it depends how you tell the story…

In the interests of concrete illustration (rather than the vague, hand-waving generalities of the previous post), let me quote from Total Church itself:

“God is a missionary God and God’s primary missionary method is his covenant people. Humanity was made in the image of the triune God. The purpose of an image is to represent something and we were made to represent God on earth. God made us as persons-in-community to be the vehicle through which he would reveal his glory. But humanity has grasped for autonomy from God. We fell under the curse of God, and human community has become fractured. The image-bearers of God fall short of his glory…”

You can probably see already what a big difference it makes to tell the story this way. God’s loving purposes for you and me need to be set in the wider context of his loving purposes for humanity and the world. Thus…

“God begins his plan to create a new humanity with his promise to Abraham. By focusing on Abraham, God has not abandoned the rest of humanity, for through Abraham, blessing will come to all nations (Genesis 12:1-3).”

No surprises then that the church finds a natural and obvious home:

The church […] is not something additional or optional. It is at the very heart of God’s purposes. Jesus came to create a people who would model what it means to live under his rule. It would be a glorious outpost of the kingdom of God: an embassy of heaven. This is where the world can see what it means to be truly human.

So, next time someone says to me, ‘I can be a Christian without going to church, can’t I?’ (as though it’s an optional extra) — even though I sympathise with not wanting to make church membership a precondition for a right standing with God — I’ll just take a deep breath and start: ‘Well, it depends how you tell the story…’


  1. Chris,

    is it worth introducing the Reformation distinction between the invisible and visible church? (Is this something the TC guys do?)

    Fundamentally, since Jesus is the fulfillment of the temple and God’s people are gathered as and through Christ’s body, the fundamental (and necessary) nature of the church is not earthly but heavenly. That is, we gather around Christ in heaven.

    Thus, gathering together now as the church militant is an expression of what God has made us now and what He will one day make us to be in Christ. We trust that God’s plan for us and our lives is good, and that he is working now, conforming us to the image of the true human (which involves being the body of this Christ). In this sense, church, like the rest of life, is an outworking of our life of faith in God and his work.

    Thus, I, like you, O noble blogger, want to shy away from language of ‘necessary’ when talking about gathering with God’s people. Not only because turning up on Sunday is not a precondition to salvation, but because all of our Christian life is a life ‘lived by faith in the Son of God’ (Gal 2:20). And all of our life in Christ is one which will continually grow until Christ returns. May he soon do so.

    1. Thanks again, Dan.
      I’d have to go back and read Total Church again to answer your question — but it is really worth asking.
      My (quite considerable) enthusiasm for their insights and innovative embodiments of those insights notwithstanding, I’ve got some problems of my own with what they say. Not so much with their focus on community but with the way they focus on it.
      I guess I need to think more about it, but I wonder if what we need is a dose of reality — the visible church is not (yet) the invisible/eschatological! Perhaps Bonhoeffer’s warning about visionary dreamers (who so readily become the accuser of the brethren) needs to be sounded again.
      But these inconclusive reflections of mine are mostly experience-driven and need under-girding by the kind of theological thinking you offer. Being part of church, just like so much else in the Christian life, must (must, MUST!) be an outworking of our faith in God and his work. It belongs on the same plane as good works in Titus 2.11-14 — not what we’re saved by but what we’re saved for.

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