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A Sermon on Trinity Sunday: “The Great Commission”



How Does Jesus Speak to Our Modern Religious and Social Context?

I am currently reading, rather slowly I confess, through the Gospel of Mark. It is a fast-paced narrative a rooted in oral tradition, something easily forgotten by modern readers. At the beginning of the second century CE this Gospel was affirmed in several texts as the work of Mark. It was also attributed to Peter, who was his companion. Because this writing was based on oral texts it was rooted in stories about Jesus passed around from community to community. But Mark wrote for a definite type of community: Christians of non-Jewish and pagan origin. He desire is to show them the mystery and glory of Jesus. His way of doing this is to relate the words and deeds by which Jesus revealed himself as the “Son of God” to humankind.

Mark’s Gospel does not include an infancy narrative nor does it relate Jesus to Jewish scripture or tradition the way Matthew does. It begins: “This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). Boom! Here it is: the

The 110th Birthday of One of the Greatest Christians of the Last Century

bdb188d9-723d-438b-99f1-cc9e9d6f603eToday, February 4, is the 110th birthday of the German pastor, theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When I arrived at Wheaton College, as a transfer student in January of 1969, one of the first great joys I experienced was finding the story of Bonhoeffer for the first time. The classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, was my introduction. Later I read his prison papers, a few of his works on ethics and a lot of biography. I did not understand this theology then, and still do not fully understand it now, but I knew greatness and humility when I saw it. Bonhoeffer was truly a great Christian! But here is the point often missed – he was not a “safe” Christian. Anyone who reads him soon realizes that Bonhoeffer was not a typical pastor.

Too few of us have read Bonhoeffer and fewer still have grasped his importance, especially to the modern West. (The popular biography of him a few years ago was helpful in some respects but it also gave some distorted images and caused

Salvation and the Christian Life – Doing Theology in the Era of Global Ecumenism, Part 3

51GKY541PRL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_When Catholics and Protestants engage in the polemics of theological polarities they quite often misrepresent one another. In the process they miss the deeper fruit of real ecumenism in doing confessing Christian theology. Non-theologians often do this more poorly because they adopt the views they have been taught by their favorite teachers and then treat them as the gold standard.

One of the central issues between Protestants and Catholics has always revolved around the subject of God’s grace and our(human) response to divine grace. We can very easily get the wrong end of the stick in this debate. On one side we separate the life of the Spirit from the salvation of God. This can be seen in a number of Protestant and evangelical responses to grace and works. Donald Bloesch noted: “To separate the life of the Christian from the salvation of God is to divorce ethics from religion. It was precisely this non-ethical religion or religiosity that was attacked by the Old Testament prophets and by many saints and reformers through the ages” (The Christian Life

The Priority of Christ, Part Two

6764651One of my deepest concern for Christians today, expressed in my post yesterday, is not widely shared by many in the North American church, whether Catholic or Protestant, mainline or evangelical. In fact, I have discovered only a few single-minded souls (e.g. friends such as Leonard Sweet, Joseph Girzone, David Bryant come to mind here) who are currently speaking prophetically to this concern. This concern is a base line, or a north star, for how I listen to, and process, the message of the church – the heart of Christian faith is Jesus the Christ, the Messiah.  He is everything. He is all. His supremacy is self-evident if you read the New Testament. My question, the question with which I ended my post yesterday, was: “Could we have substituted a movement in morality and ecclesial practice for Jesus?”

It ought to be a simple truism that a lively concern for the gospel and the Christ-event, as it is centered in the life and person of Jesus of Nazareth himself, is the marrow of all true Christian faith and

The Priority of Christ, Part One

In 1956 a group of British theologians chose to honor the twentieth century’s greatest theologian, Karl Barth, with a collection of Essays in Christology. They chose this theme because Barth was a champion for high Christology but also because but because the editors and contributors believed the very heart of Christian theology was Christology, the doctrine of Christ. I believe we can learn something vitally important for this decision.

