration of Christmas.  In Jesus, God took on flesh, moved into our neighborhood, and lived among us.  As followers of Christ, we are invited to be the presence of Christ with the neighbors God has put around us.  What does this practically mean to live incarnationally in neighborhoods where people are poor, hungry, and hurting?  What is God up to and how are we being invited to participate in God’s work during this Advent/Christmas season?  Where will Jesus show up this year?  It may be in a place where you have no hope or in a place that you do not expect.  That would be just like God.



What is Missional?

November 13, 2011

The word “missional” is used by many different people in many different ways to mean many different things. The following understandings of missional are gleaned from The Missional Church in Perspective by Craig Van Gelder and Dwight Zscheile, Introducing the Missional Church by Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren, and The Missional Leader by Alan Roxburgh and Fred Romanuk.

MISSIONAL IS NOT a label to describe churches that emphasize cross-cultural missions.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label used to describe churches that are using outreach programs to be externally focused.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label for church growth and church effectiveness.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label for churches that are effective at evangelism.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label to describe churches that have developed a clear mission statement with a vision and purpose for their existence.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a way of turning around ineffective and outdated church forms so that they can display relevance to the wider culture.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label that points to a primitive or ancient way of being the church.
MISSIONAL IS NOT a label describing new formats of church that reach people who have no interest in traditional churches.

MISSIONAL IS about God, Who is about a big purpose, in and for the whole of creation. The church has been called into life to be both the means of this mission and a foretaste of where God is inviting all creation to go. Just as its Lord is a mission-shaped God, so the community of God’s people exists, not for themselves, but for the sake of the work. Therefore,

MISSIONAL IS NOT about a program or project some people in the church do from time to time (as in “mission trip”, “mission budget”, and so on).
MISSIONAL IS NOT even about sending missionaries.
MISSIONAL IS a community of God’s people who live into the imagination that they are, by their very nature, God’s missionary people, living as a demonstration of what God plans to do in and for all of creation in Jesus Christ.
MISSIONAL IS about Imagination, Incarnation, and Context. .

MISSIONAL IS about IMAGINATION – a way to see and experience life in the church and the world. Missional imagination is fundamentally about seeing the church and the world in light of the Triune God’s presence and activity. Jesus repeatedly stresses new ways of seeing in his encounters with various people in the Gospels. Discerning the presence and possibility of the reign of God in our midst involves a fresh perspective illuminated by the Spirit. From the perspective of missional theology, imagination is not the property of autonomous individuals. Rather, it is one of the ways in which the Holy Spirit moves within and among us to lead us into God’s missional activity in the world.

MISSIONAL IS about INCARNATION. Just as “the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14 in The Message), we are called to live Christ-like lives among our neighbors within our own context. We are called “to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives, recovery of sight for the blind, let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). We are called to share stories and parables as Jesus did, come alongside people as Jesus did, and demonstrate the Kingdom of God to the world. This is more about living the faith than creating a program. It is about discerning what God is up to in our community, and discovering how God wants us to listen, live, and learn in a particular place.

MISSIONAL IS about CONTEXT. The church increasingly finds itself within a dramatically changed context. A variety of terms are used to discuss this shift, such as “postmodernity”, “post-Christendom”, “globalized world”, “information age”, and “network society”.

The MISSIONAL conversation has unleashed a great deal of energy and hopefulness among churches stuck in patterns of church life that have become disconnected from a changing world. Leaders weary of trying the latest strategy or technique, burdened by the impossible expectations of entertaining and satisfying fickle spiritual consumers, and staggering under the weight of collapsing church institutions are waking up to a new sense of possibility, as they explore what it means to rediscover their identities within God’s larger mission.