For mission you must have authorization and a power station where you can receive inner strength and support, a central place where you will find the help and correction you need. And that place is the church community. Ultimately, not the church here on earth, but the church that is above, the Jerusalem above that is mother of us all. This highest city of God sends its light down to the little bands united in faith on this earth. The more deeply they are united, the more authority they receive.
It is a great thing if we can go out and tell people about God’s kingdom. But it is a much greater thing if a historical reality is presented to the world, a witness to the truth of the gospel to be unforgettably branded into the records of history. It means much more than our limited attempts to convert individuals, if we are called to participate in making history by representing with our lives the way of love and peace and justice in the midst of a hostile, untruthful, unjust world that is bristling with weapons – if we are called to live out this witness, unperturbed and unswayed, while around us the nations rage. That is the church’s true calling.
In view of the widespread evil in the world, the church community acknowledges that the use of government force is unavoidable. But what is entrusted to the church is something completely different. Each kingdom or nation maintains an embassy in Paris, Petersburg, Berlin, Rome, and other capitals. The embassy building is sacrosanct territory, where no one is subject to the laws of the country surrounding the embassy; in the embassy building only the laws of its own country are in effect. It is just the same with the church. Jesus Christ sends his church, led by the Holy Spirit, to be his embassy. Here the final law is that of the final kingdom. Therefore the church community should not unthinkingly submit to the laws of today’s governments. It should honor them, but it should not be bound to them in slavish obedience (Acts 5:27–29).
In the twentieth century this is as true as ever: The way is narrow, and those who find it are few (Matt. 7:14). But it is not only a way. It is not only a narrow mountain path. It is at the same time a city on a hill that can be seen all around. Because it is visible to all, it is significant for all, even for those who do not want to go the way, who have no desire to enter the city. They see the possibility, and their attention is drawn to the coming kingdom. And they will think, if God’s love came down upon us all in this way, then we would all live together in peace, unity, and justice (Matt. 5:14–16). That is the service we must do for the world. It is the practical outcome of following Jesus.
God is patient with humankind. He interposed the church so that, while this world age lasts, individual people might be called out, so that in the midst of this world a living monument to his patience might be erected to represent the fellowship of the cross. The fellowship of his blood, the fellowship of the cross, shows us what it means to die with him. And that can only be shown in the lowly church, in the interim between the cross of Christ and the second coming of Christ.
Adapted from God’s Revolution (Walden, NY: Plough, 2021).
Article edited for length and clarity.