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|What characterizes our world? | Discerning God's activity | Implications for the ministry of the church | Conclusion|
What is God doing in response to 9/11?
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A basic assumption in understanding the missional church is that God is already active in the world and that the church is invited into this activity as partners of God. This is a reconciling ministry, meant to restore the world to its original design and intention.
This affirmation begs the question: "what, then, is God doing in the world?" This is an important question especially if, as we say, our purpose is to align our activity with Gods activity in the world. Much discernment is necessary in order that our understanding of Gods activity is not simply a mirror image of our own preferred busyness.
If we look at the world in which we live, the following elements can be readily discerned. There is:
Is God active in these important tendencies that characterize our world?
In light of the September 11th attacks, I have heard several explanations about how to understand Gods role in the climate of violence and unrest described above. These are:
I want to be bold enough to suggest another way in which Gods activity can be discerned in the world. As strange as it may sound, I suggest that God is behind the turmoil we see in the world. God is active in the world, sowing seeds of change. Unfortunately, humans often try to nourish and harvest these seeds in misguided ways, resulting in death and destruction.^ top
It is important to identify some of the seeds that are of God, that appear, at the same time, to be at the root of much of the turmoil we are facing.
These seeds are at the root of much of the desire for change that we see in our world. They are at the root of revolution, nationalism, and globalization, and of our search for identity in gender, self-worth, and dignity. These seeds are at the root of the intense search for spiritual renewal.
The Bible shows us that these seeds are of God. God has always acted in favor of such yearnings. We can see these seeds in the liberation of slaves from Egypt and the prophetic pronouncements against oppression, poverty, violence, and all kinds of injustice. We see these seeds in the spiritual affirmation of the value of human creation, in the level of human dignity implied in the affirmation that the created order was "very good." They can be seen in the search for safety, security, and salvation. They can be seen in the repeated attempts to create a peoplehood that would model the justice, liberation, and dignity that we so desperately seek. They can be seen in the way the Bible inter-weaves human destiny as a common destiny in Jesus Christ, and not simply as an individualistic fate. It can be seen in the breaking down of walls and barriers of separation and the attempts to bring everyone together under the Lordship of Christ.
God is sowing these seeds. They are indelible, irradicable, mysterious, but permanent. The perseverance of their appearance and the pressure of their birthing are undeniable. These are not blips on the screen of life. These seeds are at the root of what it means to be human, and as such they are God given. God is in the process of sowing and nurturing these seeds.
Unfortunately, our human and fallen attempts to make ourselves lords of these seeds generate misguided and often violent and oppressive activity. Such activity is evident in the biblical stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel, the monarchies of Israel, the work of the Zealots, and the exclusion of the gentiles from the blessings of God. While the seeds of dignity, liberation, identity, and passionate spirituality are from God, the misguided and fallen strategies for the nurture and harvest of these seeds are not. In other words, while God plants the seeds that are at the root of revolution, God is not planting the seeds of violence and terror. These are of human design responding to the growth of these seeds.^ top
So now we need to go back to the beginning. If we affirm that the purpose of the church is to discern Gods activity in the world and to align its ministry with Gods work, then we must ask how the above discernment affects the life of the church and its ministry.
Simply stated, we can identify three key responsibilities of the church:
Practically, this means that the church will often find itself with strange bedfellows. Nourishing seeds of human dignity, liberation, identity, and self-worth will connect the church with multiple partners. Resisting strategies that do not align with the seeds sown will also connect the church with interesting companions. This helps us understand how Jesus could associate with prostitutes, freedom-fighters, and tax-collectors, nourishing the seeds that God was sowing in them, while at the same time resisting the activities and strategies that were incongruent with the seeds.^ top
God is active in our history. Our world situation reflects in some way this activity of God. The church attempts to discern this activity and align its priorities with it.
God is involved in the darkness of the world. The darkness we see confirms again the fallen nature of our world, but on closer analysis Gods light is present in the darkness. The church should not distance itself from dark contexts. It should rather understand the light of God that is at the root of what may seem very dark. The churchs immersion in darkness reflects Gods own immersion in our darkness. As Gods light is present in darkness, so the church needs to present viable alternatives to darkness and let its light shine. This is its missional nature of the church.
The gospel (good news) of the Christian faith can be seen in dark events, yes even in the events of September 11. The gospel is that God is active, sowing seeds that would lead to abundant living. These seeds are sown in soil that is unreceptive to their intentions. There is a community that points to the potential of these growing seeds. The church, through its being and its doing, points to the way of Jesus Christ as a better way to bring life to our struggling world. The important words of Jesus: "I am the way, the truth, and the life " continue to hold much promise as we reflect on the life of the church in the midst of the world.
Robert J. Suderman
Executive Secretary, Christian Witness Council