Theses on the Ministry of the Church in the 21st Century
These theses are lifted up for your reflection, and as a beginning conversation, concerning the ministry of the Church in the 21st century.
Thesis 1: God is working out His saving plan in and through His chosen and redeemed people and each disciple has a responsibility for advancing the saving purposes of God in the world
God has made us what we are in Christ and He has laid His redemptive claims upon us; moreover, He wills to work out His saving intentions in and through those who believe and follow Him (Matthew 4:19-20; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20; 1 Peter 2:5,9).
Our present life and ministry is timed by God's own clock, His fixed times, the kairos determined by God; for each disciple there exists "a divine kairos of opportunity" for advancing the purpose of God; therefore we seize every opportunity to "redeem the time" for His mission purposes (Ephesians 2:10).
Thesis 2: the nature of the church is inseparable from the ministry of the church and the new life in Christ encompasses the totality of a Christian's being
Who I am in Christ defines my identity (who am I) and ministry (why am I here) as a Christian; as one baptized into Christ, I am a disciple, servant, steward, priest, witness, salt of the earth, light of the world, temple of the Holy Spirit, etc. and this is how I am to live out my faith in the relationships of life.
Who we are in Christ defines our identity (who are we) and ministry (why are we here) as the body of Christ; as His people, called and gathered into the assembly of believers, we are the body of Christ, living stones built into a spiritual house, a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, saints, ambassadors, living letters, etc. One important dimension of our life together is reflected in the "one another admonitions."
Thesis 3: he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirits says to the churches
These words record the time when Jesus was walking among the lampstands of Asia Minor, commenting on what He saw and what was taking place. After describing these things, He offered correction, advice and promises. Each brief encounter closed with these words: he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. As we reflect on ministry in the 21st century, Jesus challenges and invites us with these same words: he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. What is the Spirit of the Lord saying to us?
+ every task of the Church makes sense and has a purpose only as it leads to the mission of “making disciples of all peoples"; the Great Commission lays a double obligation upon the ministry of the church:
+ the strengthening of present disciples in their already existing discipleship through edification
+ proclaiming the Gospel to those who are not yet His disciples with the hope that they will become His disciples through evangelism
+ each congregation must realize that it is the Church, the body of Christ, in its locality and must corporately fulfill a four-fold ministry in that place:
+ an evangelistic ministry as His people seek to evangelize large numbers of people through their life of witness and Gospel proclamation and bring them, by God's grace and the Holy Spirit's working, to faith in Jesus Christ
+ a maturational ministry as His people grow up into Christ in every way and become mature disciples of Jesus, who are also His stewards, servants, priests, witnesses, salt, light, living letters, etc.
+ an organic ministry as His people are connected to one another in relationships that live out the "one another admonitions" of Scripture, with each believer using his or her gifts, talents, abilities for the building up of the body of Christ and for the common good
+ an incarnational ministry as His people, wherever they go and to whomever they come into contact with, are able to be His ambassadors and living letters, mediating His mind and word and demonstrating His love, concern and compassion for others
Thesis 4: The church is always in need of receiving the encouraging, correcting and reforming words of Scripture so that the Gospel, and His Word, might have free course and not be hindered by the "traditions of men" and various forms of "ministry reductionisms":
+ canonical reductionisms -- what books, and how many books, are in your canon?
