The Church in These Times

John ArmstrongPersonal

I spoke twice in Huntsville, Alabama, today. The first meeting was at the ungodly hour of 6:00 a.m. (I am a zombie at such an hour and with my fatigue issues it is even worse as I age. Let’s just say I got through it.) Then I spoke at a luncheon to about 50 people from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. I gave the same basic address I will give in Wheaton on October 16 on the Church in These Times. (Chicago area people can sign up on the Web site for this event.) I tried to show how the "disestablishment" of the Church in America has, for all intents and purposes, changed the game permanently, revival or no revival. We will not, in our lifetime, control the culture again. This means we can not direct it in terms of the old Christendom model, the way we did for 300 years in this land. All strategies aimed at culture control are not only dangeorus but wrong and wasteful. Very few conservatives over 50 years of age understand this but it is obvious to students who pay attention to what is really happening in America.

Does this mean we have no message for this culture? Not at all. We have good news but the way we must deliver it is in radically different ways that are much more incarnational than confrontational, and that was my point in this message. Evangelism, worship and Christian formation must all three reflect these changes if we are to be missional Christians in this period in history. Even Pentecostals, who operate so effectively in Africa and Latin America, generally respect this conclusion. (This is not a matter of supernatural gifting and power, per se, both of which we desperately need.) And this is not a matter of becoming "seeker driven" in any sense of that oft-used term. It is a matter of becoming truly missional in terms of bridging the large intellectual, social and spiritual gaps that exist between us and those outside the Christian faith. We are in a mission culture now, not a Christian culture. Worse yet, we are in a culture that has already rejected a certain kind of conservative Christianity and so long as we seek to promote that older form it will likely fail in the bigger picture. The message itself doesn’t change but the Church must change its mission methodology or it will speak the good news to the Chur alone and do so only in a way that doesn’t even reach the Church for many more years.

We need good theology but we also need a theology that is joined with thoughtful missiology. This raises the question of the so-called "marks of the Church." The Reformers spoke of the gospel and the sacraments as the marks of the Church (Calvin added discipline as a third mark). I cannot be content with these three. I see the whole Bible saying "mission" is also a distinctive mark of the visible Church.