The Virtual Extension to Faith Forward Forum | Jan 22-24, 2007

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Future of the Faith; “Three Commissions for the Church of the Future:"

By Kenneth C. Ulmer, D.Min., Ph.D. [bio for event]

The Lord has called us to the Kingdom, “for such a time as this.” A time of transition, of political upheaval, of war and rumors of war. A time of poverty, disease, and even wickedness in high places. Yet, this is our time—a time when vast opportunities have opened up to expand the Kingdom of light in this world of darkness.

In these last days, we hear a great call for the church to come out. Come out from the comfort of the padded pews and stained glass windows; and come in to an atmosphere of praise and worship as the coming of the Lord draws near.

We live in a culture more diversified, more cynical, more humanistic than at any time in history. Theological-religious and ethnic-racial pluralism has, in many parts of the world, disintegrated into devastating walls of division. Tension between the great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam is poised like a sword over the necks of future innocent victims of the coming storm. However, in these perilous times of spiritual sectarianism, sociological despair, and ethical disparity, God still calls to the church, “Go ye into all the world and make disciples.” In fact, God’s marching orders to the church can be summarized in three commissions: The Great Commission, the Greater Commission, and the Greatest Commission.

The Great Commission
We must never forget the mandate of the great commission: To Go. It is a call to decry the status quo, and do. It speaks of the church as more than a bit player in a chaotic moment in time, or a mere “movement” that comes and goes. Indeed, the Lord is calling us to be the move of God, to be a dynamic organism moving by His empowerment as Head of the Church, and to go into all the world as witnesses for Christ’s Kingdom.

In John 17:4, Jesus prayed, “Father, I have glorified you.” This verse gives the most succinct definition of what it means to glorify God than any other passage in scripture. Jesus is saying that He has glorified God because He completed the work God gave Him to do. Therein lies Jesus’ definition of “glorify”: To do the work of the Lord! There is a sense in which we only glorify God if we do the work He gives us to do. Eugene Peterson captures this revelation in The Message when he cites Jesus as saying, “I glorified you on earth by completing down to the last detail what you assigned me to do.” That’s what it boils down to. We glorify God by doing our assignment. If we do not do what He has called us to do, it doesn’t matter how well we do what we do!

The church has for so long emphasized the “thou shalt not” of the Word and has neglected the positive exhortations to “do.” We only glorify Him to the degree that we do our assignment. Jesus glorified the Father by what He did.

What has God called you to do that you have not yet done? What are you neglecting while concentrating on other things? What has He given you that you are not doing because you are putting your energies into something He called someone else to do? If you are still drawing breath, you still have work to do. Go forth and do it! We are not called to open the window of spiritual pomp and wave to the pilgrims admiring our ecclesiastical laurels. We are called, assigned, and commissioned to “go” into all the world with the love, compassion and power of the Gospel, and make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. That is our mandate. That should be our motive. To go should be our method.

The Greater Commission
Jesus added an important condition to “go.” As He met with His disciples for the last time before He returned to the Father, He told them, “Wait…” For what? For the coming empowerment of the Holy Spirit. This is the Greater Commission. Jesus has said, “Go.” Yet, He knew He was calling them to the extraordinary task of changing the world by making disciples of Himself. He acknowledged their limitations by telling them they were not quite ready to go. He says, Wait and I will add something extra to your lives: The promise I told you about. And when He adds His extra to your ordinary, you have the power to do the extraordinary.

To go forth in the power of the Holy Spirit is the second commission the Lord presented to the church today. If we go forth in our own power, academic achievements, political connections and personal determination, then the moral, ethical, and spiritual failures the world has watched the church struggle with for two thousand years will only continue.

The Holy Spirit gives us a practical power that enables us to live a God-honoring life before a sin-filled world. Even with the current emphasis on praise and worship, it is not the pseudo-entertainment atmosphere of upbeat music and quasi-spiritual gyrations that changes lives. Lives are affected by the Word of God given by the Spirit, the Will of God revealed by the Spirit, and the Way of God as guided by the Spirit.

Therefore, go—but before you go, wait for God’s power, which enables you to do what you are called to do.

The Greatest Commission
Finally, Jesus gives the Greatest Commission. In Acts 1:8 He says, “You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you shall be witnesses unto me, in Jerusalem, in Judea, and the uttermost parts of the world.” Did you catch that tiny word? He said that above all we shall “be witnesses.” There it is, the greatest commission: Be!

The tension that the church faces today as we consider what we are to “be” in the world is the fabric of separation between being both attractive and authentic. In an attempt to be attractive, we too often sacrifice authenticity, therefore representing nothing different to a world craving something better. To the other extreme, some of us have become so “authentic” that we drive away a dark and dying world. Yet, it is not enough that people leave church “feeling better;” the goal is that they leave being better.

We are called to address the issue of poverty and must minister to the poor. But, do we? We must respond to the millions who are dying in the worldwide pandemic of AIDS/HIV. Yet, do we? The church—especially in America—must address the economic disenfranchisement of the masses by using our resources to create jobs and economically empower communities on a level that monopolizes our combined influence greater than individuals alone can achieve. So, are we? Such ministry, such aid, such economic empowerment must be done in the context of a message that is both authentic and attractive.

We are called to do ministry in the most exciting time in history. We are called to go into all the world with the message of the Kingdom of our Lord. That is the Great Commission. We are called to wait, and then to go in the power of the Holy Spirit of the Living God. That is the Greater Commission. We are called to change the world by penetrating it in the power of the Holy Spirit Who dwells in us, and by His presence we are called to be His witness. That is the Greatest Commission.
…Shall we?

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