+ Marcionite tendencies in which certain portions of Scripture are ignored, silenced or explained away that challenge one's understanding of ministry...with the other danger of inserting non-Biblical sources into your canon such as Luther, Chemnitz, Calov, Gerhard, Walther, Sasse
+ a confessional reductionism in which the "whole counsel of God" is reduced to the subject matter of the Book of Concord; for example, the six chief parts of the Small Catechism or the twenty-eight articles of the Augsburg Confession
+ a liturgical reductionism in which the one-year or three-year pericope system forms a "canon within the canon"
+ ecclesiastical reductionisms
+ a congregation -- once it has been able to grow to the place where it can afford a fulltime pastor and operate a worship facility with its bills paid -- does not plant another congregation, or extend the Kingdom into new places, because "the mission" has been completed
+ a "church member," and a "club member," mentality permeates the local congregation's understanding of itself instead of "who I am in Christ" and "who we are in Christ"; one of the least helpful words that we use in the church is "church member"
+ biblical leadership offices such as pastor, elders, and deacons (along with the evangelist and teaching offices) are reduced to the ministry of the pastoral office
+ missiological reductionisms
+ only ordained clergy can serve as national and international missionaries
+ only the LC-MS Board for International Missions can send international missionaries
+ Western models of theological education and assessment are preferred over biblical and indigenous ones
+ Western forms of worship are strongly preferred, and even imposed, over local, indigenous worship forms
Thesis 5: the ministry of the Word is the highest office in the church and from it flow all other offices in the church; so that His people might be properly and completely equipped for their ministry of the Word -- Christ, when He ascended, gave five "Word-gifts" -- the five equipping offices in the church (Ephesians 4:11-16)
+ the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments (2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:14-17) give us the Scriptures that norm all theology and practice
+ these Scriptures make known the meta-narrative that (1) reveal His will and saving intentions toward all people and (2) equip His people with soteriological and hermeneutical wisdom so that they can help others make sense of their story in light of His story through their evangelizing and edifying labors and ministries
Thesis 6: disciples understand that Scripture is to norm their ministry practices so when it comes to the essential missiological labor of church planting, and the extension of the Gospel and His kingdom in new places, they learn from the apostle Paul and his missionary methods; for example, a simple method of church planting used by Paul was outlined in Acts 14:21-23:
+ they preached the Gospel to that city and made many disciples (Acts 14:21)
+ they strengthened the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith and saying that through many tribulations (oratio, meditatio, tentatio) we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22)
+ they appointed elders and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord (Acts 14:23)
+ for their life together, and for their ministry of the Word in the world, they were given the apostolic tradition of the main facts regarding the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, along with the Gospel and the Sacraments
+ the apostolic tradition so that they might have a standard by which they would know whether any teaching they may hear is to be received or to be rejected
+ in order that others might obtain this “justifying faith,” and that they also might be nourished and strengthened in their faith, they were given the Gospel and the Sacraments
Thesis 7: Jesus taught His disciples many things in parables so that they could become wise scribes -- trained for the kingdom -- being taught by Him, and by the Holy Spirit, His disciples were able to be fishers of men, just as Jesus promised that they would become (Matthew 4:19-20); so what were some of the many things that Jesus taught them in parables:
+ He taught them about the fundamental human condition
+ it is the human heart that defiles a person, for out of the human heart come all kinds of evil things (the parable of what defiles a person -- Matthew 15:10, 15-20)
+ there are only two kinds of people -- sons and daughters of the kingdom who have been delivered from the kingdom of darkness by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit who has called them by the Gospel or sons and daughters of the evil one; there is no middle kingdom (the parable of the wheat and the weeds -- Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43; John 3:14-18)
+ He taught them about God's response to the human condition
+ Jesus is the Stronger Man, the promised Messiah, who has come in order to bind and defeat the strong man (Satan) so that He can plunder Satan's kingdom and set the captives free (the parable of the stronger man -- Matthew 12:22-32; Mark 3:22-27; Luke 11:14-23)
+ Jesus, the friend of sinners, came not for the "righteous" but for sinners...to the sinner He brings God's grace, forgiveness and mercy (the doctor to the sick -- Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32)