Interestingly, in 1966 the same group, now including English-speaking colleagues from around the world, decided to honor Barth’s eightieth birthday with a collection of essays. UnknownThis volume was on diakonia, or the service and ministry of the church. The order of these two major works is critical, at least to my mind. First comes Christ, always and in every circumstance. Second, comes the church, its service in mission and orderly arrangement and practice.

Make no mistake about what I am saying here. These two truths – Christ and the church (its order and mission) – cannot be separated. Nevertheless, the first ought to always precede the second in our thinking and teaching.

The Gospel of the Kingdom (8)

9780736949149_centered_283x437The Gospel writers plainly want us to see that faith trumps force. The cross exposes Rome as “en evil bully who uses death as a weapon of fear and terror to dominate its subjects” (Heaven on Earth, 201). On the cross, in his horrific death, Jesus secures a real, cosmic and earthly victory over the kingdoms of this world without lifting a finger to defeat man’s greatest enemies–Satan and death.

On the day of Jesus’s death Rome believed it had prevailed against this Jewish “false” King. The disciples were defeated and discouraged. The resurrection was “the” great surprise and by it Jesus proclaimed his complete victory! The resurrection accounts, and especially the epistles of the New Testament, reveal a great change that came about as Spirit-filled disciples witnessed to the power of God working through the exalted and enthroned Jesus.

Streett is insightfully on target when he concludes his chapter on the present reign of Christ with these moving words:

When we think of King Jesus and his kingdom, we must avoid the mistake of separating his death

The Gospel of the Kingdom (7)

images-4What we have seen, especially in Matthew 16, is that the church and the kingdom are not the same thing. The church preaches the kingdom. In the words of a 20th century theologian the church is the outpost of the kingdom in a neighborhood or community. The church serves the kingdom’s mission. As a messianic voluntary association the church “carries our Messiah’s agenda, just as other voluntary associations carried out Caesar’s agenda” (Heaven on Earth, 176). But what are the “keys” that are mentioned here in Matthew 16 with regard to the gospel of the kingdom that is entrusted to the church?

Streett correctly suggests that Jesus is “not specific [but] they [the keys] likely represent the good news of the kingdom, which calls on people to repent and believe” (Heaven on Earth, 176). The church is “at the center of Christ’s kingdom plans from the time of his ascension to his return at the end of the age. He uses people to carry out his mission” (Heaven on Earth, 177). Binding and loosing relates to being bound

The Gospel of the Kingdom (6)

images-3When Jesus spoke about the church, right in the middle of his teaching about the kingdom of God (Matthew 16), what did he mean when he used the word “church”? Before you answer too quickly consider the importance of biblical words and how we have become accustomed to use them thoughtlessly in many instances. This is genuinely true when it comes to the English word church.

Alan Streett understands the word church to refer to what we should call a voluntary association. Most biblical scholars believe that the first church was much like a synagogue. It functioned much like a synagogue if one viewed it as a messianic movement within Judaism. In time the church (congregation/assembly) became a behind-the-scenes gathering of people who voluntary submitted to Jesus and to one another in faith and baptism and then meet regularly for prayer, the hearing of the Word of God and the receiving of the sacred meal, the Lord’s Supper. This church was built by Jesus and it belongs to him, not to us or a human agency. He calls

The Gospel of the Kingdom (5)

9780736949149_centered_283x437Last week I began a series of blogs that grew out of my reading of Professor Alan Streett’s excellent new book, Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House, 2013). I believe this is a perfect study aimed at everyday evangelical Christians who need to grasp the centrality and importance of Jesus and his kingdom. It could not be more timely given the abysmal absence of kingdom theology in most American churches. Pastors would also profit from this book and could easily build a study around it. (Elders, deacons, councils, etc. could all read and discuss it very profitably.) But I’ve also said that ordinary Bible readers, people who want to better understand the central message of the Bible, would genuinely benefit from this book.

Only twice, in the written record of the New Testament, does out Lord Jesus Christ speak about the church by name (cf. Matthew 16 and 18). Any serious Bible reader will soon discover that Jesus spoke about his kingdom far more than about his