Thursday, October 3, 2013

"Thelogy, Culture, and the Kingdom of God." By Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy.

In consideration of the role of the Church of Jesus Christ as it engages the various cultures in which it is planted, the following perspective is presented.

Let us first give consideration to the church as the Kingdom of God. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her (Eph.5:25). Therefore all matters pertaining to the church reflect not so much the things that we do, as the people that we are in Christ. We are the people of His Kingdom, known and loved from before the foundation of the world.

While we agree, and understand, that there is a “then and there” dimension of Kingdom, let us also agree that there is a “here and now” Kingdom reality in which we are called to walk (2 Cor 5:17).

Living as Kingdom people is not a matter of strategic intent, nor is it methodological, nor is it a matter of cultural relevance, but it means “walking in the light as He is in the light,” all the while demonstrating that “we have fellowship with one another” (I John 1:5-7). We are the called people of God, the company of the redeemed, a diverse body uniquely joined – a Kingdom of citizens, (Rev. 5:9-10), no less.

John Calvin described the church as a “just redeeming community.” Thus, in living for Christ in a fallen world, we are to live redemptively, modeling before others our likeness to Christ, as the Holy Spirit enables us to grow up into Him. Calvin also finds it virtually impossible to speak of salvation without first speaking of the Kingdom e.g. he recites Mark 1:15 “… the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel.” Thus Calvin’s eschatology precedes his soteriology (Institutes 3.3.19).  As Kuyper so clearly expressed, “as is your eschatology so is your theology.”

The church of the 20th century became the church of missiology, where outreach was concerned. Much has been written about the “science of missions” from a methodological perspective, as if means and method were the lodestone of effectiveness. But lest we forget that eschatology supercedes missiology, and lose sight of the call to obedience that is the hallmark of the Kingdom of God, let us be reminded that the sceptre of God, as it is extended to the lost, is to understand and believe that God reigns, that He is Lord, that He is first and foremost authoritative, and that we are “enjoined to pray that He would subdue all minds and hearts to voluntary obedience" (Institutes 3.20.42).

The Gospel of Christ, the “power of God unto salvation” (1 Cor. 1:18), is essentially relational. It requires inter-personal connection for its proper transmission, interpretation and comprehension. The Gospel is not an impersonal statement of truth. It is always more “euangellion” than it is “kerugma.” It is first lived and is thus recognizably different from life without or before Gospel. Then it is spoken, by way of pronouncement or proclamation, in the normal course of a day’s events as well as on other occasions of proclamation. As has been stated elsewhere, “the question of evangelical cultural engagement begins not with a ‘how’ but with a ‘who’” (Andy Crouch, in a persuasive argument for evangelical Christianity as a counter-culture, not an attempt at cultural engagement, CT 2006).

The conveyance of Biblical truth as it is revealed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, if that truth is to escape the mask of mystery and become reality to those who meet the believer and hear what he or she has to say, must be clearly visible – not by guise or stylistic affectation, but in Christlikeness – “let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me!”

The truth is therefore essentially incarnational. Our likeness to Christ is not an acquired affectation, but a life lived within the bounds of a culture. We become recognizable in that culture either because we are of it, or because we have become a part of it by an act of the will. Our participation in Kingdom extension is therefore not a brief peremptory intrusion in the lives of other people but an identification with them in daily living. Thus the Lord Jesus Himself “took upon Him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of man.” So very God became very man because He purposed so to be (Philippians 2: 5-11).

Incarnation removes the possibility of mistaking witness to Jesus Christ as some sort of trained-for event. Being a witness to Jesus Christ is being like Him, and revealing Him to those with whom we come into contact. This is the eschatological imperative.

-Rev. Dr. Wilfred A. Bellamy PH.D. is an ordained pastor in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, a former missionary to Nigeria, and the former Coordinator of the General Synod of the ARP. 

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