+ the great story of God's mercy and acceptance of the sinner is the story of the lost son (the parable of the lost son -- Luke 15:11-32)
+ so that this Good News might be made known Jesus calls ordinary men and women to be His disciples and then He equips them to be fishers of men (the parable of the kingdom growing secretly – Mark 4:26-29); but also the parable of the mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32; Luke 13:18-19) and the parable of the leaven (Matthew 13:33; Luke 13:20-21)
+ He taught them about humankind's response to the Gospel of the kingdom
+ as the Good News of God's saving work are made known, not everyone believes the Good News for a variety of reasons (Satan, tribulations, the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of wealth, etc.); however, there are some who do believe the Gospel and bear fruit in their lives (the parable of the sower and the seed -- Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23)
+ there are a host of supporting parables that illustrate both faith and unbelief in response to the Gospel proclamation: the parable of the children in the marketplace (Matthew 11:16-19; Luke 7:31-35); the parable of the wicked tenants (Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 20:9-19); the parable of the marriage feast (Matthew 22:1-10); the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31); and the parable of the hidden treasure/the merchant in search of fine pearls (Matthew 13:44-46)
+ He taught them about the day of judgment and the way of salvation
+ there will be a day of judgment and, on that day, every person will come before Him and He will separate the sheep from the goats (the parable of the sheep and the goats -- Matthew 25:31-46)
+ even though that day of judgment is certain, the time of its arrival is not known except to the Father (the parable of the unknown day and hour -- Matthew 24:42-51; Mark 13:33-37; Luke 12:35-48; 17:26-35) but also the parable of the ten maidens (Matthew 25:1-13) and the parable of the weather signs (Luke 12:54-56)
+ when the day of judgment arrives, a wise person will have…taken the narrow path that leads to life (the parable of the two paths -- Matthew 7:13-14)…built upon the words of Jesus and put them into practice (the parable of the two foundations -- Matthew 7:24-27)…trusted in the saving work of Jesus -- the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world -- and is clothed in His righteousness (the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector -- Luke 18:10-14; and the parable of the wedding garment -- Matthew 22:11-13)
+ He taught them how they were to live as His disciples
+ until the day of His promised return, we are to live out our faith by…building our lives upon the words and practices of Jesus (the parable of the two foundations -- Matthew 7:24-27)…using all of the gifts and abilities that the Lord has entrusted into our stewardship in order to prosper the Master's business of making disciples (the parable of the talents -- Matthew 25:14-30)…proving oneself to be a neighbor to those in need (the parable of the Good Samaritan -- Luke 10:25-37; the parable of the sheep and the goats -- Matthew 25:31-46)
Thesis 8: life is all about stories -- disciples, as "wise scribes," are able to help people make sense of their story in light of His story and the stories of the Old and New Testaments -- they know that the Scriptures are the great treasure store of soteriological and hermeneutical wisdom for making sense of the "human story;" therefore, throughout the day, we are to talk about these things
+ life is all about stories and every person has a story, filled with many conversations, scenes and snapshots
+ everyone lives by a script...so how have you been scripted by your sinful human nature (1st skin) and by your culture (2nd skin)
+ how have you gone about making sense of life's story -- for the way we understand life depends on what conception we have of the human story
+ not all interpretations of life's story are true for many false prophets have gone out into the world...and there is only one path and one foundation that is worth traveling and building upon
+ God has a story -- the metanarrative -- that makes sense of every human story...the sacred scriptures make known two kinds of wisdom so that every human being can make sense of his or her story in light of His story and His promises of salvation in Jesus Christ
+ soteriological wisdom…to make us wise unto salvation which is by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:15)
+ hermeneutical wisdom…to help us make sense of life’s story in light of His story/stories (Matthew 13:11, 16-17, 51-52; 2 Timothy 3:16-17)
+ the ministry of the church is a ministry of the Word -- as we hear, know, tell and live the story -- these are the stories that really matter
Thesis 9: disciples today, like the Reformers of old, understand the importance, and vital necessity, of crafting "a symbol of our time" so that timely and relevant answers may be given to the issues and tentatio of our day
At the time of the Reformation, the Reformers wrote “the symbol of our time” when they wrote the first and unaltered Augsburg Confession. This symbol was not a judge like Scripture but was “merely a witness and exposition of the faith, setting forth how at various times the Holy Scriptures were understood by contemporaries in the church of God with reference to controverted articles, and how contrary teachings were rejected and condemned” (Tappert 1959:465.8).
