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The mission of the church

Check out this definition of the church's mission.

‘The Church's commission, which is the foundation of its freedom, consists in this: in Christ's stead, and so in the service of his own Word and work, to deliver to all people, through preaching and sacrament, the message of the free grace of God.’

That's it.  That's the mission of the church.  Proclamation.

Now, without cheating, see if you can guess where this comes from.  And when.

Any guesses?

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Well maybe you think these are the words of some one-eyed fundamentalist, divorced from any pressing social or political needs.  Perhaps you think this definition represent a cowardly retreat from the social and political realities of the day?

Well the year was 1934, the place was Germany and this is article 6 of the Barmen Declaration - the document that founded the German Confessing Church.

And into that context, this determination to view the church's mission simply as gospel proclamation proved to be the most provocative political challenge possible.  This is precisely because it refuses to engage with the world on its own terms.  The Nazis are confronted because the Confessing Church occupies itself with its one true Fuhrer (Christ), its one true Reich (God’s Kingdom) and its one true commission: delivering ‘the message of the free grace of God’.  Far from creating an ‘ecclesiastical ghetto’ for the Confessing Christians, this single-minded determination to let the Gospel set the agenda for the Church brings it into its most significant contact with the surrounding culture.

Barmen is profoundly political.  But it is so by refusing any other agenda but the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Nothing could be more explosive.

A few years later, Karl Barth (who authored Barmen) was back in his native Switzerland.  (Interestingly it was his lectures on preaching that were the last straw for the Nazis, the Gestapo bursting in and forcibly deporting him.  Apparently his last words to his students on the train platform was the admonition: "Exegesis, exegesis, exegesis!")  Anway, a young pastor from Brandenburg wrote to him in distress.  He had been sacked after preaching against Mein Kampf from the pulpit.  The pastor expected sympathy.  Instead Barth replied that the pastor had made a "decisive mistake":

Your job, when you stand in the pulpit, is to again make well the sick church of Germany.  That can be done only by the Word alone.  You are to serve that Word and no other.  But you can’t do that if you seize on Mein Kampf… Was it not a shame, each minute that you wasted with this book instead of reading the Bible?   (William Willimon, Conversations with Barth on Preaching, p248-249)

Interesting huh?

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0 thoughts on “The mission of the church

  1. Dave K

    Very interesting. The "and sacrament" gave away that it wasn't fundamentalist though, and it does have a distinctly modern tone. Having said that I wasn't able to draw the obvious conclusion from those two things.

    So tempting to stray from the bible into 'relevant' things.

  2. codepoke

    I'm not going to jump to conclusions
    I'm not going to jump to conclusions
    I'm not going to jump to conclusions
    I'm not going to jump to conclusions
    I'm not going to jump to conclusions
    I'm not going to jump to conclusions
    I'm not going to jump to conclusions
    I'm not going to jump to conclusions

    > That’s it. That’s the mission of the church. Proclamation.

    ;-)

  3. codepoke

    I'd never heard of Barmen before so thank you, Glen. It was an excellent and frightening read. Some earned for themselves a more excellent resurrection.

  4. theoldadam

    A little water, a piece of bread and a sip of wine, and one little Word.

    Not too sexy, but that's all were going get in this life.

    But isn't that enough?

  5. pgjackson

    Great.

    It does mean, though, having an understanding of the gospel that actually allows it to conflict with political as well as 'moral' idolatries doesn't it?

    And therein, perhaps, lies the problem for us here in the UK?

    Too many of us have placed the gospel into theological constructs which actually protect gospel preaching from ever stepping on the toes of the powers that be. And that is a shame. Not because our goal is to form a political party, or to change the country by political means. But because, as the Confessing Church saw, there really is only one Lord, and he really is Lord of all.

  6. Heather

    there really is only one Lord, and he really is Lord of all.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Amen to that! And everyone of us us oriented to God around that core truth.

    When Christianity is understood to be nothing more than a lifestyle choice, it is easy to take on a worldly mindset and think of it as having individual components that can be left behind on Sunday morning or shrugged off at the door of the business office, school room or social engagement.

    Additionally, preaching can often take the form of a business briefing on the best marketing strategy for winning people to "our side" so we can remain free to exercise our "rights".

    But, if the Christian walk of faith is viewed as being outward evidence of a miraculously resurrected soul and undeniable relationship which constantly influences our thoughts and behaviors, it is impossible to sift Jesus out of our daily lives.

    And in this, we are drawn to follow Christ regardless of circumstances. It also requires that we pay close attention to our Leader's instruction because we are no longer "free" to do whatever we want.

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