The Reformers, in the construction of their symbol, stated the issue at hand and, then, proceeded to present affirmative theses and contrary antitheses. Those who read the symbol were not left in doubt as to what the Reformers were stating to be true concerning those issues based upon the authoritative and normative truth-claims of Scripture.
At this time in the Church’s history, if we were to write “the symbol of our time,” what are the issues that are confronting our society and our Church? What affirmative theses and corresponding antitheses could be formulated concerning these issues based upon a comprehensive exposition of Scripture?
Thesis 10: "...but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who asks you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Peter 3:15)
Lesslie Newbigin identified this fundamental ministry challenge for the Church in the late 20th century when he asked, “What would be involved in a missionary encounter between the Gospel and this whole way of perceiving, thinking, and living that we call ‘modern Western culture?’”
A proper understanding of a Biblical worldview, along with acquiring an insider’s understanding of another person’s worldview and design for living, would be essential for the Church in its outreach to the peoples of the earth.
This way of Christian outreach and Gospel communication is not new; for, throughout the Church’s history, His people have labored to communicate His word of judgment and promise to their particular cultures and neighbors.
Yet, if we are to build bridges into the real world, and to communicate His Word into the hearts and minds of people in our day, we must be committed to three things:
+ a lifetime of studying God’s Word and acquiring a biblical view of reality;
+ a lifetime of studying the worldviews and ways of living of those people whom we hope to bless with the Gospel;
+ a lifetime of being His “incarnational” bridges as we communicate His Word and message of judgment, forgiveness and hope in words and ways of living that the hearer can understand (Romans 10:9-17)
+ the ministry of the Word is the highest office in the church and from it flow all other offices in the church -- both the office of the pastoral ministry and the office of the priesthood of all believers possess, and are called to proclaim, tell, and witness the Gospel
+ there are five equipping offices in the church -- so that all of His people might be properly and completely equipped for their ministry of the Word, the ascended Christ gave five "Word-gifts" (Ephesians 4:11-16) to His disciples so that His Word might accomplish His purposes (Deuteronomy 6:4-7; 8:3; Isaiah 55:11; Romans 10:9-17; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23)
+ the nature of the church is inseparable from the ministry of the church; consequently, a Christian's identity and ministry is to be understood in light of "who I am in Christ" and "who we are in Christ"
+ the ministry of the church is to make disciples of all nations -- every ministry of the church makes sense, and has a purpose, only as it leads to this mission
+ God is working out His saving plan in and through His chosen and redeemed people and each disciple has a responsibility for advancing the saving purposes of God in the world -- so that this Gospel might be made known, it is His will that every disciple become a wise scribe who is able to help one's neighbor make sense of his or her story in light of His story -- through their communication and application of soteriological and hermeneutical wisdom
Martin Luther, as he reflected upon the reforming events that took place within the church, gave this short summary concerning the ministry of the Word: “I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing. And when, while I slept, or drank Wittenberg beer with my Philip and my Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that never a Prince or Emperor inflicted such damage upon it. I did nothing. The Word did it all!” (LW 51:77)
 there are four fundamental relationships in life -- the coram relationships -- my relationship with God, with self, with others, and with the world
 the biblical examples of God's people, upon whom He has poured out His Spirit to prophesy (Acts 2) like Stephen, Philip and the scattered people of God following Stephen's martyrdom, are sent as His missionaries, and as His "beautiful feet," to preach, speak and proclaim the Gospel (Romans 10:13-17) and "the Word of the Lord" grew through their ministry of the Word (Predigtamt), congregations became established, etc.
 it was the congregation in Antioch who sent out Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journeys (Acts 13:1-3); consequently, the primary sending agency of missionaries is the local congregation with the national office providing counsel and support to their missionary labors and endeavors as the advisory nature of Synod
 the training we lay stress upon is almost always intellectual whereas the training the apostle Paul laid stress is mostly spiritual, moral and practical; we are so enamored of those qualifications that we have added to the apostolic that we deny the qualifications of anyone who possessed only the apostolic (1 Timothy 3:1-12 & Titus 1:6-9); meanwhile, we think a man fully qualified who possesses ours